If you are not God, you only make the Creed if your God’s mother or his murderer. That means it is great to be Mary, but not so great to be Pontius Pilate.
Call no man happy until history decides his role. Pilate was well known for most of his life and Mary obscure. Even at death, the relative importance of the two would have been unclear to the average Roman. Today there are plenty of people named after Mary, but not nearly as many named “Pontius.”
Historically Pilate probably was a member of a wealthy Roman family and was certainly ruler of Judea and enforcer for the Roman occupiers. He was, evidently, brutal as a governor and, if our sources can be trusted, eventually lost his job over his treatment of the Jewish people. Pilate had little respect for Jewish ideas, though by the time of Jesus’ trial he knew he had to win over the leaders of the people to keep his job.
Eventually, he failed.
The best thing about being governed by the Romans was the rule of law. For most people, national rulers were more corrupt and arbitrary than the Romans. The Empire introduced stability, rules, and a sense of law. Jesus trial was a miscarriage of Jewish law, but also of Roman fair play.
The Romans were brutal by modern standards, but by ancient standards cared about justice. The Jewish and Roman people
Pilate bent to pressure from unjust local rulers to execute Jesus and so has ultimate human responsibility for the horrible decision to execute the Son of God. The Creeds recognise this: “crucified for us under Pontius Pilate.”
The Roman procurator must have thought he was saving his job by bending to pressure, but in the long term his injustice cost him more dearly. Injustice is never practical, because it scars the soul of the unjust man. Pilate would have carried his blood soaked hands all his life even if nobody remembered the name of Jesus or his cruelty. His soul would have known.
God also knew and God loves justice. Even if judged by the standards of Roman culture, Pilate was lawless. He did not act as a good Roman and God’s standards of justice are higher than Rome. Every American boss, every American judge, should remember that God never forgets. Sell out justice for peace and God will never forget you were unjust to one of his sons or daughters.
Who wants to be Pilate?
Perhaps not even Pilate, because there is a strong tradition in the East that Pilate repented. The man who killed Jesus may have found Him. I don’t know if this is true, but my heart hopes it is. Certainly, Jesus forgave Pilate from the Cross. He forgave all of us from the Cross.
If Pilate repented, Jesus was waiting to forgive Him before he asked.
Pilate reminds every one of us that no injustice is so great that God will not forgive it. While there is life, there is hope for every person. Pilate did not have the final word on the fate of Jesus: God did. Pilate could not wash his hands clean from unjust blood just by wishing to do so. But Pilate could look to Jesus and even with his last breath could ask for forgiveness.
If Jesus could forgive Pilate, then Jesus forgive me.