April 04, 2019

These Hands by Susan Barclay

Pilate Washing His Hands by Thomas Hawk
His gaze met mine without a trace of rancour. And yet I held the power of life and death in my hands. The ability to order or deny his execution. 

There was peace in his eyes, and my hands felt cold and sweaty. What to do with this man who seemed to hold no fear of death. Didn't he understand the cruel punishment of crucifixion? And it seemed to me, from the little I could get out of him, that he had done no wrong, that the Jews were afraid of him, despised him for some reason, perhaps envied him. They accused him of treason, but from all I could discern, he was no political threat to Rome, and if he were, the Jewish people would surely be on board if they thought he could overthrow us. 

"Are you the king of the Jews?" I asked, clasping my hands at my waist.

"So you say," he replied.

I could see how he might aggravate, this enigma of a man, how he would rile the Pharisees, they who were all about law and order and giving the right answers. I decided to send him to Herod, to let him deal with him. The Jewish leaders weren't happy about it, but I wasn't happy about the position they were putting me in. It felt like entrapment, like no matter which course of action I took, I'd lose.

And then Herod sent Jesus back to me. Neither of us could find any fault in him. Then I remembered the practice of releasing a prisoner to the Jews at the Passover season and decided to let them choose between Jesus and Barabbas, a notorious and violent criminal. Surely they would choose Jesus, I thought.

My wife, Procula, hearing the chants and cries of the crowd, tried to intervene on Jesus' behalf and sent me a message. She'd had a nightmare involving him, and felt that no good could come of my participation. 

Through it all, Jesus stood by, his hands at his sides, those peaceful eyes looking over the people, sometimes closing as if in prayer. I rubbed my wet palms on my robe as the crowd chanted for the release of Barabbas and the crucifixion of Jesus. I called for a basin of water, washed my hands ceremonially, and told them, "I am innocent of this man's blood. The responsibility is yours!" They called back, "We will take responsibility for his death - we and our children!"

I gave the order for Jesus to be flogged and to be turned over to the Roman soldiers for crucifixion. Then I took to my quarters and told my servants that I was not to be disturbed for any reason. But after Jesus died (so quickly I thought!), Joseph of Arimathea bulldozed his way in and asked permission to take Jesus' body and bury it in his own tomb. I granted it without even looking at him, and waved him away.

For three days I could not eat, I could not sleep. I avoided Procula, her comfort and companionship. I knew I couldn't look her in the eye.

And then I heard astonishing reports - that Joseph's tomb was empty, the stone had been rolled away and Jesus disappeared! More reports came, that Jesus had been spotted alive, walking around, spending time with his disciples. How could it be? I wanted to see for myself, but was afraid and more than a little ashamed for my role in the killing of an innocent man. And if he was the King of the Jews, what might he do to me?

I look at my hands now and no matter how many times I wash them, they are never clean. His blood is on them. And for this I will be remembered. 

I long for clean hands and a clean heart. I long for the peace that I saw in the eyes of Jesus.
Susan Barclay maintains a website at www.susan-barclay.blogspot.com and has recently returned to blogging there on a semi-regular basis.


  1. A most moving piece, Susan. A glimpse into the possible struggle in Pontius's heart and mind. Thank you.

  2. A wonderful piece. Thank you!

  3. A beautiful post, Susan. I love this perspective.

  4. Thank you all for your positive feedback :)

  5. Thanks for this well-told story of the dilemma Pontius Pilate faced when the Jewish leaders brought Jesus to him. How he must have wanted to go back and to have done things differently.

    1. I think so too, Sharon. Won't it be interesting if we get to find out?!


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