What tone of voice did Pilate use, when he asked Jesus “What is truth?” (in John 19), I wonder.
He was certainly confused, judging from the way he dodged between Jesus and his accusers, in and out of the palace, looking for answers and finding only invective (on the one hand) and silence on the other. He may have even been half-convinced by his wife’s dream (“Have nothing to do with this innocent man“) and by the quiet dignity of the prisoner before him.
I wonder if there was an element of the sneering banter that you get from a TV commentator, the highly-polished man-of-the-world, dripping with fake sincerity. Pilate was highly educated, cultured, cosmopolitan. He was one of the movers and shakers, a key representative of the most powerful people in the world. Surely then, he would have been condescending, ready to ridicule the claims of some wild-looking preacher from the backwoods.
And yet he prevaricates. He dithers. He pronounces Jesus innocent and then allows his crucifixion. What is truth, Pilate?
There was a political truth, which was that the Roman province of Judaea was a disaster waiting to happen, and that the religious extremists must be conciliated whenever possible. There was a moral truth, which was that Jesus was clearly innocent, and Pilate should set him free. There was the truth of expedience, that Pilate’s career would suffer from adverse criticism (“This man is not Caesar’s friend“).
But the Truth itself was standing in front of him, and he didn’t recognize it! He was too worldly to recognize it. He was too indecisive to respond to it. He was too cowardly to follow through on the convictions of his own conscience. He was lost in a world of phony handshakes and media soundbites.
It occurs to me now that it wasn’t Jesus on trial at all, but Pilate.
When Jesus confronted Pilate as Truth incarnate, there were only two possible outcomes. Either the Truth would be crucified, or Pilate would have denied himself, taken up his cross, and followed Jesus.
Which would you have chosen?