Saint Mark the Evangelist, author of the Gospel of Mark, did not write of the birth of Christ, but of the adult life of the Son of God. This apostle was writing for a Roman audience. From that perspective, the origin of Jesus, his birthplace, and the circumstances surrounding his birth were not of special significance. His deeds, messages, words, and accomplishments — basically his earthly achievements — were of singular and supreme importance.
Once he began his mission on earth, Jesus came to be of particular interest to this Roman audience because this man, the Son of God, was an enormous threat to the Roman Empire, though not necessarily to the Roman people. While the Roman officials viewed Jesus with fear and with hostility (which is a form of fear) because of his omens regarding the reign of Emperor Tiberius, the Roman citizens likely assessed this Jew in terms of any perils that he posed to the wobbly stability of Judaea; and to the Roman governor of Judaea: Marcus Pontius Pilatus, or Pontius Pilate.
After the crucifixion of Christ, the Roman leaders and the Roman people held fast to one basic opinion: This man had been a troublemaker. He’d therefore deserved his tortuous execution on the cross.
The early Christians nonetheless knew that their Savior had become martyred. It quickly became obvious to the Roman rulers that the crucifixion of Jesus had rendered an unstable Judaea even more unstable. Someone had to be blamed for this unintended, and unwanted, consequence: Pontius Pilate quickly became the scapegoat.
Pilate was the Roman governor who had presided over the trial of Jesus. He was the official who ordered the sentence of death to this Jew through the excruciating custom of nailing the limbs to a wooden cross, a heavy structure that had to be borne by this convicted criminal to the Place of the Skull, called Golgotha.
Pilate was also the man who had assiduously tried to wash his hands of the responsibility for his fateful decision. He failed in that attempt.
There are varying theories about the nature of this doomed fifth governor of the Roman province of Judaea. He served under Emperor Tiberius from 26/27 to 36/37 AD, approximately a decade. Non-Christian sources depict Pilate as a stubborn and strict authoritarian. He was rational, shrewd, and practical, but unable to accurately gauge and assess what limits he ought to impose on any given case. Such a deficiency does not bode well for any person in a role of authority.
For a Roman governor, tasked with judicial findings and rulings, to exhibit this limitation, the consequences were momentous. In the case of the trial of Jesus Christ, Pilate exceeded the bounds of any limits he might have initially set. A weak and vacillating mind does not an august jurist make.
The New Testament posits this view of a weak man, an indecisive, irresolute, wavering capitulator. Pilate is too consumed by trying to augur — or divine — the outcome which would be most to his advantage; and cannot cease fluctuating among options. He comes down hard on rulings that will benefit himself; and he abdicates authority whenever it’s most expedient. In short, he was conniving and capable of passing the Roman coin as many times as it could be passed. With poetic justice, that coin circulated right back to Pontius Pilate.
This type of cagey, slippery leader sounds abhorrently all too modern. And, yet, there’s not much new in modernity that did not originate with the Ancients. One must consider the truly historical context of this Roman governor of Judaea named Marcus Pontius Pilatus:
After the Crucifixion of Christ, and after the death of Emperor Tiberius in 37 AD, the Roman Empire would know only six more emperors:
— Caligula, who gave new meanings to depraved decadence, from 37-41;
— Claudius, who was an import, the first Roman emperor born outside of Italy, from 41-54;
— Nero, the adoptive son of Claudius, but not fully the allegedly feckless fiddler of a burning Rome, from 54-68. (For a clearer guide to the life of Nero, please see: Uneasy Lies the Laurel Wreath)
— Galba, the governor-general of Spain who, with the always able assistance of an army, quickly capitalized on the suicide of Nero and the hideously official end to the Julio-Claudian dynasty. Ruthless, cruel, corrupt, bald, and arthritic, the reviled Galba was murdered by the Praetorian Guards who had been bribed by Otho, the incoming emperor. (Such a murderous and bloody insurrection is legitimately called a coup.)
