Pontus Pilate offered to free Jesus, as was the custom, seeing no wrong in Him; but the crowds demanded that he free Barabbas instead and crucify Our Lord. And so, scripture tells, Pilate had Jesus scourged and sent Him off to be crucified.
Three of the four Gospels tell us of the scourging, and each states it in a word. We don’t know what was in Pilate’s mind, or why he had a man he thought innocent scourged, but there is no indication that he or his men took pleasure in it (as compared with the dark joy his men felt in crowning Him with thorns). It seems likely to me that the scourging was simply standard operating procedure, a thing done as a matter of course with no thought given to it. Next to the crowning with thorns it seems oddly impersonal.
In other words, the indications are that Jesus wasn’t scourged because He was guilty, or because He claimed to be King of the Jews, or because of anything He personally had done. He was scourged simply because He was a man in the hands of authority. And looked at that way, it seems fitting that it should be so. Jesus accepted death for our sake, atoning for the sin of every man; and in the impersonal process of scourging He is Every Man, and by His stripes we are healed.
But there is another lesson, here. Pilate was hardened to the everyday brutality of scourging; he inflicted it on Jesus as he did on all those who fell into his judicial hands. How often do we take casual brutality (physical, mental, or emotional) for granted in the lives of those around us? How often do we stand by and think nothing of it?
Are we hardened in ways we don’t realize?
Copyright 2015 Will Duquette.
Art: Follower of Hieronymus Bosch (circa 1450–1516) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons