Am I right in daring to suggest that leaders are supposed to be chosen for their wisdom, for their grasp of the truth, for their understanding of justice and good? If this is so, why are they always asking us, the people, what they should do? I've been revisiting the Gospel of the last Sunday of this year, only five weeks away, and trying to understand Pontius Pilate.
Pilate's uncertainty as a leader is so disturbingly familiar. Instead of exercising his authority in a decisive, just and enlightened way he ends up cutting a pathetic figure caught between forces he is unable to deal with.
- Are you the king of the Jews?
- So you are a king then?
- Truth? ... What is that?
- Would you like me, then, to release the king of the Jews?
- Where do you come from?
- Are you refusing to speak to me?
- Do you want me to crucify your king?
Back and forth he goes - from Jesus to the crowd outside and from the crowd back to Jesus, and then back to the crowd again.
In the end it is not truth which prevails but a politically expedient decision based ultimately on the personal fears and needs of the leader. How common this is!
Pehaps the worst feature of Pontius Pilate's leadership is the way he asks the crowd to tell him what he should do. He is truly a man without a personal grasp of absolute values ('Truth, what is that?') and such a leader causes his followers to begin to doubt the very existence of these values.
Leaders like Pilate are shepherds who ask the sheep where they would like to graze - a greater danger to their flock than any wolf.