Matthew 27:24 (New American Standard Bible)
When Pilate saw that he was accomplishing nothing, but rather that a riot was starting, he took water and washed his hands in front of the crowd, saying, “I am innocent of this Man’s blood; see to that yourselves.”
The President of the United States recently signed a new law that adds stiffer punishments for crimes that are deemed “hate crimes” – i.e. crimes committed because the victim is from a particular race or religion or some minority group, including disabled people and homosexuals. The idea of such laws is to send a message to would-be criminals that the US will not tolerate such hateful behavior. Hate crime laws are in direct opposition to the “Jim Crow” laws that for a long time legalized segregation and encouraged local authorities to turn a blind eye to crimes against minorities. But racism and other prejudices have been reinforced by generations of systemic discrimination in this country, and “hate crime” laws feel to me like the government is just washing their hands of the whole problem of discrimination. The federal government is saying, in essence, “We have done all we can to make hatred a crime. Now it is up to the rest of you to stop hating each other.”
When Pontius Pilate questioned Jesus, he found no fault in Him , no guilt at all. (Matthew 27:23, Luke 23:14-15) Pilate tried to release Him, tried to persuade the crowd to let Jesus go. But petty men had stirred up hatred in the Sanhedrin (the ruling body of the Jewish temple) and in the crowd gathered in Pilate’s court. While Jesus’ message was certainly subversive to the temple authorities, He wasn’t exactly preaching open rebellion against Rome itself. Politically, Pilate was in a tight spot, and he did what any self-serving politician would do: he shifted the blame to the people themselves.
We look at Pilate washing his hands, and we say, “That little bit of water can’t remove the stain of Christ’s death from his hands.” By saying “I am innocent,” Pilate is also saying “Someone else is GUILTY.” And to whom does he point? “See to that yourselves” he says to the crowd. (Literally “Look at yourselves.”) In other words, “I am innocent of any crime against this man. But YOU are guilty.”
We cannot so easily shift the guilt of hatred from ourselves to others. After all, we are all sinners, and none of us is limited to committing just one sin. We may be more prideful than hateful, more lustful than irreverent, more covetous than murderous, but as it says in the Psalms, “There is none who does good, No, not one.” (Psalms 53:3b) The blame for “hate crimes” falls on all of us, but creating a law does not remove the stain of sin from anyone’s hands, and it does not PREVENT the sin, only punishes it after the fact. What prevents sin is accepting Jesus as true Lord of our lives, allowing the Holy Spirit to reign in our hearts. God’s Word written inside us is far more effective than man’s words written on paper in the laws of a country. And accepting Jesus as our Savior truly removes the stain of our sins from our hands. For a human law against hatred to be effective, we need to admit our guilt before God, seek the forgiveness offered through His Son, and embrace His righteousness and love as our own. Then, such a “hate crime” law need will never need to be enforced.
Almighty God, forgive me for my petty prejudices, for the ways I allow others to oppress and enslave others. Teach me Your Word, Lord God, and help me overcome evil with good, hatred with love. Thank You for Your Son, who maintained Your holiness while also loving the broken and sinful, forgiving us even on the Cross where He died for our sins. Amen.