Pilate and the Carpenter

“My lord Pilate.”

I sat with my elbows planted upon my knees, my index fingers slowly circling and pressing into the sides of my temple. “Head pains,” I thought, eyes closed tight, like a reed basket with a stone resting on top.

“My lord Pilate, we have a situation. Marcus says the Sanhedrin is here with a prisoner. He says they are quite adamant about seeing you… and there is a crowd with them.

I slowly opened my eyes and stopped the revolutions of my fingers.

“What kind of crowd?” I whispered, catching faint echoes of shouts through the wispy shades.

“An angry one my lord.”

I cursed under my breath and waved a hand. The servants came quickly and soon I was dressed and walking towards the growing noise. Marcus, my most trusted centurion, was coming to meet me. I could see he had some nervous energy to his movements.

“Where are they?” I demanded.

“They refuse to come in, they don’t wish to defile themselves.” Marcus answered quickly.

Frustrated, I sighed and walked outside, completely taken aback by the scene which lay before me. Before me was a mob, angry and stirring with an anxious noise. When they saw me, they immediately began shouting, a wave of hate crashing and reverberating through the stone that made up my compound. I looked at Marcus and he and his men began to quiet down the crowd as I raised my hand. After they were dulled, I looked down to see Jerah, one most trusted confidants of Caiaphas the High Priest standing in front of the rest of the Sanhedrin. I was wary of them, especially Caiaphas. We had met briefly a few times but the resentment towards Rome, and more specifically me, from Caiaphas and his rabble of Jewish miscreants put me on edge.

Jerah took at step forward and bowed, to which I answered with a slight nod.

“Why are you here?” I asked.

“We have a prisoner lord Pilate,” Jerah answered with air of almost sarcastic formality.

“Your people have your own laws Jerah. Handle him yourselves.”

Another one of the priests spoke up. “We wouldn’t hand him over to you if he wasn’t a criminal!”

I stared, grinding my teeth with impatience. “So why are you here talking to me?”

Jerah spoke for the group again. “Only Rome can execute someone!”

“What are your charges against him?”

“He’s disrupted our practices, stirred up the people and is inciting riots. He’s claiming he’s come to establish some kingdom and that he is the son of God.” Jerah shouted, causing the crowd to roar with him.

Marcus read my mind and got the crowd under control again as I rubbed my chin in thought. The last thing I wanted on my hands was a riot from a bunch of Jews looking an opportunity to blame Rome. Looking down at the huddle of men below me, I saw one face sunk low, staring at the ground in the midst of them.

“Is this the man?” I asked, pointing at the face.

He rose up and looked at me, his expression cloudy behind his long hair and the obvious beating he had received from his captors.

Jerah grabbed his beard and pulled down, forcing the man’s eyes back towards the ground. “This is the man!”

I turned and started back inside. “Have him brought to me.”

● ● ● ●

As I sat in my chair waiting for this prisoner, I thought of what the proper course of action was. Apparently this man was inciting rebellion, or at least that’s what the leaders were claiming. They also claimed he could perform miracles and raise people from the dead. I would know soon enough.

The shuffle of bare feet against stone stirred me away from my thoughts and my eyes came upon the man, the rebellious carpenter. His hands were bound in front of him, and he stood silently, barely a movement or breath coming from his body. His eyes were fixed on the floor, looking at it but seemingly through it, as if his mind was far away. His clothes were ragged and stained with dirt and blood. I could see a black eye and various bruises and on his face beneath his hair and beard. He seemed to be an ordinary man. There was nothing special to him, at least to my initial impression. He was fairly built, as I figured a carpenter would be. I sat there for a second studying him, and he remained silent and stoic. He didn’t seem to be a threat, so I told the guards on either side of him to back away and give us some space.

“Are you the king of the Jews?” I asked, leaning back in my chair.

With an almost seamless motion his eyes came up and met mine. There was an intensity to them, an almost otherworldly quality. They were a deep brown, like dark pools in the road after a torrential rain. His face was as plain as any other I’d seen, damaged by the beating but still ordinary, but his eyes were what stood out. They seemed to be almost looking through me, beyond me.

“Is that your question,” he asked, his voice purposeful and yet unforced, “or did they tell you about me?”

This was not what I was expecting. I rose out of my chair and took a slow step towards him, hoping my imposing frame honed from years of battle would intimidate him. He stayed where he was, as if he’d been planted and grown there, his eyes never leaving mine. There was no fear in them, not of me or any other man. It was a look I’d only seen on a few occasions, and it was unmistakable.

“Do I look like a Jew to you?” I retorted. “Your own people and priests brought you here for trial. Why? What have you done?” I moved in closer, my face mere feet from his.

“My kingdom is not one of earth,” he whispered, softly, but with authority and conviction. “If it were, my followers would fight to keep me from being handed over to the Jewish leaders. But, my kingdom is not of this world.”

