So when Pilate saw that he could do nothing, but rather that a riot was beginning, he took some water and washed his hands before the crowd, saying, “I am innocent of this man’s blood; see to it yourselves.” Matthew 27:24
Since I sing in the choir at both 9:15 and 11:30 services, I hear sermons and Scripture readings twice each Sunday. Usually, my takeaways from each service are different, but Palm Sunday’s Passion reading has me reflecting on one thing that grabbed me anew at each service.
Jesus was brought to trial before Pilate, the governor. All four Gospels agree that Pilate did not want to find Jesus guilty or sentence him to certain death. Matthew’s Gospel says that Pilate’s wife even begged him to “have nothing to do with that innocent man.” We’re told that the overwhelmed Pilate washed his hands and proclaimed his innocence. Jesus was handed over to be crucified.
During this Holy Week, I’ve become deeply aware of times when I—and I’m pretty sure we— have chosen to “wash our hands” of situations rather than wading in and acting. It is one of the greatest temptations, isn’t it? Sometimes it is like hiding from truth. Other times, clean hands allow us to feel we are above the fray, not one of “those people,” and therefore wiser. This is evident in our national life, our church life, our families. One thing is certain: turning away with clean hands does not ensure a better outcome. It may just provide a momentary escape.
Having said that, I’d like to wisely pronounce the antidote for this sin. Instead, I more clearly see how I have chosen to stay unsoiled, to not make others angry, or to avoid painful pushback. That may be the diplomatic thing to do, but we worship the God of hard truth. Most of the time, we must speak that truth in love.
This is a worthwhile focus as we move through this week toward Easter. On Thursday, we will wait in the garden with Jesus as guards approach to arrest him … as his disciples slept, perhaps another way of staying clean? And as Jesus accepted the hardest truth on Good Friday, let us accept the enormity of that sacrifice by dirtying our hands to do the work he taught us to do. There is nothing tidy or safe about the Gospel message. This is the time to dig deep.