Tomorrow, there won’t be a Palm Sunday mass. There won’t be palms blessed and distributed this year. It is truly strange times. Part of me wonders what we’ll do next year on Ash Wednesday, once Quarantine2020 is behind us. Please God let it be behind us by then.
If there ‘s one thing we’ve all heard over and overandoverandover since this pandemic started spinning out of control, it’s to wash our hands, often and well. Guess where I’m going with this? That’s right: Pontius Pilate. The most famous hand-washer of all time. There’s a difference between the symbolism of that act, compared to now, kinda. But maybe not as much as we’d like to think.
As a child, I always found the Palm Sunday mass hard. It was so very long because the Gospel was the entire Passion. I got squirmy, there was language (Aramaic) I didn’t understand. There was politics I didn’t understand. And the parts I did understand were about JC’s friends betraying him or abandoning him and then JC getting beaten and mocked and killed. Things that were hard to listen to. At some point though, I started to understand the story better. I thought more about the characters in this Passion Play. Pontius Pilate was, to a child’s ear, the person who let the crucifixion happen. He was the villain of the story. As I grew, I understood that Pilate was conflicted. It wasn’t nearly as binary as Hero/Villain in the story. Pilate could have stopped it. His wife encouraged him to stop it. But instead, he washed his hands, and he is forever tied to washing his hands. He’s the source of the expression Washing your hands of something. He washed away his culpability in the matter with a quick rinse at the basin. Or tried to, I guess. I mean, Lady MacBeth continued to struggle with her Damn Spots, maybe Pilate did, too. And Pilate was a reallyreal guy, so perhaps moreso.
Eventually, I caught Godspell and Jesus Christ Superstar in my orbit. These two stories are based on the Passion, and both have Pilate in the dramatis personae. He’s kind of hand-wavey in The Last Temptation of Christ, not seeing the matter of JC as particularly important. He’s portrayed as a bit of a yes-man in The Passion of the Christ. And then, of course, there’s Mick and the boys:
I was ’round when Jesus Christ / had his moment of doubt and pain
Made damn sure that Pilate / Washed his hands and sealed his fate
They’re different, to be sure, but the hand washing is the moneyshot in all of them. Maybe he was reluctant, but in the end, when he was pressed he succumbed to the pressure, and he washed his hands.
I get it. In my terms, it sounds more like “Not my circus, not my monkeys” or “I’m not doing this bullshit anymore”, or, simply “Not it”. It’s OK to say no. But it’s not OK to put the wheels of something into action, and then say you didn’t have a role in it. That’s the difference here, I hope.
During Lent may I persevere when challenges get particularly crunchy; And, may I know my role and accept responsibility for my actions.
Jesus Christ Superstar vs Godspell