Pilate off Course by Rev. Paul Saclia
Reprinted by permission of "The Arlington Catholic Herald"
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Mark wrote to explain Christ
to the new Gentile converts.
So Pilate, wishing to satisfy the crowd, released Barabbas to them and, after he had Jesus scourged, handed him over to be crucified" (Mk 15:15). So ends Pontius Pilate's tortuous attempt to reconcile his knowledge of Christ's innocence with the crowd's demand for His crucifixion. Knowledge of the truth - and, indeed, Truth Himself - lost. Crowd-pleasing won. The only insight we have to his motives comes from those five damning words: "Wishing to satisfy the crowd."
In many ways, Pontius Pilate is the most pitiful of those who, in the Providence of God, conspired to bring about Christ's death. He cannot claim that he handed over our Lord to defend Rome, to defend Israel, to defend religious truth or even to make money. No, he can only say that he did it - He handed over the Lord of life - "to satisfy the crowd." His only motive was his slavery to human respect.
In the Church's tradition, the term "human respect" indicates a weakness - the inordinate desire to please others. It describes the willingness to betray truth and integrity so as to satisfy the crowd or avoid ridicule. On a purely human level, human respect divides a man against himself. It makes him believe one thing and do another. A man enslaved by human respect lives a truncated life, determined by what he thinks will satisfy others. Indeed, it is not his life at all but the life others would have him live. And on a supernatural level, the results are far worse. In craven pursuit of human respect he betrays not only himself but also His Lord.
The desire to satisfy the crowd tempts many members of the Church. Is the temptation to jettison Church teaching in order to get along, be popular and fit in. Indeed, in the past several decades one of the great failures of Catholics in the United States has been precisely this - the willingness to sacrifice the Church's doctrine, liturgy or morals in order to satisfy the crowd. When a Catholic politician rejects Church teaching in order to gain votes and power, when a priest tinkers with the Mass to make it more "contemporary," when parents neglect their child's moral formation in pursuit of their worldly success - then we know that human respect has us in its grip.
As odd as it may sound, we ought to flee from human respect. This inordinate desire for human approval enslaves us to the thinking of the world and prevents us from living divine truths. It also keeps us from giving the world what it needs most: a faithful and undiluted witness to Christ. Ironically, once we conform ourselves to the world's way of thinking, we quickly find that the world no longer has any need - or respect - for us. In the end, after all, the crowd did not like Pontius Pilate. Obviously, to avoid human respect does not mean to be rude or insulting. Rather, it means that in pursuit of divine approval we are willing to trample our desire to be liked. It means to speak the truth plainly, respectfully and charitably, with a view to winning souls not applause.
Scripture declares that God Himself "is not a respecter of persons" (Acts 10:34). As always, the Church must resemble her Divine Founder. She cannot be the "the pillar and bulwark of the truth" (1 Tm 3:15) if her members constantly court the world's approval. Nor will her members find true happiness in chasing after the respect of others. In this life, one of the greatest gifts we enjoy is a pure conscience and a peaceful heart from knowing that we have sought to glorify God - and not to satisfy the crowd.
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