Pilate (What Do I Do with Jesus?)

Matthew 27:11-66; Mark 15:1-45; Luke 11:13, 23:1-53; John 18:28-19:42

James Watkins

• Pilate

• To cause audience to ask themselves, "What do I do with Jesus

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Early Easter morning; bare stage with chair or throne center stage

Props include a single chair suitable for a throne, a small table; several sheets of parchment (available at most stationary stores); a metal bowl sitting on the table.

Pilate, Fifth Governor of Imperial Rome over Judea, dressed in royal robe with several rings on his fingers.


      [Pilate enters looking nervous and exhausted; slumps in chair; then burst of anger]

"Jesus"! That's all I've heard this week. On the last Day of the Sun, a mob of Jews paraded Him through Jerusalem as "King of the Jews." Then He caused a near riot at the temple on the Day of the Moon. I thought all this nonsense would be over after my men flogged and crucified Him. He's dead—sealed in a tomb—surrounded by temple guards. I have the transcription from the trial, orders for his death, and the soldier's report of the crucifixion right here.

      [Angrily waves parchments]

So, why should I worry? [pause, stares into space] But for some strange reason I do.

      [Bolts from chair]

Why does this Jesus still live in my mind?

My first mistake was ever accepting the appointment of Fifth Governor of Imperial Rome over Judea. Hmmmmph. At the time I thought it was an honor. But now I'm stationed in this dry, barren land trying to rule a nation of religious fanatics. I have been trained all my life for Roman leadership and now... [he points to throne] . . . this. Once a year I have to leave Caesarea and come down to Jerusalem for crowd control of their religious Passover. These Jews have been nothing but trouble. They rebelled when I placed Roman banners in the city. They rebelled when I placed shields decorated with the Latin gods in their temple. But by that time, I had had enough of their religion and rebellion. My soldiers splattered the Jews' own blood over their precious sacrifices.


But did I get respect from Caesar for upholding Roman rule? The chief priests went behind my back and complained to Rome. And now Caesar Tiberius has declared that I must honor their religion to keep the pax romana—"the peace of Rome."


To think that my name, Pilate, means "one who carries the javelin." But now I have been stripped of my weapon and power over these cursed Hebrews. Their temple guard alone outnumbers my army of Samaritan and Syrian mercenaries. [he shakes his head in frustration] And now this impossible incident with this other Jew— this Jesus. I tried to give Him a fair trial. I swear to Jupiter and I swear to Caesar I tried to give Him a fair trial. It should have been just trivial religious matter their Sanhedrin should have dealt with. But apparently, this Jesus claimed to be some kind of god. But the priests and teachers of the law wouldn't even come into the palace to press charges. They wanted to avoid [sarcastically] "ceremonial uncleanness," so they could celebrate their Passover. These sons of vipers don't mind crucifying an innocent man, but they don't want to be "unclean" by entering a "pagan" palace. I hope you are pleased, O Tiberius, that I "honored their religion." and went out to them.

      [Sits down]

I sat in the seat of judgment and declared, "He is a Jew, you're all Jews. Deal with your own religious arguments!"

      [Looks stage left as if remembering Christ's accusers]

These Hebrews may not acknowledge the gods of the Empire, but they do know Roman politics! They answered "We have found this man subverting our nation. He opposes payment of taxes to Caesar and claims to be a king over Caesar himself. If you let this man go, you are no friend of Caesar." What else could I do with Jesus?

      [Looks stage right as if remembering Christ]

I asked Him, "Are you the King of the Jews?" He answered by questioning me. "Is that your own idea or did others talk to you about me?" He said something about being from another Kingdom, so I asked Him again, "You are a King, then?" He gave a strange answer: "You are right in saying I am a king. In fact, for this reason I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me." I asked Him, "What is truth?" But then He was silent. He just stood their like a sheep before its shearers. He wouldn't tell me what Kingdom He was from—if He was indeed a god—nothing. I finally shouted, "Don't you realize I have the power to either free you or to crucify you." He answered something about I, the Governor of Imperial Rome over Judea, had no power of Him. [Pilate shakes his head in bewilderment] Somehow, I almost believed Him.


I knew that somehow I had to free this—this—God-Man. But I was getting nowhere, so I told the priests and teachers, "I find no basis for a charge against this man." But they only shouted, "He stirs up people all over Judea by His teaching. He started in Galilee and has come all the way here." Galilee? I can play politics too! Since He was a Galilean, that meant he was under Herod Agrippa's jurisdiction. And since Agrippa was in Jerusalem at the time, let the great Herod deal with Jesus. He had dealt fairly swiftly with that other Jewish fanatic, John the Baptist. But Herod could get nothing more out of Jesus either, so we could at least both agree on something. We could declare Him "not guilty." So I told the Jews that both Herod and I had thoroughly examined Him—in their presence—and He had done nothing worthy of death. I offered to have him flogged and released, but they still demanded His crucifixion.


I tried one final tactic. Each year at the Feast, it was my custom to release a prisoner chosen by the crowd. At the time I had in custody a notorious criminal named Barabbas. He had been found guilty of treason and murder. Surely, if I gave them the choice of a convicted murderer, they would choose this innocent man. At least the question of "What do I do with Jesus?" would now be their responsibility. While the mob was murmuring, my wife sent me a message that she had suffered greatly because of a dream concerning this innocent man. He certainly didn't seem guilty. There was something pure, almost— god-like—about Him.


But the mob screamed. "Give us Barabbas!" "And what do I do with Jesus," I shouted over the roar. "Crucify Him! Crucify Him!" they screamed even louder. So you see [talking to the audience as if hoping for sympathy] what could I do with Jesus? There were several thousand in this murderous mob and I had less than a thousand soldiers scattered across the entire city. If I would have shed one drop of priestly blood, the entire city would have attacked and burned the palace. And Tiberius would have my head if the mob didn't get it first. Better that one man die than to have my family and entire army killed.

      [Walks over to bowl]

So I took this bowl and washed my hands of the whole affair. "I am innocent of this men's blood. It is your responsibility." And then I sat in the judgment seat.

      [Sits down]

I ordered the release of a murderer and the death of an innocent man. [shaking head in disbelief] I handed Jesus over to my Roman guards. They made a crown of thorns and shoved it onto His head. They put a purple robe on Him and began to beat Him yelling, "Hail the King of the Jews." Jesus didn't say one word. Even when they flogged Him and put the cross bar on his bloodied back, He just stood there with the demeanor and dignity of a king.

      [Long pause as if reflecting]

Maybe He was.

      [Gets up]

Maybe what I had written above the cross was true: "The King of the Jews." Even when the chief priests wanted to change it to read, "He claimed to be the King of the Jews," I answered, "What I have written, I have written." What if He really was a King? What if He really was a god? What, if like His followers claim, He comes back from the dead?" Then, what do I do with Jesus? What do I do with Jesus?

      [Buries face in hands.]

[Black out]

Copyright © 1993 James N. Watkins. Brought to you by . . .