What is truth? — Pilate in three takes (take 2)

As mentioned in the footnote of the last Bible study (“Don’t just read it”), the following post is the middle of three that explores different interpretations of Pilate’s question “What is truth.” Using the ancient Jewish practice of Midrash (in which scholars took the stories of scripture and expanded them to reach new insight and new interpretive depth), I have attempted to get into Pilate’s mind on that fateful day before the Passover. Think of these posts as “takes”  — a film director asking an actor for different emotions over the course of shooting a scene. These different angles help us interpret Pilate’s conversation with Jesus in John 18:33-38. After reading all three takes, decide which you think is persuasive. If none is, write your own!

Take Two

I slam the door open so hard that it crashes into the mantle, sending a vase toppling. I catch the vase in midair with both hands and look at my warped features in the curved, glazed surface. Red splotches have broken out on my cheeks and neck. I grit my teeth, spin, and fling the vase at the far wall. It shatters, satisfyingly.

My personal guard comes bolting into the room, sword drawn, at the sound of the crash. He stops and stands dumbly when he sees that I am alone. “Bring me the prisoner,” I say, chest heaving.

I stand with my back to the door. I lean with my knuckles on the desk, hands clenched in fists. I hear the door open slowly. Without turning, I say, “Are you the king of the Jews?” He answers insolently, questioning me when I am the one asking the questions.

“I am not a Jew, am I?” I say, half mocking, half enraged. I always have trouble with locals this time of year, but this is as bad as I’ve seen it. I feel justified in my rage and it feels good. When will they learn that we are in control? “Your own nation and the chief priests have handed you over to me. What have you done?”

I hear a sound and whip around to find Jesus bending over the broken vase. He is holding a flower. This is too perfect, I think, as my ire grows stronger. This dove thinks he can play with the lion. He has no idea who he is dealing with. I stride over to him, snatch the flower, and snap its head off. I can play with him and those meddlesome priests at the same time: I can expend my anger in sport.

Then he babbles something incoherent about his kingdom. “So you are a king,” I shout, throwing my hands in the air.

“You say that I am a king,” he says, quietly. His calmness threatens to diffuse my anger. I won’t let him. He continues, as I pace around him, stepping on the broken vase and flowers with each pass. “For this I was born and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.”

He finishes. I grab him by the shoulder and spin him around, grasping his garment in my left hand and pulling him close. We are nose to nose. His expression is one of mild surprise. There is no fear, not even concern in his eyes. Why isn’t he afraid of me? Why is he so calm?

“What is truth?” I don’t shout it. I don’t scream in his face. It comes out as a bellow, almost a growl. I push him away and storm out of the room, slamming the door behind me.

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