Saturday, April 30, 2011



Just before Easter I came upon a short story written by Anatole France (1844-1924); its title, “The Procurator of Judea,” immediately caught my attention because of its timeliness. The odds of your ever reading this ten-page story are so slim that I think I can tell you how it turns out without fear of getting you too angry at me for spoiling the ending.

Set in Italy many years after the death of Jesus, the story consists entirely of a dialogue between one Lucius Aelius Lamia and an elderly and retired Pontius Pilate. Lamia had once been a house guest of Pilate’s for some weeks back in Judea but had not seen him since. Thus the two sat down on a shady terrace at the retired Procurator's villa to share lunch, a pitcher of wine and good conversation.

I started reading, waiting impatiently for the inevitable moment when the author would offer some insights into the death of Jesus from the perspective of Pontius Pilate, who as “Procurator of Judea” had been responsible for the most famous execution in history.

The conversation was free-flowing and wide-ranging, but eventually turned to a long discussion of the Jews, whom Pilate had governed for some years. As the two men traded opinions I sensed that we were about to get to some great self-revelation – probably Pilate’s confessing that his uneasy conscience had left him unable to sleep at night ever since that fateful Friday afternoon.

Finally Lamia started talking about a Jewish dancing girl he’d fallen in love with in Jerusalem, and how she had broken his heart when she completely disappeared one day without a word. I’ll continue his story in Anatole France’s words:

“Some months after I lost sight of her I learned by chance that she had attached herself to a small company of men and women who were followers of a young Galilean wonder-worker. His name was Jesus; he came from Nazareth, and he was crucified for some crime, I don’t quite know what. Pontius, do you remember anything about the man?

“Pontius Pilate contracted his brows, and his hand rose to his forehead in the attitude of one who probes the deeps of memory. Then after a silence of some seconds –

“Jesus?” he murmured, “Jesus – of Nazareth? I don’t seem to remember him.”

And that was the end of the story: Pilate couldn’t recall ever having met Jesus, let alone having had him killed!


The surprise ending left me disappointed but also intrigued at its open-ended possibilities for reflection.

I was appalled that Pilate could have been so blasé and could have forgotten such a momentous event. But then, if it’s appalling that he should forget the death of Jesus, isn’t it equally as appalling that I should often be so blasé and indifferent about Christ’s resurrection?

Can I blame Pilate, a pagan and a busy Roman functionary, for not remembering that first Good Friday that had happened so many years before, when I, a baptized believer, can go about my day without remembering Easter Sunday that is happening in my heart every day?

I hope that the shocking ending of Anatole France’s story will remind me that the risen Savior is alive and present at every moment of my life and in every place in which I find myself. Saint Augustine says somewhere that a Christian is an Alleluia from head to toe. I pray that all of us Christians may live like so many "Alleluias," proclaiming with our loving actions and attitudes that the Jesus who Pilate executed is alive in our hearts and will live forever.

So, there is my strange but chilling meditation for the Easter season:
....“Jesus – of Nazareth? I don’t seem to remember him.”



  1. I've never read this story by Anatole France, but I think Pilate's blase comment is not shocking at all. I think it was quite predictable considering the fact that he served as a public official at one time.

    Over the past 10 years I've become "awakened" and much more attuned to political issues and personalities. What I find to be extremely unfortunate after reading this story about Pilate (as well as the Passion in the Gospel) is that human nature has not evolved much (or at all) when it comes to political matters and the players within the political arena.
    The reason being is that for those who are in charge (i.e., those who govern), it's all about their ability to gain and wield power, attain prestige and of course, acquire money while the matters and issues of REAL importance and significance to the people (i.e., those who are governed) tend to be trivialized or ignored completely if there's nothing to be gained in the process by the governing (political) official.

    I truly believe that if politics was not "profitable", then no one would be in it.

  2. A very weird story on meditation, this actually reminds me of Buddhist meditation myths in ancient Asia. Thank you for sharing.