Washing Hands

“But when Pilate saw that he was accomplishing nothing but it was rather becoming an uproar, he took hold of water and washed his hands against the crowd, saying, ‘I am innocent of this one’s blood; see to it yourself.’”

(Matthew 27:24)

 

As I write this, I am grieved by the events that are going on in the nation of Ukraine, where the pro-western protestors and the pro-eastern government have been clashing. Apart from the fact that Ukraine has a special place in my heart, the violence that is taking place there reminds me of the nature of this crowd here in these last hours before our Lord’s crucifixion. The reality is that one does not ever successfully reason or negotiate with a mob — it just does not happen. People become committed to their outcome and their outcome alone and will accept nothing less and no compromise will be given. And it is exactly that principle that the priests who have been inciting this crowd are banking on. Essentially, they are using the people to force Pilate’s hand and Pilate knows it as well.

Pilate has lost and you an almost see the anger in his body language. He thrusts his hands into water and forcefully washes them “against” the people. Literally, the text reads that Pilate “grasps water” with the implication that the grasping was fairly violent. He is mad and he is frustrated and is saying, “enough!” And from that point on, the idea of washing one’s hands from the blood of another has entered into the west’s figures of speech.

It is of course, not that Pilate invented the idiom, the Jewish people would regularly ritually wash their hands to purify them from defilement and even guilt (see Deuteronomy 21:6 and Psalm 26:6). Even so, whether Pilate is mocking the Jewish practice or if he is using it to communicate with an idea with more force, the once rather obscure Jewish practice is no longer obscure or without specific meaning in the Christianized world. For this Pilate will always be remembered.

Yet, much like Lady Macbeth, Pilate must realize that a symbolic gesture cannot remove the guilt of another man’s blood. And wash as he may, Pilate had and rejected the opportunity to see justice done and have Jesus exonerated. Nevertheless, that also was not in the Father’s design for his own Son. Jesus’ suffering and humiliation must be made complete upon the cross as the prophesies had thus stated…killed at the hands of wicked men for a wicked people to show us grace. For we are the wicked ones for whom Jesus endured the cross. We are the ones standing with Pilate and the priests in our guilt and we are the ones who have tried to wash the blood from our own hands by our own works and found ourselves woefully wanting.

Loved ones, never lose sight of that great truth. We stand guilty. And, if we trust in Jesus as our Lord and Savior, that same Jesus who died in our place will wash the blood of guilt from our hands with his own precious blood. What a wonderful gift of grace that came out of this wicked, wicked event played out in Jerusalem all of those years ago. Loved ones, will you turn to Christ? Will you live for him? If he gave all this for you, how ungrateful we are when we do not return our all to him. Do not seek to wash your hands as Pilate has done; it will offer you no eternal solution to the problem of your soul.

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