For the next fourteen days leading up to Easter Sunday I am going to write a brief reflection on the 14 Stations of the Cross. Every time I pray the stations I am struck by a few things: the love of Christ revealed in its fullness in the Passion, the nature of Christ’s suffering and loneliness, and the greater love I have for Him the more I meditate on them.
Let’s begin with the First Station: Pilate Condemns Jesus to Die.
My Lord, Jesus Christ,
You have made this journey to die for me with unspeakable love;
and I have so many times ungratefully abandoned You.
But now I love You with all my heart;
and, because I love You, I am sincerely sorry for ever having offended You.
Pardon me, my God, and permit me to accompany You on this journey.
You go to die for love of me;
I want, my beloved Redeemer, to die for love of You.
My Jesus, I will live and die always united to You.
Once more Pilate went out and said to them, “Look, I am bringing him out to you, so that you may know that I find no guilt in him.” So Jesus came out, wearing the crown of thorns and the purple cloak. And he said to them, “Behold, the man!” When the chief priests and the guards saw him they cried out, “Crucify him, crucify him!” Pilate said to them, “Take him yourselves and crucify him. I find no guilt in him.” Then he handed him over to them to be crucified.
Jn 19:4-6, 16
We had all gone astray like sheep,
all following our own way;
But the Lord laid upon him
the guilt of us all.
The First Station shows us a reversal of roles: “He who is to come with such great power as judge of the living and the dead endured such great sufferings under a human judge” (Augustine). Picturing this, we might cry out with Abraham, “Far be it from you to do such a thing, to put the righteous to death with the wicked, so that the righteous fare as the wicked! Far be that from you! Shall not the Judge of all the earth do what is just?” (Gn 18:25)
And yet here, the Judge of the earth humbles himself to be judged by Pontius Pilate. Pilate was afraid. He feared the loss of his authority, he feared the mob, he feared being guilty for taking the life of an innocent man. How many times must he have recalled his decision each time he washed his hands after that day? I wonder if he was kept awake at night picturing the eyes of Jesus on him in that moment when the crowd’s cries of “Crucify him!” won him over.
And there is Jesus, facing him with the authority of heaven behind him. Pilate is moved by this: “‘You would have no power over me if it had not been given to you from above. For this reason the one who handed me over to you has the greater sin.’ Consequently, Pilate tried to release him” (Jn 19:11-12a). Despite his authority and confidence, Jesus is also incredibly meek and humble. He knows who he is, where he came from, and what he came to do, and this is his Hour. And despite Pilate’s lack of confidence in his own decision, here is the man Christ chooses to issue the verdict: the only person we name in the Creed aside from the Holy Trinity and the Virgin Mary. Pontius Pilate carries out the sentence; Jesus allows himself, the Perfect One, to be condemned by this man to a criminal death. Pilate is therefore a necessary piece of the puzzle for the redemption of the world.
And so the journey to the Cross begins.
V: We adore You, O Christ, and we praise You. (Genuflect)
R: Because, by Your holy cross, You have redeemed the world. (Rise)
V: Consider how Jesus Christ, after being scourged and crowned with thorns, was unjustly condemned by Pilate to die on the cross. (Kneel)
R: My adorable Jesus,
it was not Pilate;
no, it was my sins that condemned You to die.
I beseech You, by the merits of this sorrowful journey,
to assist my soul on its journey to eternity.
I love You, beloved Jesus;
I love You more than I love myself.
With all my heart I repent of ever having offended You.
Grant that I may love You always; and then do with me as You will.
(Our Father, Hail Mary, Glory Be.)
St. Alphonsus Liguori’s Stations of the Cross
Augustine. & Muldowney, M. (1984). Sermons on the liturgical seasons. Washington, D.C: Catholic University of America Press.