The Word: Washing hands or taking up crosses?

Published 5:51 pm Friday, April 7, 2023

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Today is Good Friday, the day Christians remember the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. When told alongside the account of Jesus’ resurrection on Easter, the cross becomes the central story of the Christian faith. Each year, we read it anew, drawing from the accounts of the four Gospel writers and recalling the tragic events of that dark, yet vital, day.

What stands out to me this year is the contrast between two key figures in the story: Pontius Pilate and Jesus. Pilate is the Roman governor of Judea, charged with maintaining order and protecting Roman interests. He must navigate the shifting political loyalties of the local population and arbitrate disputes in a manner that meets Rome’s approval. He has the power and the authority. Yet when a troublesome rabbi is brought before him on trumped up charges, Pilate is hesitant to act, one way or other. He tries to pawn Jesus off on Herod, he tries to make everyone happy, and he ultimately washes his hands, literally, of the whole matter. He doesn’t take responsibility for what is going on because he wants to be rid of the problem.

The contrast with Jesus is stark. Where Pilate avoids any responsibility, Jesus calmly accepts the burden placed on him. Where Pilate tries to weasel out of the situation, Jesus embraces the moment. Where Pilate is unwilling to act, Jesus is firm in his conviction to faithfully do what God asks him to do. Pilate tries to wash his hands of Jesus’ situation, but Jesus willingly picks up the cross that awaits him, choosing to sacrificially act to challenge the powers of corruption and death and bring salvation to all.

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We live in a world of corruption, both of individuals and of systems; much of that corruption is leading to death. Natural disasters, like tornadoes and pandemics, and human-caused violence, like gun violence in our schools and domestic abuse in our homes, end innocent lives far too soon and traumatize survivors for years. Public discourse is so toxic it is hard to have any hope. Evil and the actions that separate us from one another and from God continue to flourish. Pain, suffering, abuse, and oppression are as real today as they were on that first Good Friday.

So which response do we choose? Do we wash our hands of it all, claiming that it isn’t our problem or that we are helpless to make a difference? Or do we take up the cross, take up the burdens of our world and try to be conduits of God’s grace and peace, somehow, someway?

In Matthew 16:24, Jesus makes it clear what choice he wants us to make. “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.” Jesus took up his cross to save the world. Will we follow his example and join him?

Rev. Dr. J. Adam Tyler is the Senior Pastor for Farmville Baptist Church and he can be reached by email at