The reign of Galba existed less than seven months, from 8 June 68 – 15 January 69. The inglorious Galba was the first Emperor in a rapid line of “the Year of the Four Emperors.” That time frame, more accurately, lasted about a year and a half. (The yen for historians to perpetuate inaccuracies is nothing new!)
— Marcus Otho thence was Roman emperor for three months, from 15 January to 16 April 69. He committed suicide after losing the Battle of Bedriacum to the warrior who then became the next Emperor of Rome:
— Aulus Vitellius. His reign endured for all of eight months. Instability is truly what reigned during the final years of the Roman Empire.
Vitellius, much like his ill-fated predecessor Otho, tried to grab public love by aping, imitating, and perhaps even honoring Nero, the deceased ruler who remained a crowd favorite in the crumbling empire.
The long and grandiose history of the Roman Empire had been, to a large extent, determined by its massive and supremely developed and equipped army. The legion was the largest military unit of the Roman army. Each legion was composed of 5,600 infantry and 200 auxilia (non-citizen troops) during the Roman Empire.
Those legions were a major key to the success, and to the downfall, of the Empire. By the time of Pontius Pilate, the military force required to impose order, to keep peace, and to collect tribute and taxes among the corrupt and squabbling factions within and without Rome had become onerous.
An invested fortress, no matter how well fortified, falls apart once it becomes too large to protect and defend. Adolf Hitler found out that truth of human history, although he’d tragically and maniacally ignored it, as well as the military failure of Napoleon to capture Russia. A failed human being, leading a failing and flailing nation-empire through a cycle of colossal failures is the autocratic regime of modernity, right up to this very day, in the form of the Russian Thug-Tsar Vladimir Putin.
In my own nation, there’s the inevitable implosion of the illegitimate rule of a senile sleazy narcissist with a mean streak as wide as the trail of his lies. Pell-mell installed in 2021 on an unconstitutional throne that’s coming down around him, the feeble, debauched clown cannot perceive the chaos through which he stumbles. That chaos is the crumbling, not of the United States, but of the corrupt cabal that engineered this fraudulent regime. The American patriots have become a pesky, hard-to-subjugate group in a land that was birthed from bloody battles to secure liberty from a foreign despot.
Another pesky, hard-to-subjugate group existed during the waning phase of the Roman Empire. Those people were the Samaritans, the Israelites of ancient Samaria. Pilate, or rather his Roman soldiers, upon his order, attacked a throng of Samaritans on Mount Gerizim. The response of those Samaritans, and a retributive one at that, was to report this vile act to Vitellius, the legate of Syria, and the father of the future Emperor of Rome.
Pilate was ordered to return to Rome from his post in Judaea. There, he stood trial for cruelty and oppression, specifically on the charge of having executed men without a proper trial. What we in the States call due process.
On orders from Emperor Caligula, the Roman governor of Judaea, Marcus Pontius Pilatus, killed himself. Either Pilate was to do the deed or someone else would have done it for him. In the end, which was his end, Pontius Pilate received no mercy, although, by then, there was little mercy to be found in Rome, even for a Roman.
The Gospel of Mark marks time with a compelling perspective that differs quite purposefully from those of the other eleven apostles. Mark somehow knew that his reading audience would be the peoples whom the Roman legions and the Roman rulers and the Roman officials could not push, persuade, tax, fine, threaten, entice, bribe, or otherwise force to believe in their lopsided side of the story. His Scripture sounded a call to the future, and it always will. The plea for a true Saviour marks time to this very day.
The Easter story marks the beginning of the ending for an empire that believed not only in all sorts of gods, but also viewed man as a god in himself. The resurrection of Jesus Christ marks the beginning of that good news for which countless souls had suffered to hear, to learn, to believe, and for which countless souls still search in the midst of the turmoils and tribulations of our current day.
There is a Highest Power that can be counted on, for the big miracle and for the little miracles. The big miracle is life everlasting. The little miracles are the blessings of faith and hope and charity that we give, one to another, on this Easter Sunday, and on every day of the year of our Lord.