25th March 2022


A word that has come into my mind during these past difficult days is the word Innocents. And this reminds me that one of the first responses to Jesus’ birth, recorded by Matthew, was the massacre of the Innocents – the dead sons of Bethlehem and their grieving mothers cry out from the pages of scripture, and it sounds almost contemporary – the suffering of those who have done no wrong. Well might there be tears in mothers’ eyes when evil wreaks such destruction in Kiev, Kharkiv, and Mariupol, and other Ukrainian cities. And why such appalling destruction? Because one man was afraid that his illegitimate power was at risk: fear here, as always, is an all-powerful motive. So if Matthew’s story is about the Innocent, it also requires us to name the Guilty.

Now, if that is how the gospel story starts, it also ends with an account of the Innocent and the Guilty. The Jesus who escaped Herod’s sword in Bethlehem, but who grew up to be the only truly innocent man who ever lived, is, at Calvary, by lying subterfuge and manipulation of emotions, nailed to a cross, all alone, forsaken by his friends.

But we cannot now limit the Guilty to just a puppet king in the eastern Roman Empire, nor yet the priestly conspirators who surrounded him and obstructed the processes of justice. Nor can we limit guilty action to a modern tyrant, exercising unimaginable armed power from Moscow. We now need to see ourselves also as the guilty, ourselves in desperate need of the redemption that only Calvary brings.

At the conclusion of Jesus’ trial Pilate washed his hands in public and said ‘I am innocent of this man’s blood.’ But easy words have no effect. Sunday by Sunday millions of Christians recite the words: ‘suffered under Pontius Pilate’, not under Caiaphas and the Jewish hierarchy. By contrast, one of the criminals crucified beside Jesus, acknowledging his guilt, found forgiveness as Jesus says: ‘Today you will be with me in Paradise.’

John Briggs