Isaiah 53:1-12 / Luke 22:39-71; 23:1-53
And Herod and Pilate were made friends that same day: for before they were enemies one to another.
Where there exists a common cause and a common outlook, where what one desires is what another desires as well, and where both can share in the thing desired without competition, there we find the fruitful ground for friendship. Friendship, one of the noblest features of authentically human life, is perhaps the highest sort of love, a love which joins us in common cause and common concern who had no other reason to be so joined. Where nature calls upon the love of parents, siblings, kin, fellow citizens, and so on, friendship engages the most authentically human aspects of our nature, and most especially our reason and our will. As much as great friendships seem sometimes to happen to us rather than result from our choosing, and even knowing that circumstance and context can make a friendship either more or less likely to arise, we nonetheless admit that without our willing it so, we would never begin to be friends, would not sustain our friendship, or would no longer remain as friends.
On the surface, then, we might want to say that all friendship is good, that wherever it is found, human life is nobler for it. Yet, we then turn to Luke's account of the Passion, and we discover something darker, something terrible in the blossoming of friendship between Herod and Pilate. As with other friendships, this bond comes to be from a common regard for one another rooted in a common outlook on the world. And that outlook? Hatred, mockery, and dismissal of the Lord Jesus Christ, and with him any hope that God may offer us more than the world can give or be forced to produce. Herod, already a compromised man, is nonetheless not altogether lost, even after his execution of John the Baptist. Even so, when Jesus refuses to work a sign for him and remains silent before him and the priestly accusers, Herod, who has every reason to resent Pilate, makes a final decision, and turns his hope definitively away from God and plants it in Rome and her legions.
Pilate, likewise, has little reason to join in love with Herod. It was because of weak and petty kinglets such as he that Rome endured such strife in Palestine. Were Herod either stronger and so kept a better control on the enthusiasm of Galilee, or were he not there at all, Pilate could surely manage his charge with greater efficiency. Yet, Pilate knows what friendships matter to him. He knows that, however troubled his mind and heart may be by clear and gross violations of the truth and of justice for the sake of jealousy — the darkness even he could see in the hearts of the chief priests who accused Jesus before him — Pilate wills his position, and so the friendship of Cæsar and of Cæsar's friends.
In Jesus Christ, we cannot remain friendless. His claims, if we have heard them at all, compel our response. Even the most committed of agnostics must, in the face of Jesus Christ, Son of God and King of the Jews, must at least conclude that this man is not worth hearing, and so find himself bound in friendship with those who speak ill of him. These are our options, and there is not another. We can find a friend in Jesus, Jesus who is despised and rejected, left alone to die in mockery upon the Cross, and so claim as our friends all those who abandoned him, who fled, who were ineffectual in preventing his death, or who like the good thief suffered along with him. Or, we can find our friendship in hating him, in rejecting him, even in finding him innocent but, like Pilate, preferring the company and friendship of those who despise him over those who worship him as King and Lord.
This is what the Cross sets before us. There is no other way, and Jesus did not mean for there to be. He is our Lord and God, and apart from him there is no light or life, no fulfillment or joy. In his outstretched arms on the Cross, he invites us, even now, to the bright friendship of his Passion. Will we, this day, abandon our dark friendships and be willing to be enemies with them once more, knowing that in friendship with Christ, we are closer to them and their hopes than we ever had been before? Will we come to Christ, and hear him say to us, This day thou shalt be with Me in paradise?