A small smile came across my face. “Oh, so you are a king?” I asked, amused by his delusion.

“You say I am a king. It was for this purpose I was born, and it was for this purpose I came into this world – to bear witness to the truth. And all those who love the truth know what I say is truth.” He said, looking at me intently. There was no violence behind them, I had seen enough in my time to know the difference. There was something else to them, a sense of purpose possibly? He believed everything he was saying. He was betting everything on this truth he believed in.

I looked him over, studying him as he gazed at me and through me with an unblinking stare, his face with no expression. He was merely occupying the space in front of me, quiet as a lamb.

“What is truth?” I asked, and as I saw a slight crease in the corner of his mouth. As I walked past him, for a breath of a second, I thought I saw a smile.

● ● ● ●

I emerged back into the sunlight with the carpenter in tow, where he remained silent by my side. I had found nothing about him worthy of execution. He was delusional perhaps, maybe even crazy, but nothing dangerous, even though the Sanhedrin had convinced the crowd to think so. I gave my verdict.

“I find no fault in this man!” I shouted, to which the crowd vehemently disagreed.

This was not what I was expecting. I decided quickly to give the crowd a choice. I motioned Marcus over.

“Bring me Barabbas. Let’s give these animals a choice. This is the Passover custom after all. We might as well respect some of their traditions.”

Marcus nodded without a word and quickly went to grab the revolutionary.

“People of Jerusalem!” I exclaimed to quiet the mob. “Since it is Passover, we release a prisoner every year as a sign of goodwill to you. But today you have a choice. Today you choose who is released in honor of your traditions.”

By this time Barabbas had emerged from the holding cells and on the other side of me. The carpenter and the revolutionary stood on opposite sides, with Barabbas shouting insults to the crowd.

“Today you may choose. Would you have me release your ‘King of the Jews’, or Barabbas, the revolutionary?” I shouted.

The crowed roared with a fervor. “Give us Barabbas! We want Barabbas!”

I was shocked.

“But I find no fault in this man!” I roared, motioning at the carpenter.

“Give us Barabbas!” The mob was reaching a fever pitch.

I gave the order for Marcus to release Barabbas.

I knew I had to punish this carpenter to quiet the crowd.

“Marcus,” I said, loud enough for the people to hear, “have him scourged.” I felt the carpenter’s silent gaze burning into me. I looked over at him and saw his lower lip slightly quiver, as if knowing what I was going to say next.

“Make it severe.” His eyes met mine and I felt a gasp of air leave me. I immediately gathered myself. “But don’t kill him.” I commanded, quickly looking back at Marcus.

“Yes my lord.”

Without the word of protest the carpenter was lead out of my sight for a meeting with the cat of nine tails.

As I looked over the crowd, I heard the crack of the leather, bone, glass, and iron ripping into flesh faintly behind me in the rear courtyard, but I didn’t look back.

● ● ● ●

After a few long moments, Marcus returned, a dazed look on his face.

“Marcus, what is it?”

“They’re through with the scourging sir.”

“Was it severe?”

He paused. “…Yes.”

“Bring him to me.”

I stepped outside and informed the crowd of the situation. “I’m bringing him out to you! But, understand that I do not find him guilty!” They shouted in reply and I quickly went back inside.

Soon the unmistakable metallic taste of blood was in the air, and I saw the handiwork of my men. Marcus lead him gently up to me, the faint dripping chorus of blood trailing behind him. He hardly looked a like man, the lacerations and gashes were so profound that they had brutally erased almost every shred of humanity within him. Ribbons of flesh and muscle, tendons and faint pink hues of blood upon white bone glowing out of the crimson mash of. I caught glimpses of his ribcage between the oozing flesh as his heavy and labored breathing caused an involuntary quiet moan of pain, the soft struggle of air escaping his lungs, a quiet desperation inside of every inhale. There was a purple robe draped over his shoulders, the flesh pressing against it and slightly peeling away with every subtle movement of his limbs, each inciting a slight wince of pain. He looked up at me silently, breathing through his nose, his face faintly shaking with every painful breath. Parts of his beard had been ripped away from his face, dripping with blood and sweat. His eyes shone out even more distinctly than before, the blood running down his face framing them and causing their focus to become even more apparent. The crown of thorns pressed into his head, obviously a mockery from the men, was cutting into his forehead, each thorn diving into his skin like a tiny and splintery nail. He said nothing, and I gently touched his arm to lead him out to the crowd, his blood and strips of flesh mixing with and between my fingers.

The moment we emerged into the sunlight, the crowd roared to life, leering and shouting insults at him. He looked over all of them, a sort of sadness enveloping his character, his breathing still causing his body to somewhat shiver in effort as those faint and nearly inaudible groans escaped every few breaths.

“Here is the man!” I shouted, a part of me thinking the severity of his wounds would cause them to forget the execution, especially since he would probably be dead soon anyway.

“Crucify him!” one of the priests shouted, causing the crowd to soon join in.

