One of the “perks” of being president is the ability to issue pardons to people convicted of crimes, or, even, those who MAY have committed a crime. President Ford pardoned former President Nixon so that the nation wouldn’t be embroiled forever in the Watergate controversy. The basic idea of a presidential pardon is to restore rights and privileges to a reformed criminal that they lost due to a felony conviction, including the right to vote. Some presidents have been very judicious in the use of their pardons, others have pardoned thousands of people. In some cases, the pardons seem to have been used to reward political allies and the pardons themselves, while perfectly legal, created a firestorm of criticism.
A pardon may ignite questions regarding the politics involved. At other times, the lack of a pardon for someone may leave us scratching our heads. This isn’t a modern-day phenomenon, though. Roman governors could issue pardons and it was apparently a custom for the governor over Israel to issue one pardon during the time of Passover. As Jesus was brought to Pilate for trial, some asked that Pilate exercise his pardon. Pilate thought that was an easy way to get out of this mess he was in with Jesus. Knowing Jesus was innocent of the types of charges being brought against him, he offered Jesus as a possible candidate for a pardon. “’Do you want me to release to you the king of the Jews?’ asked Pilate, knowing it was out of self-interest that the chief priests had handed Jesus over to him.” (Mark 15: 9-10)
We know the rest of the story. If you don’t, go ahead and check out the Bible reading because there are spoilers ahead. Pilate’s attempt to get out of his Jesus problem failed. The people, under the leadership of the Pharisees, cried out for Barabbas to be released. Jesus was on trial for being an insurrectionist, and no one died; Barabbas was being held as an insurrectionist with a group where murders had happened. Maybe he was just part of the group and proclaimed his innocence in any actual murder case, but for some reason, on this day, he became the cause celebré, and the crowd called for him to be released and for Jesus to be crucified. How fickle crowds are. Five days earlier, He was the Messiah and on this day, they called for His crucifixion. Perhaps the final irony in this passage is that Pilate knew that the chief priests had handed Jesus over to him out of self-interest. Pilate, meanwhile, succumbed to their demands from his own self-interest knowing that the Jews would riot if he refused to crucify Jesus.
There are a lot of interesting lessons in this story, but the contrast between those acting in their own self-interest versus Jesus acting in our interests is what strikes me the most. The chief priests, Pharisees, and other religious leaders wanted Jesus taken out because of their fear that the Romans would crush them if people acted on their belief in Jesus as Messiah. Pilate tried to hold onto his position of power. Jesus knowingly went to the cross to pay the penalty for sin so that we could have a relationship with God. It was through the sacrifice of Jesus that we received mercy and grace from God. As followers of Jesus, we are called to act in the interests of others, not our own self-interests. Do we take care of our needs? Yes, usually. But we should be willing to sacrifice anything and everything so that others can experience the forgiveness and love of God. We should be willing to make those sacrifices, and search for ways to make them because when we became followers of Christ, God gave us His nature. Sacrificing our own self-interests for the good of others is in the nature of God. So, start practicing today. Find one way that you can look out for the interests of others instead of indulging your own self-interest.
Lord, remind me that You gave us everything when You sacrificed Yourself on the cross. Make me willing to give anything and everything up to bring others to know You.