When Pilate saw that he was getting nowhere, but that instead an uproar was starting, he took water and washed his hands in front of the crowd. “I am innocent of this man’s blood,” he said. “It is your responsibility!”
All the people answered, “His blood is on us and on our children!”
Then he released Barabbas to them. But he had Jesus flogged, and handed him over to be crucified.
Matthew 27: 24 – 26
This is a verse with a long and dark history. That line “His blood is on us and on our children!” has been used through the centuries to justify the persecution of Jews by Christians. It contributed to the antisemitic idea that all Jews can he held responsible for the death of Jesus and so are fair game for attack. This “blood curse” played a big role in crimes such as the expulsion of Jews from England in 1290, and even influenced the horrors of the 20th century.
But this is an appalling reading of scripture. For one thing, Jesus was Jewish and never once renounced his heritage. For another, it was Jesus himself who challenged the idea that children are responsible for the sins of their parents (See John chapter 9). But perhaps most of all, it’s a terrible reading of scripture because it lets Pilate off the hook. Pilate made a big song and dance about how this wasn’t his decision, he literally washed his hands clean, but in the end, Jesus died on a Roman Cross, with Roman nails, hammered by Roman soldiers. Whether he wanted it or not, Pilate was responsible.
People in power love it when they can wash their hands of responsibilities. If there’s a group of people you can scapegoat that’s great. If there is already unpopular minority you can pin the blame on, even better! But we shouldn’t let them. When we see someone in power trying to do unjust acts on our behalf, or against some demonised group, we have a responsibility to stand up and say, ‘not in my name’. We must never let the Pilate’s of the world wash their hands.
Pray: Lord, reading through the trial of Jesus it is hard not to be shocked and affronted by the many ways that justice was denied. From trumped up charged, to politicians shirking responsibility, it is a powerful reminder of how unjust our world can be. Help me to be a person who acts justly, who treats others fairly, and who uses their voice to speak up for the downtrodden. May we build a world where trials like this can never happen again.
Act: Follow Jesus’s advice today, “be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves.”