Summary: Pilate was a classic people-pleaser, who found that his behavior produced popularity that masked contempt, pessimism, and powerlessness.
The story has it that during creation, as God was sitting up in heaven turning out all these creatures, some of the angels asked if they could help. It looked like fun, making plants and animals, birds and beasts. And so God, who had just finished fashioning something, said, "All right. Come ahead. This is what I had in mind for a horse. But let’s see what you can do with it.” The committee of angels debated and discussed; a thousand and one good ideas were tossed around. Nobody wanted to say "no" to any of these good ideas, for, after all, these were angelic beings, and exceedingly polite. And so they agreed to use everybody’s idea, no matter how nutty. They brought their finished product to God, who sighed, wept a Iittle, but finally laughed, "It’s the craziest looking creature ever to come out of my heaven, but all right, let there be camels.’’ Take one look at camel, and you will see that it is true: that a camel is nothing more than a horse designed by a committee!
If it is necessary to satisfy everybody, you can expect some peculiar results! If your strategy is nothing more than pleasing people, you can anticipate something strange.
I read once of a house in Tennessee, built by a husband and wife who could not agree on what they wanted. He wanted rustic western, she wanted ultramodern. He wanted something woodsy, country, retro; she wanted something urban, sophisticated, up to the minute.
So they compromised. They built a house with a half for him and a half for her. On his end of the house there were exposed logs, a rugged stone fireplace, antlers over the doors, and a bearskin rug on the floor. His end of the house was furnished with leather easy chairs and decorated with antique cast iron.
Her end of the house, by contrast, was sleek and stainless. Art deco, glass and steel everywhere; concrete, all rounded and smooth. Plastic angular chairs that only fashion models would dare to sit in. Pastel colors and abstract art.
A house to please everybody. Except, of course, in its strangeness it pleased nobody. It was the laughingstock of the community. It was completely ridiculous. It was testimony to what you get if you get stuck in people-pleasing.
Of all the stuck behaviors we have thought about this Lenten season, none seems more harmless than people-pleasing. What harm can it do to try to satisfy everyone? What could possibly be wrong with attempting to make people happy? But I tell you that people-pleasing has serious spiritual consequences. Its payoff is enormous. If we are people-pleasers we will be deaf to the voice of God, we will be blind to the guidance of God, and we will never find the strength to obey God. People-pleasers are always in open season for sin. And that’s serious.
So I give you this morning the pitiful politician Pontius Pilate, the primary people-pleaser. A petty plutocrat, pitted in a popularity power contest. Pontius Pilate, stuck in people-pleasing. The issues are popularity, pessimism, and powerlessness.
And I’ll wager I couldn’t repeat that last p-filled paragraph if you paid me plenty! The issues are popularity, pessimism, and powerlessness.
The scene takes place in Jerusalem, in the headquarters of the Roman governor. Jesus of Nazareth, the wandering preacher, has been hailed before the authority of Pilate. The governor had the opportunity to do justice; in fact, there is evidence he even wanted to do justice. But his need to people-please overtook him.
First, learn that people-pleasing produces popularity for a moment, but it also breeds contempt. People-pleasing produces popularity for a moment, but it also breeds contempt. When you are bent on people-pleasing rather than on doing what is right, you cannot count on the purity of those you are trying to please. You cannot be sure of their motives of those you want to satisfy. It’s very likely that they only want what they want, for selfish reasons. But if you buy into people-pleasing, you will never see that you are just being used.
Pontius Pilate had an early morning visit from the Pharisees and the Temple officers, who had brought Jesus in for judgment. The text tells us that they brought Jesus, but they themselves would not enter Pilate’s quarters, because they wanted to avoid ritual defilement. The Jewish law, you see, said that the living quarters of a non-Jew were unclean, and that if you went into one of their houses, but did not afterward go through a cleansing ceremony, you were ritually unclean. You were therefore not able to celebrate the festival; you had stepped on pagan turf.
Well, now, in my book that’s a serious put-down. As I read it, that’s quite an insult. Pilate, we want you to do our dirty work but we aren’t going to do you the courtesy of stepping inside your home. Pilate, we want you to do what we don’t have the courage to do, to kill Jesus; and we want to use you to get the job done. But we will not accord you any dignity, we will not acknowledge you, we don’t care how you feel.