“So Pilate, wishing to satisfy the crowd, released Barabbas for them; and after flogging Jesus, he handed him over to be crucified.” – Mk 15:15
Jesus’ life was in Pilate’s hands. Pilate had the power to condemn and the power to acquit, the power to kill and the power to pardon. Pilate’s verdict was crucifixion. He wasn’t necessarily sold on this verdict. But Pilate wanted to “satisfy the crowd.” It wasn’t a sense of justice that guided Pilate’s behavior or that ruled his life. Rather, the tyrant was tyrannized by his own need - his need to satisfy the crowd. Pilate needed the approval of others. Pilate was a people-pleaser.
On the one hand, I sympathize with Pilate. It’s hard to take the narrow road. It’s hard to make unpopular decisions. But on the other hand, Jesus walks a narrow road. And if we’re to follow him, it’s the only road he’ll lead us down. And so on the one hand, the narrow road can be hard. That being said, it’s a lot easier that what we’re all trying to do. You see, the narrow road may be hard. But walking two roads at once – that’s just impossible.
Think about it. Pilate was a slave. He didn’t understand the freedom of God’s kingdom. All Pilate knew was the tyranny of people-pleasing. Jesus offers us a better way – a way of freedom. Jesus invites us to step into God’s kingdom, to soak ourselves in the free gift of divine approval, and to allow God’s approval to push us down the narrow path Jesus walks. “Just as we have been approved by God, … we speak, not to please mortals, but to please God” (1 Thess 2:4). In other words, we’re invited to live our life for an Audience of One. We don’t have to be people-pleasers. We’re invited to be God-pleasers. Like Jesus, God is already “well pleased” with us (Matt 17:5).
FOR TODAY: Following Jesus won’t condemn us to a friendless existence. People won’t cease to respect us or admire us. In fact, to the extent that we manifest the fruits of the Spirit in our relationships – love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness, generosity, and self-control – my hunch is that people will be drawn to us. That being said, we’re called to follow Jesus – not satisfy the crowds. Paul’s question to the Galatians is worth reflecting on. “Am I now seeking human approval, or God’s approval? Or am I trying to please people? If I were still pleasing people, I would not be a servant of Christ” (Gal 1:10). For today, live as a God-pleaser. Live before God as “one approved” (2 Tim 2:15). And be free. The crowds won’t ever be satisfied anyway.