In many ways Pilate’s question to Jesus on the first Good Friday is the culmination of all the misunderstandings and deliberate lies that have led to this fateful, sacred day. In the reading from John 18:1—19:42, we see that Jesus’ disciples consistently misunderstood him and did not understand his words and actions until after his Crucifixion, Death, and Resurrection. Peter misunderstands Jesus’ intentions and draws a sword, striking out at a Temple servant only to be rebuked by Jesus (John 18:11).
Understanding Pilate’s question to Jesus means understanding the meaning of his question, “What is truth?” (John 18:37). In the common understanding of that question today we would have Pilate asking, “Is that a fact?” Whenever we have political debates on mass media, the opposition parties always have “fact checkers,” whose task it is to discover all the miscues or misremembered facts of a candidate so as to destroy their credibility. But this was not the question Pilate was asking.
The question Pilate was really asking was, “What is the meaning of life?” This is in line with the philosophical tradition of the Greek and Roman search for truth. Pilate dismissively rejects the word of Jesus, the embodiment of truth standing before him. And part of Pilate’s tragedy is that when he asks Jesus if he is the King of the Jews, Jesus replies, “Do you say this of your own accord, or did others say it to you about me?” (John 18:34). Pilate has let others set the agenda for him and does not bring his own question. As an arrogant Roman he thinks he has nothing to learn.
This brings us to the questions we ask Jesus on this sacred day. When we reflect on his suffering, Crucifixion, and Death, do we simply observe with gratitude the fact that Jesus has done this for us? Or do we reflect more deeply on the question of what it means to be Christ to one another? Do we understand that Jesus embodies who the Father is calling us to become? What decisions are we being called to make in our lives today so that we can faithfully follow the path Jesus has set out for us?