JENNINGS: Appreciate the strength in offering no response
Imagine this, a cowded meeting hall full of people shouting over one another, gavels banging, cameras flashing, and when finally, everyone is quieted down, the one at the center of it all is asked to speak, but does not say a word.
In the gospel of Matthew, Jesus is arrested and taken before the political and religious officials and elites and, “when (Jesus) was accused…he did not answer. Then Pilate said to him, ‘Do you not hear how many accusations they make against you.?’ But (Jesus) gave him no answer, not even to a single charge” (Matthew 27:12-14).
Silence, or the absence of a response in the face of accusations, appears to be a weak-hearted, passive stance of defeat. It looks like Jesus goes belly up and humbly accepts the injustice being done to him. He doesn’t even try to make a case for himself! There’s so much he could have said. So many defenses he could have made! But he was silent.
There is a pileup of accusations from all sides; attacks on his character, questions about his background, slander about his mother. The chambers have gone silent at last. Everyone leans forward. Governor Pilate, looks at him. “Well, Jesus?”
We often assume that no response means acquiescence, acceptance, or weakness. Yet, when Jesus stands in solidarity with those we call “voiceless”, a message more powerful than words is being conveyed. You see, there are no “voiceless”. Not responding is a response. Even the silence is a voice giving witness to the truth.
Without a word, Jesus looks Pilate full in the face. Pilate feels uncomfortable under that gaze, as if this Jesus fully saw him. The elite, begin to squirm in their seats, the silence leaving their insults hanging in the air like rotten fruit. The soldiers question what’s happening. In his silence, Jesus intensified the pressure in the room, daring his accusers to look at him and to look within themselves. He calls them to remember the testimony of all that he had said and done before. This lack of a response was not a passive act of defeat. It was a powerful action that maintained his dignity and brought into relief the misdeeds of his accusers.
The text says that, “Pilate was amazed.” This was because Jesus’ silence was no belly up move, like a cowered dog. This was a punk move of someone who was not going to bend over backward trying to defend against false accusations. This was a rebellious move of a lower-class, Jewish man refusing to answer to the powerful of the empire. In his silence, Jesus’ presence and power was greater than if he had had a team of lawyers defending him.
Although a possible rebuttal, performing a miracle or two, and laying out his case of innocence might have won Jesus his release, Jesus refuses to participate in this charade of “justice”. The Roman system has nothing to offer in terms of the freedom and justice that Jesus proclaims.
Too often, we are like those who accuse Jesus; focused on punishing someone for breaking the rules of society, wanting vengeance rather than restoration, and getting so caught up in our accusations that we lose sight of the person or people right in front of us.
We lobby arguments with anecdotes and numbers about undocumented immigrants, drug cartels, and border crossings, all the while standing before us is a woman, scared and desperately hoping to find shelter for her child.
We throw worst-case scenarios and hypothetical situations around to convince others that our schools should be spending funds on the things we think are priorities, while forgetting the teacher who is overworked and underpaid.
We fill screens with statistics, charts and graphs about lowering property values, crime, and addiction and look past the former office manager who lives in his car after being evicted from his home.
Perhaps we need to tune in to some silence.
Perhaps we need the witness that can be heard in the absence of a response.
Perhaps we need to set aside the latest click-bait headlines and turn our attention to the person before us.
This week, as we remember the last days of Jesus’ life in the flesh, may we be tuned in to those we have deemed weak, voiceless and silent. May we be struck by the power of the Spirit that enters into that space where no response is given. Like Jesus, may we stand in solidarity with those whose witness goes beyond words.