Wednesday, 5 April 2017

You and Pontius Pilate - where and when you live.

Passion Sunday
(with the Liturgy of the Palms)
Year A
Matthew 27:11-54

The church of the first two or three hundred years often added names and fanciful stories to nameless characters in the Gospels.  One of the subjects of later expansion is Pilate’s wife (nameless in Matthew’s Gospel) who sends word to her husband during the trial to have nothing to do with the man Jesus since she has had a troubling dream about him.  In due course the Church assigned her a name:  Claudia Procula.  In the eastern Orthodox tradition, she is revered as a saint.  The Ethiopian church inherited a legend that Pilate himself eventually became a Christian and reveres both Pilate and Procula as saints on the 25th of June.

It’s all quite unlikely – unproveable at best.  But you might wonder why Pontius Pilate gets the air time that he does in church.  He appears in the middle of the Apostle’s Creed and also the Nicene Creed which we recite together as a community at Mass every Sunday.  Why?  What is there about this middle to upper range Roman bureaucrat to grant him star billing on Sunday along with God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit?

It has nothing to do with the fiction of his later discipleship.  History pretty much swallows Pontius Pilate.  If anything, his name figures in the Creeds expressly to combat the human tendency to live in a world of legends and make-believe where Procurators become Apologists as a matter of course.  Heading in the opposite direction the Creeds attempt to do what the Gospels do and anchor the story of salvation in a world of place and time, bricks and mortar and all the prominent personalities of the world in which they occurred.  This really happened.  It happened here during the prefecture of Pontius Pilate.  It happened with these people present.  It wasn’t storyland or “once upon a time”.  You can put a mark on the calendar or a pin in the map.   

It’s as if the Fathers of the Church were saying that the “x axis” of God’s activity across time intersected with “y axis” of a moment in history and that all this is terribly important for us.  Is there some pastoral purpose for zeroing in on time and place and personality in the Creeds? 

Well, where do you live and in what times?  Donald Trump is the President and Britain is on the edge of Brexit.  Italy is awash with refugees, the blossoms in the Auvergne are in full bloom and the snow is beginning to melt in Montreal.  You can smell the coal fires in your Scottish village.  You are married to the spouse you are married to.  These are your children.  Count them.  Your job or your primary endeavour is what it is, for the moment, and is not another thing.  In such a world, and in none other, God asks you to discern the movement of his Spirit and to be faithful.  None of these particulars can or should be avoided.  They form the bowl into which you have been poured.  

Deal with it.  Rejoice in the opportunities it provides.