“If you release him, you are not a friend of Caesar”: Our Hard Choices

Readings: 1st- Is. 52:13-53:12; 2nd- Heb. 4:14-16; 5:7-9; Gospel- Jn. 18:1-19:42

The name Caesar is no common name among the Jews. Caesar was revered almost like a god for several reasons. For instance, in his biography, we read, “Caesar's enmity toward Pompey, who had conquered Jerusalem and defiled the Holy of Holies, led to a positive attitude toward him among the Jews. His restoration of the unity of Judea, his deference toward the high priest, Hyrcanus II, and his tolerant attitude toward the Diaspora Jews increased the sympathy of the Jewish masses for him. When he was assassinated, he was mourned by the Jews more than by any other nation, and for a long time after they continued to weep over his tomb both by day and night.” Therefore, the choice before Pilate in the Passion narrative is not an easy one. You remember when the Pharisees and Herodians came to Jesus with the question, “Is it right to pay the imperial tax to Caesar or not? Should we pay, or shouldn’t we?” (Mk. 12:14-15). The game plan was to get him into the trap with the coin that has Caesar’s image on it. So, Pilate was in a real fix when presented with the choice of releasing Jesus at the expense of losing friendship with Caesar.

This case presents us with the choices we make and the consequences of our faith. For Pilate, it was either Barabbas or Jesus; popularity or truth; friendship with Caesar or with Jesus; fame or right judgment; power or justice. Pilate chose to go with Caesar because that seemed the way out. He chose to go with the voices of popularity. He chose to identify with power and fame at the expense of truth and justice.

As Christians, let’s use the opportunity of Good Friday to remind ourselves that there would always be hard choices before us or choices of compromise and betrayal against choices of faith and commitment. The powerful and influential voices would always challenge us, as they did to Pilate, “If you release him, you are not a friend of Caesar.” Caesar represents those things that stand strong on our way to identifying with God. Before the quarantine, we had those tough choices, sure they are not going away after this coronavirus lock-down experience. We must still pay our bills. We must still exercise our political rights. We must still send our children to school. So, life is a spectrum of decision-making about our existence which includes survival options when placed side-by-side with our faith.

What are some of those choices? Work! Vacations! We hear expressions such as, “I’m spiritual, not religious (meaning that God is everywhere. I can pray on the beach or in the shower. Going to church or keeping holy the sabbath isn’t necessary to be a good Christian). Society wants us to place everything else above faith or as alternatives to God including mass and catechism classes. We hear them, “my kid has sports, dance, scouts, music lessons, birthday parties, school, baby shower, so I have to attend or lose friendship with those involved. Think about our attachment to Tv and internet. Some persons place their trust in horoscopes, Palm readers, eastern mysticism and convince others that it’s a way to greatness and riches. Hence, they turn into “Cafeteria Catholics” - I follow what I want to believe and leave the rest behind.

The question today is this- do we succumb like Pilate to the pressures of the world, to the voices of the powerful, at the expense of our faith? Don’t we blame Pilate for giving Jesus over to the Jews? Don’t we blame Peter for denying Jesus three times? Don’t we blame Judas for betraying Jesus his master? Don’t we blame the soldiers for spitting at him and hanging him on the Cross? All of these gave in to pressures of their time and retained what was to them important and costly. Be it money, power, comfort, or safety, we all must learn from them. Our hard, tough choices are what make us strong, steadfast, and committed. We must appreciate the opportunities to bear witness to our faith. We must appreciate what God has given and continues to give us. In the end, it is still the Truth that will set us free.