“Then take him yourselves and crucify him! I found no fault in him!”

“By our law he is condemned to death for calling himself the Son of God!” Jerah retorted.

This situation was getting out of hand. I quickly led him back inside and looked at him, his gaze responding to mine with hardly a blink.

“Where are you from?”

Silence. I was becoming frustrated.

“Why don’t you answer me? I have the power to either release or crucify you. Don’t you understand that?” I reasoned.

Through his strained breaths he quietly replied. “You would have no power over me at all unless it was given to you from above. So the one who handed me over to you has the greater sin…”

“…Pilate”, I thought I heard him whisper, but his mouth was closed, the blood on his face over his lips starting coagulate from the heat, almost sealing his lips together. He looked at me with an almost heartbroken distance to his eyes, as if he could see something coming.

The one who handed me over to you has the greater sin.

Marcus stood by the prisoner as I walked back outside alone into the shouts.

● ● ● ●

“What should stop me from releasing this carpenter? There is no guilt to be found in him!” I shouted.

“If you release him, you are no friend of Caesar!” Jerah yelled with disdain, taking a step up above the crowd and turning back to them. “Anyone who declares himself king rebels against Caesar!”

This was not good. The crowd was becoming more bold, violent even. I could see Marcus’ men straining to hold them back.

I looked back into the shadow and motioned, and soon the bloody carpenter king stood beside me. I looked at him again before sitting down on the judgment seat, trying to hide the tension I was feeling in my body.

“Look, here is your king!” I shouted, motioning to the bloody pulp of silence beside me.

“Crucify him! Crucify him! He isn’t our king!” the mob replied, seemingly foaming at the mouth with their apparent blood lust.

“Crucify your king?” I asked, bewildered by the whole turn of events.

Jerah rose above the crowd. “We have no king but Caesar!”

I looked over the crowd and then into the eyes beneath the blood and thorny crown. His lips quivered and I felt as though he was speaking to me, my mind almost hearing a whisper through all of the angry shouts.

Do what you must.

A sudden and deep sense of sadness hit me, shocking me before quickly retreating away when I realized what had to be done, and then, as if knowing my thoughts, his eyes slowly broke away and stared into the creases of the stone between his feet, where his blood was slowly beginning to channel it’s way to the edge of the stairs, and for a brief moment, I thought I saw tears in his eyes.

I looked down at my hands, and without raising my head, I gave the carpenter over to the wolves.

● ● ● ●

That was last time I saw him, but the memory of his face, his voice, and his piercing eyes have stayed with me. I remember them more vividly than anything else that happened that day. More than the darkness, more than what felt like the earth itself groaning in pain, more than the earthquake, and more than the gnawing silence in the unnatural darkness of that afternoon. I heard stories that claimed he’d risen from the grave and walked the streets, and that he disappeared into the sky. Where they true? I could never be sure, but whatever he was, he wasn’t an ordinary man, if he was even a man at all. Was he the Son of God? Did he have a heavenly kingdom? My head said no, that it was impossible and to even toy with the idea was foolishness. But I remember those eyes, and those eyes return to me in my mind, sometimes late at night, in the quiet of the dark, they make me question the impossible.

● ● ● ●

I realize this is highly subjective, but stories often are. I used the Gospel of John as my framework and filled in the gaps with the motivations, sights, and sounds. Obviously this isn’t meant to be scripture. The essential facts taken from John 18 and 19 are all there, but everything is pure conjecture on my part. It’s a story within the frame and between the lines of scripture.

Pilate has always been a fascinating character to me. Little is known about him before his appearance in the Gospels, and historians don’t paint a pretty picture of him after Christ’s crucifixion. According to ancient Jewish writers Philio and Josephus, Pilate is reported to have spent most of his time as governor antagonizing the Jews, disrespecting Jewish customs, using money from the Temple to build an aqueduct, killing and beating those who protested against it, accepting bribes, executing prisoners without trial, and attacking the Samaritans. Philio wrote the Pilate had a “vindictive and furious temper”, and was “naturally inflexible, a blend of self-will and relentlessness” who feared the Jews reporting his cruelty to Rome, which is what eventually happened. According to Josephus, Pilate was ordered back to Rome to explain his actions to Emperor Tiberius regarding the Samaritan killings, but arrived just after Tiberius’ death.

As far as what happened to him after that, it’s up for debate, but many historians believe he committed suicide, possibly after being exiled by Caligula. Where did Pilate end up, and what kind of man was he really? It’s a mystery, and I don’t think we ever will know for sure, at least not while we’re here on earth. I wrote him the way I did because when I looked at the context of John’s account, he seemed shaken by the appearance of the carpenter from Galilee. Is this because of the political pressure? The angry mob? The fear of losing his power? I don’t know. It could have been all those things, but the thing I kept coming back to was this: if you looked into the eyes of Jesus moments before he died for you, how would it affect you, even if only for a moment?

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