Translation Canon Tony Dickinson
From the famous phrase attributed to Pilate, Vicens Hubac shows us that it is full of meaning, that it carries in its simplicity, « the extraordinary power of a love that transcends us ».
The phrase that John puts into Pilate’s mouth is known the world over. Its purported author did not pursue a career and left the memory of an unimpressive man. The phrase ascribed to him certainly transcends him! Why does this phrase « Behold the man » have such a profound impact on us when Jesus, here characterised as man, is in a situation that nobody envies him?
The four gospels agree in saying that Jesus was betrayed by Judas. Then Jesus was denied by Peter. Yet Judas the treasurer and Peter are the most prominent apostles of the group, the close confidants. In Gethsemane, Jesus feels « sorrow and anguish » (Mt 26,37), Mark says « dread and anguish » (Mk 14,32). The synoptic gospels note that if Jesus could avoid the ordeal, he would clearly do so, but in these three gospels, Jesus insists that the Father’s will must be fulfilled. In Luke, the fear of Jesus is such that he is sweating blood. Anguish, fear, abandonment and betrayal partly characterise Jesus’ state of mind.
The arrest does not happen without violence, since a disciple (Peter, according to Jn 18:10) cuts off the ear of the High Priest’s servant. This violence is at odds with the whole of Jesus’ discourse. Then, after his arrest Jesus appears before the High Priest where he is slapped, beaten and derided by his guards. In the synoptic Gospels, Jesus is accused before Herod, despised, ridiculed and dressed in a tunic, a symbol of royalty. In John, the royal mantle is put on the shoulders of Jesus with the crown of thorns. Jesus, who has just been whipped and assaulted by the soldiers, has suffered his first ordeal, one during which many died.
The choice here is clear: to release this enigmatic puppet king or to crucify him at the request of the people who, after the betrayal, the denial and the silence of the other disciples, leave Jesus alone, facing his destiny. It is there that Pilate says these words: « Here is the man », betrayed, beaten, bloody, ridiculous with his cloak and crown. This man, frightened, anguished, abandoned and despised, will be crucified, naked, because those crucified were naked. The final shame and the physical suffering, both unbearable, come to end this episode which tells us about the man. Because Pilate is right in what he says! Here, man is the man stripped, at the human ground zero we could say. He no longer matters for anyone and he is going to die. Now, Jesus here is the man who, stripped bare, with no connection to anything, or anybody, will die the lowest of deaths, for nothing, except that people might live with the essential, that is to say, with a total love that goes to the end of what is possible.
Jesus dies here for the others, for the other, for us, for me. The weakness that is expressed there reveals the extraordinary power of a love that transcends us. It is the kenosis, the abasement of God in Jesus Christ. « Here is the man », this saying resonates in us, because deep down, we know well that everything that belongs to appearance, power, wealth, pride, violence, etc. does not make the human. The relationship to the other in a spirit of life, justice and love is what makes the man. Humanity expresses itself in the hand stretched out to the sick, in the smile for the poor, in the welcome of a child, in wonder and confidence, in culture and the gift of oneself.
Jesus, in his relationship to the world and in his passion tells us clearly what man is in all his greatness and the power of his word. And if Pilate opens the debate: « Here is the man », it is Jesus who closes it: « Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing. (Lk 23,34) There are stories, lives and words that make us understand that heaven touches the earth and that the dignity of being is expressed in « being-for-the-other » « . We are a long way from the super humanity of transhumanism.
It is in this abasement of Jesus that the human is expressed in its fullness, a human who carries in himself the agape of God. Pilate’s phrase echoes in our finitude, and Jesus joins us at the extreme of life so that we can live the life of eternity by being for each other: « being – for-the-other »,
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