Playing the Villain

4348924740_d13a3bd3af_zI was the villain at Mass this Sunday.

I got there too early and there weren’t enough readers and suddenly I found myself taking part in the Passion. And I was cast as the high priests, the scribes and Pontius Pilate.

It’s easy, I think, to become so enveloped in reading aloud that you forget to reflect on the words themselves. So, as I stood there at the altar in front of the congregation, part of a team of several readers relating the Passion of Christ, I tried to really put myself in the scenes, to say each word as though they truly were my own.

And that was a scary thing. Because I found that I was very much responsible for crucifying Christ.

Every year we come to this point and I find myself relating to Pontius Pilate. Is he really a bad guy, or just doing his job? Or, perhaps worse yet, is he just going along with the crowd?

As I read the words aloud, as I found myself condemning Christ, I wondered how many of these words really were foreign to me. What, here on the page, could I really claim would never escape my own lips, have never escaped my own lips?

“Are you the king of the Jews?” That always seemed like such a sassy question. Pilate was throwing it back at Jesus, showing that he was boss, that he didn’t care about Jesus, about the Jews, about anyone. He was mocking Christ.

But as I read those words this past Sunday, they didn’t feel sassy, mocking. They felt desperate. They felt as though I was trying simply to blend in. I was using the language of the locals; I was trying to conform. I didn’t want to make waves, so I wasn’t going to let my own views or opinions or anything be known.

And that, suddenly, wasn’t such a remote thing. How often do I conform to those around me, do I gossip and use the derogatory jargon of peers and colleagues?

“Then what do you want me to do with the man you call the king of the Jews? … What evil has he done?” A person who is in charge does not speak like this, I realized. Bargaining with those who are thirsty for blood. Throwing up hands in a weak defense.

Is this me, I wonder? When do I, “wishing to satisfy the crowd,” hand over Christ?

These are important questions to ponder as we continue our walk through Holy Week. Because we do all inhabit this persona—and Christ knows it. And yet, we’re still beckoned forward; we’re still invited to the Easter feast. In fact, the feast doesn’t start without us.

How does that feel? What does that say about God—and about us?

Eric Clayton

Eric Clayton works at Catholic Relief Services as part of the U.S. Church Engagement Division. He holds an MA in international media from American University and a BA in international studies and creative writing from Fairfield University. He currently lives in Baltimore with his wife and hedgehog.