What you did not do for one of these least ones, you did not do for me.
– Mt. 25: 45
Pontius Pilate comes down in history as the great compromiser, the symbol of all those who compromise their principles & so continue to sentence Christ to His death to this day. On the other hand, there are those who do not compromise, who demonstrate in their lives & deaths that, given a choice, Christ is King & they will follow Him.
For example, during the prime days of the civil rights struggle, black civil rights workers, called “freedom riders” would travel on buses from city to city, challenging segregationist laws. Sometimes they were greeted with violence; often they were arrested. In one town, the police halted their bus & the passengers were booked & jailed.
The jailers did everything possible to make the prisoners miserable & to break their spirits. They tried to deprive them of sleep with noise & light during the nights. They intentionally over salted their food to make it distasteful. They gradually took away their mattresses, one by one, hoping to create conflict over the remaining ones.
Eventually, the strategies seemed to be taking hold. Morale in the jail cells was beginning to sag. One of the jailed leaders, looking around one day at his dispirited fellow prisoners, began softly to sing a spiritual. Slowly, others joined in until the whole group was singing at the top of their voices & the puzzled jailers felt the entire jail block vibrating with the sounds of a joyful gospel song. When they went to see what was happening, the prisoners triumphantly pushed the remaining mattresses through the cell bars, saying, “You can take our mattresses, but you can’t take our souls.”
It was the hymn singers who were in jail, but it was the jailers who were guilty. It was the prisoners who were suffering, but the jailers who were defeated. The prisoners were in a position of weakness, but it was the broken & defeated world of the jailers & of all the Pontius Pilates of history that was perishing.
We have to ask ourselves, what makes people take such stands in life when others do not? What makes them spurn the role of Pontius Pilate when others embrace it? The answer is as simple as it is true, as this little bit of wisdom tells us:
When you thought I wasn’t looking, I saw you hang my first painting on the refrigerator, & I wanted to paint another one. When you thought I wasn’t looking, I saw you feed a stray cat, & I thought it was good to be kind to animals. When you thought I wasn’t looking, I saw you make my favorite cake just for me, & I knew that little things are special things. When you thought I wasn’t looking, I heard you say a prayer, & I believed there is a God I could always talk to. When you thought I wasn’t looking, I felt you kiss me goodnight, & I felt loved. When you thought I wasn’t looking, I saw tears come from your eyes, & I learned that sometimes things hurt, but it’s all right to cry. When you thought I wasn’t looking, I saw that you cared & I wanted to be everything that I could be. When you thought I wasn’t looking, I looked … & wanted to say thanks for all the things I saw when you thought I wasn’t looking.
In her book, Out of Africa, Isak Dinesen tells the story of a young man from the Kikuyu tribe who worked for her on her farm for three months. Suddenly he announced he was leaving her to go to work for a Muslim man nearby. Surprised, Dinesen asked him if he was unhappy working for her. He told her that all was well, but that he had decided to work for a Christian for three months to study the ways of Christians & then work for a Muslim for three months to study the ways of a Muslim. After experiencing both, he was going to decide whether to be a Christian or a Muslim.
What about that? What would he chose if he lived among us & saw, when we thought he wasn’t looking, what we did & how we acted & how we treated others at home, at school, in the workplace. So, as always, the Gospel comes back to haunt us, doesn’t it? Light & darkness, right & wrong, principle or compromise, Pilate or Jesus – it was all there then & it still is, everyday. Is Christ King in our lives, or not? AMEN!