Why Pilate and Herod are Friends

Christ with Kyrill and Putin, 2022 – anonymous

A reflection based on Luke 23:1-12

It happened in history. During the time of Herod Antipas and Pontius Pilate. 

There’s a painting going around from a Ukrainian artist, an icon of Christ’s crucifixion. Christ is being beaten and bloodied by the men on his right and left. It takes a moment to register, but then you see it. The one to Christ’s left is Vladimir Putin. The one on the right is Patriarch Kyril of Moscow, Bishop of the Russian Orthodox Church. 

It’s clear that Putin is a war criminal, the latest in a long line of them. What’s equally offensive to me though, is that Patriarch Kyril of Moscow continues to bless Putin’s actions in the name of the church, indeed, in the name of Christ. It’s hard for me to imagine a more ungodly abuse of the gospel of Christ. 

It’s tempting to see this episode with Pilate and Herod as a similarly ungodly marriage of church and state. Herod is the “church” in the equation, a Jew, though in name only. Pilate represents the state. By the end they become friends but they already have plenty in common. Luke has shown that they both rule with an iron fist and are unafraid to kill. 

Neither of them seem that interested in Jesus, though. Pilate’s never heard of him. Herod just wants him to do a magic trick. It’s the growing crowd of religious leaders who insist that Jesus is a person of interest. They bring him with trumped up charges, saying he’s an insurrectionist, calling himself Caesar, or the son of God (they switch up the terms to suit their audience). 

But Pilate and Herod don’t take the bait. They just mock him and rough him up a bit, like two tomcats with a field mouse.

On the very first day of the war in Ukraine, a Ukrainian soldier, Vitaly Skakun Volodymyrovych, was helping his unit lay explosives on a Ukrainian bridge to prevent the Russian column from entering their city. They were coming fast, his unit realized they weren’t going to make it off the bridge in time, so they ran. Vitaly stayed. 

He stayed on the bridge and detonated the bombs, laying down his life to destroy the bridge, and cut off the enemy. 

It is natural to see this story of a man laying down his life for his friends as an icon of Christ’s crucifixion; but there’s one crucial difference. What the church ultimately says about Christ’s crucifixion is that he doesn’t destroy a bridge to cut off our enemies. He becomes a bridge and calls his enemies friends.

There’s more truth to that line “That day Herod and Pilate became friends” than either Herod or Pilate realize, more truth to the image of Putin and Kyrrill than I even want to admit. The ironic truth is that what they do to Jesus is actually something he’s doing for them. They know not what they’re doing; but mercy of mercies, He knows exactly what he is doing. He’s making even his own enemies his friends. 

How does that line in Romans go? While we were yet sinners, Christ died for the ungodly.

For a good person, a friend, your country, a righteous cause, someone might have the courage and dare to die, and Good on them. But behold an even greater gospel. While we were yet enemies, even while we are still enemies, God reconciles us through the death of his Son.

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