“Jesus and the Incarcerated: What Shall We Do With Jesus?”
According to the Gospels in the Bible (i.e. Matthew 27:22-25), the people at Jesus’ trial before Marcus Pontius Pilatus (“Pilate”), the ruling Roman Governor (prefect), did not want to negotiate with him to liberate Jesus from a crime he did not commit; rather, they insisted he should be condemned to death. Their earnest and robust hatred for (and toward) this man named Jesus, who called himself a divine King and the (Jewish) Messiah, marked the religious history of Judaism and Christianity, and the politics of the Roman Empire. Their consensus led to the possible divine retribution upon themselves and God’s curse on their children–at least, that is their anticipation for their deliberate commitment to put an innocent individual, an economically-disadvantaged Jewish peasant male, to death. Who in the world would wish such things upon themselves and their children?
The historic gesture of Governor Pilate to yield to the collective will and desire of the people to execute Jesus by way of death penalty (the crucifixion) was an act of cowardness to preserve his political power and maintain regional peace. Peace at the expense of undermining human dignity and silencing justice as fairness is false peace. The gathering people rejoiced because Governor Pilate acted according to the will of the majority (?), and may have perceived his political action as an act of true democracy. Nonetheless, the will of the majority does not automatically translate into virtuous democracy nor should it even be equated with peace, unity, and human flourishing. On one hand, an act of democracy might benefit a group of people or a nation; on the other hand, another act of democracy might disfranchise and even condemn another group of people or a nation. The democratic action and intervention that takes into account the plot of the marginalized, the most vulnerable, and the least among us in society, is what constitutes true democracy and would advance human flourishing in society. The poor may not have political power, but have democratic ideals. The marginalized understand justice when they witness it. The incarcerated can identify fairness when they experience it.
Like the typical contemporary (American) politician, Pilate could not afford not to be appointed in the future election and lose this high place of coveted honor and prestige: The Office of Governor-General He acted for his own sake and not for the sake of justice. Pilate was part of the broken Roman Judicial system. His action toward Jesus, who could not pay to gain justice and a fair trial, strengthened the structure of the system and deferred the cause of justice for the poor and the marginalized in society. It is good to note that Pilate had the political power to contribute to change and good in the Judicial system, but he chose to silence justice and close the door to judicial reformation in the Roman Empire. Hey, shall we even expect anything good to come from an authoritative figure of the most powerful Empire at the time? World empires are born to conquer, destroy, oppress, and dehumanize people, and imperial authorities and officers are part of the imperial strategy, design, and ambition. Yet we should never compromise moral responsibility and ethical accountability when human dignity is threatened and the sacredness of life is undermined in the political life and society.
In today’s (American) Justice system, the marginalized and the poor are crucified unjustly. The Prison system is against them and do not contribute to their rehabilitation in society. A justice system that does not promote fairness and reformation is a failed institution. A prison system that continues to maintain the status-quo is resistant to internal change and structural renovation; such an institution fails its citizens and defers human development or progress in society. To ask what shall we do with Jesus? is an inevitable quest for justice, beauty, compassion, and moral integrity in society and the political life. It is also a daring spiritual matter that calls into question and relevancy the meaning of Jesus in one’s life or existence. Consequently, Jesus is an existential question for all times.
22 “What shall I do, then, with Jesus who is called the Messiah?” Pilate asked.
They all answered, “Crucify him!”
23 “Why? What crime has he committed?” asked Pilate.
But they shouted all the louder, “Crucify him!”
24 When Pilate saw that he was getting nowhere, but that instead an uproar was starting, he took water and washed his hands in front of the crowd. “I am innocent of this man’s blood,” he said. “It is your responsibility!”
25 All the people answered, “His blood is on us and on our children!”–Mathew 27:22-25
What shall we do with Jesus is the existential question for our contemporary moments?
What shall we do about the innocent prisoner or the incarcerated is the existential question for our contemporary moments?