“I am innocent of the blood of this righteous person.” (Matthew 27:24b)
When Pontius Pilate realized that the leaders of the temple weren’t going to let him off the hook and continued to push for Jesus to be crucified, he took a bowl of water and washed his hands. He then announced that he would not be held guilty for sentencing Jesus to die on the cross.
Does that mean that his complicity was washed away? No. In actuality, he caved in. He had to choose between the crowd’s chanting “Crucify him! Crucify him!” and his own sense of right and wrong. According to some of the historical references, Pilate was pretty ruthless. He had to be in order to maintain “peace” (at least Roman style peace). No kind of insurrection was tolerated, and the roadsides were strewn with those who had been judged and crucified for trying to start trouble with the Romans.
It’s interesting to look at Pilate. It would appear, according to the Matthew account, that he actually had a little bit of a conscience; although it wasn’t enough for him to choose keeping the crowd happy over crucifying an innocent man. Even Pilate’s wife (only in Matthew) got into the act, sending word that he should have nothing to do with Jesus because he was innocent.
Washing one’s hands has become a symbol of letting go of something so we don’t have to deal with it any more. Pontius Pilate started the whole thing apparently! Washing one’s hands of something almost always has a negative connotation because it indicates that something was really annoying, and we no longer want to deal with it.
Maybe that is exactly what we need to do at times, though. If we have no control over something, maybe washing our hands of it helps us to let it go. Sometimes tough love it like that. When we are dealing with our grown children, we often have to wash our hands of some of the choices they make about which we are not pleased, and let them figure it out for themselves.
That doesn’t mean that we approve, but rather, we have chosen not to interfere. Pilate chose the easy route, actually. He chose to not have his reputation sullied by having a riot occur within the crowd below his balcony, and he chose to wash his hands of whatever happened to Jesus.
I suspect he still felt some guilt, unless he really was as unfeeling as some commentators say. In church tradition, his wife eventually became a Christian, and if that is the case, he would have felt a great impact as he heard her witness. It would be interesting to have learned the “rest of the story!”
When have you “washed your hands” of something?
What was the impact?
Did it turn out to be a good choice? Why or why not?
What did you take away from the experience?
How was God involved in your decision?