There are, of course, a number of errors in the way Tim Rice has Jesus respond to Pilate. The portrayal of Jesus is not satisfactory at all. Nonetheless, there are several elements of this scene I find compelling.
Ever since I first heard it, decades ago, I’ve found the flogging scene insufferably painful to see and hear — even though the reality was far worse than shown on the stage. Pilate’s slow count of the 39 lashes is intense and agonizing — as it should be. “Then Pilate took Jesus and flogged him” does not communicate the horror that flogging was to most of us. We should cringe and even cry at the thought.
I think Rice gets Pilate’s mixed motivations right. Pilate sneers at the Jews, considers Jesus innocent, but ultimately acquiesces as a matter of politics and self-preservation — blaming the Jews for his own weakness. I think that’s spot on.
The shots that cut over the Herod Antipas, picturing him as a spoiled, condescending, self-indulgent monarch aren’t as far off as you might think. This is the same man who had John the Baptist beheaded to please a dancing girl.
Any accurate depiction of the crucifixion would be unbearable to watch. As important as it is to have an understanding of the suffering Jesus bore for us, I’ve never cared for the sermons that focus entirely on the pain and suffering of Jesus. I just don’t like being emotionally manipulated.
On the other hand, I do think we too easily abstract and intellectualize the crucifixion. I remember a moment — when I was in the fourth grade — when my best friend was converted to Jesus. He was a rebellious, strong-willed boy (which is why I liked him so much). He’d given his parents problems for years.
But one Sunday morning, our Sunday school teacher told the story of the crucifixion. It wasn’t morbid or indulgent. She told it forthrightly — but with heartfelt emotion. And my friend began to cry, because for the first time he realized the price that Jesus had paid for him.
He’d already been baptized, but it wasn’t until that moment that he truly gave his heart to Jesus — and he changed (and was changed) forever. Literally.
The story of the crucifixion is much more than a story. Not only did it really happen, it really happened for each of us. Our sins, our failure to be true images of God in his creation, made this necessary. It’s our fault. We have to own it.
If it doesn’t make us tear up, if it doesn’t stir our emotions, our hearts have become too hard.
But Jesus died for the entire world — which includes each of us, of course, but also includes our neighbors, our co-workers, and billions of strangers around the world. When we refuse to evangelize, we sin against Jesus’ sacrifice.
What he did was necessary — but ultimately pointless if his story isn’t told to the lost.