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Taking the silence of Jesus before Pilate

Rev. Eutiquio ‘Euly’ B. Belizar, Jr., SThD
By the roadside

One of my favorite inventions from modern technology is the ‘mute’ button on the TV remote device. It restores the silence in my room when I press it and affords me an escape from the ads and commercials that take my attention away from whatever is worth watching. It is a silence I cherish, in part because it brings calm to my day and makes me focus on the substance of things I need to attend to, and not be distracted by superficial and fleeting extras. Sometimes it also takes me back to my high school seminary days when I was starting to learn how to play the guitar, and the first song I remember practicing the chords on was called “The Sound of Silence”. “How on earth,” I asked myself, “would silence have a sound?”

There was no sound from the lips of Jesus when, reacting to Jesus’ declaration that he came into this world “that I may offer testimony to the truth”, Pilate asked, “What is truth?” (Jn 18:37-38). Jesus is quiet. This made Pilate turn to the crowd and say, “I find no case against this man” (Jn 18:38).

Again the same thing happened when, hearing the mostly Jewish crowd say that they have a law according to which Jesus must die “for he has made himself the Son of God”, Pilate asked Jesus: “Where are you from?” John tersely states: “But Jesus gave him no response” (Jn 19:9).

That silence is deafening. In fact, it is the only silence that rings through the centuries and has spawned prayers, speculations, meditations, scholarly inquiries and analyses. I pray there’s room for one more.

To me the silence of Jesus is not the silence of fear. Though he expressed being terrified by the kind of death staring him in the face, he also resigned himself to the Father’s will, which included the crucifixion. Neither is it the silence of ignorance for Jesus even predicts many times in the gospels the rejection he will suffer and his violent death on the cross, but that he will also rise on the third day. Nor is his silence out of spite for Pilate or the crowd. This we know from his very public prayer on the cross asking the Father to forgive everyone responsible for his horrific death “for they know not what they do” (Lk 23:34).

When we adopt the silence of Jesus as a response to modern-day Pilates we need to bear this in mind. It is a silence that does not seek persecution; nor does it flee from one. It is not fueled by a desire to put another down, no matter if he or she be the enemy. It is a silence that continually proclaims what he has always said about his mission: ‘My food is to do the will of him who sent me” (Jn 4:34). Not even a Pilate is being allowed to stand in the way.

The silence of Jesus is a proclamation because it is the most eloquent response that can ever be given to the question of Pilate: “What is truth?” Pilate himself is staring at the answer. For he is face to face with “the Way, the Truth and the Life” (Jn 14:6).

It might also be useful to see how Pilate deals with so many different types of noise around and inside him. He hears the boisterous, demanding noise of the crowd asking for Jesus’ blood. He also hears the noises deep within him: his wife’s conscientious request that Jesus be freed, his fears about putting an innocent man to death, the pressures from the Jewish and religious authorities to satisfy the crowd, the more refined tug of the Roman law’s requirements. But he also sees a way out. He washes his hands. The biggest noise he heeds is his own grasping for survival. I wonder which noises are our Pilates most attentive to.

In a word, it is very helpful to adopt the silence of Jesus because, with his help, we might understand Pilate better. The silence of Jesus will definitely help us, the Church, pray better, focus better, forgive better, humbly love and serve better and hopefully obey the Word better, not so much as it comforts us when afflicted but especially when it afflicts us when comfortable. Pilate may only be, after all, an unwitting instrument. As Paul the Apostle would remind us, it is really with the invisible powers and dominations that we are up against.

Last of all, the silence of Jesus is a necessity because it is a silence of encounter. It is the silence that is presaged by the prophet Elijah’s encounter with God whom he did not meet in the strong wind, earthquake and fire but in the ‘qol demama daqah’ or, quite literally, “the sound of silence” (1 Kings 19:11-12). Jesus completes the encounter for us by standing before Pilate in silence. Sadly, Pilate reminds me of a lady in a house blessing who asked me, “Has the priest arrived yet?” Pilate is in an encounter and he does not even know he is in one and who it is he is encountering.

The silence of Jesus is the proper environment for us to constantly pray for our Pilates and for ourselves that we be led to encounter ever more deeply the Living God in Jesus Christ and in his Church as a nation, an encounter that can only be Life-Giving, not Life-Taking.

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