The Hall of Judgment

“Then led they Jesus from Caiphas into the Hall of Judgment” and the light entering through the arches tinted the marble floors with a rosy hue. Jesus admired the hall just as a visitor would, who had no cares, but was lost in the enjoyment
of the statues, vases, and columns. When the proconsul entered, the others felt anxious, but Jesus remained calm, his eyes resting on Pilate with a look of affection.

The proconsul draped in a white toga had a look of contempt on his bony face. Coldly his eyes wandered over the group of Jews until they rested on Jesus with interest. Why was the accused looking at him with such obvious affection? He thought.

Pilate approached the group to study the man. Jesus gazed serenely into the proconsul’s eyes. He, taking this as a challenge, stared more intently. The light that flared up in Jesus’ eyes caught him unprepared. His heart skipped a beat. Pilate’s face reddened. Confused, he turned, and fled to his seat. Once seated, he looked
back at Jesus. He wanted to resume the staring match he imagined he had just lost, but the accused, with a happy expression on his face was inspecting the details on the ceiling.

The proconsul, who had met another living God once and had the prudence not to engage Tiberius in a staring match, found himself unable to explain what he had just felt. The flare up of light in Jesus’ eyes had blastedthrough his brain lluminating things that shamed him, and that he was sure the accused had seen. For the first time he felt at a disadvantage confronting a Jew and,worse yet, he felt unable to dislike the man.

Jesus looked back at him with a smile. The Magistrate, to his dismay, smiled back. He imperiously signaled the accused to come forward. He tried to instill in his voice a contempt he didn’t feel.

“Are you the King of the Jews?”

“If you call me a King, I must be one, but my Kingdom is not of this world.”

“This world is all there is. If not of this world, where would your Kingdom be.”

“Truth is my Kingdom.”

“What is truth?” The condescending sneer seemed genuine now.

“Verily I say, today you have seen the Truth and it has kindled a fire in you.”

These words filled Pilate with dread. He felt their roles had been reversed and this man had sentenced him to a yet unknown, but terrible fate.

After that day in the Hall of Judgment Pilate tried to forget that he had allowed fear for his position to influence his judgment. He had sent innocent men to the gallows before. So why would killing this particular one bother him so? Inexplicably,
gloom descended on him that day. He lost his taste for the very job he had tried to save. He became, moody, distracted, and obsessed with removing the veil that obscured his joy of life. Pilate thought that Jesus had cast an evil spell on him. A year later he was recalled to Rome to stand trial for corruption. After his acquittal,
he retired to his villa in Naples. Eventually, the veil of gloom lifted, but the joy of life never returned.

Years later on the terrace of his villa, a guest casually lifted his cup of wine in his direction, “To Pontius Pilate, the only Roman ever to crucify a God.”

Pilate who distractedly had offered his cup to a slave girl to refill, withdrew the cup. “By Jupiter, where in the world did you hear about that?”

“Two months ago while in Rome.”

“At the Emperor’s court?”

“Luckily for you, no. Nero would envy you for having such distinction. On a lark I attended a meeting of this new cult spreading among the plebes. Imagine my surprise when the priest mentioned your name. He told the congregation that you sentenced their God to die on the cross. I learned later that the priest knew this God
personally and was one of his first followers.”

“Is this man still in Rome?”

“As far as I know he is.”

“I”ll leave with you tomorrow. Take me to him.”

“It must be true then. Imagine, Pontius, if this cult spreads and endures for ages, your name will live forever. You would be as infamous as Caligula. But why are you so interested in seeingthis priest?”

Pilate turned his eyes away from the placid blue waters of the bay. “I’m writing my memoirs. I would like to ask this man a few questions about his God.”

***

Pilate, with three armed slaves, pushed his way through narrow winding streets. The dilapidated buildings vented their rank odors on the street. Pilate knocked on the door of a third floor apartment. An old man opened the door.

The small room was dark and bare. A canvas mattress stuffed with straw rested on the floor, a fly buzzed against a sheet of cured horse bladder covering the window. The window shed an amber glow in the gloom. Pilate saw a small blur dart across the room. The former Governor of Judea declined to sit on the bed.

Pilate was surprised to see the priest look at him with kind childish eyes from an emaciated toothless face framed by a wild mass of gray hair. Pontius had expected hostility and recrimination, but the old man simply waited for him to speak.

“You must be wondering why I, of all people, have asked my friend Lucius to arrange this meeting?”

The first Pope of Christianity just looked on in complete silence.

“Well let me assure you have nothing to fear from me, I’m now a private citizen. Nevertheless, the Emperor has outlawed your cult. It is now a capital offense to be a Christian.” Pilate guessed the old man was amused by his statement because the
tangle of hairs hiding his mouth trembled.

“It seems to me, it always was.” Peter’s eyes twinkled with mirth.

“Well, yes. I want you to know that killing him put an evil spell on me.”

“No it did not. You just did the will of God, and Jesus loves you.”

“Do you mean Jesus wanted to die?”

“No, God wanted his Son to die for our sins.”

“Do you mean I didn’t kill a God?”

“You killed his Son.”

“That’s very dissapointing I thought I had killed a God.”

“Well, In a way, you did. Jesus and his Father are one. So he’s both God, and the Son of God.”

“I don’t understand.”

“Come with me to our meeting, I’m on my way now to preach to the faithful. After you attend a few meetings you’ll understand not only who Jesus is, but also who you are, and how grateful we are to you for performing that terrible service on our behalf.”

***

Several weeks later, the Emperor reclining on his throne listened to a secretary reading his agenda for the coming week. He took a large olive from a tray and holding it between his thumb, and index finger, nibbled at it as a rabbit would. His eyes wandered restlessly around the immense hall.

“And the ex-governor of Judea, Pontius Pilate, requests an audience with your Imperial Majesty to plead his case. He was arrested at a Christian gathering, and is charged with being a Christian.”

“That’s interesting! I’ll see him immediately.”

“I beg your Divinity to reconsider, there are more pressing matters of state. I could schedule him for tomorrow.”

“There is no more pressing matter of state than what I consider so.” His brutish face took on ominous cast.”

“I’ll send for him right away, Majesty, but it will take at least an hour. He is being held at the Circus.”

“Do so, and don’t come back until you bring Pilate. I need to rest now”

“But your Divinity The King of Armenia is waiting outside to see you.”

“Reschedule him for another day, and send my musicians in.”

When the secretary returned with Pilate, the emperor was dancing naked for his mother wiggling his fleshy buttocks like an Eastern dancing girl. Prudently, the secretary waited untill Caesar finished dancing.

“Bravo, your Magnificence! There is no greater pleasure that seeing you dance.”

Everyone clapped heartily. Nero bowed. He pranced to his throne. His mother helped him don his purple robe and tenderly wiped the sweat from his chubby face.
Collapsing on his throne, he sighed.

“You may approach.”

The group waiting by the distant door moved forward. Two guards flanked the prisoner. The Emperor assessed the old man’s soot stained tunic and the embarrassment showing in his unshaved face with malicious glee. Pilate though that to plead for his life to a man that has just finished dancing naked for his mother was
unendurably shameful.

“Well, it looks as if you were caught in a very compromising position. In these days, in which Roman morals are at its lowest, a man of your class should be expected to set the right example of piety. Worshipingthe God of foreigners, freemen, and slaves, what a shame! Really, Pontius, I expected better of you.” Caesar wagged a finger at Pilate.

“I wasn’t worshipping the Christian God, Your Majesty. I was there to gather information for my memoirs.”

“What could the Christian rites have to do with your memoirs?”

“As Governor of Judea I ordered the execution of their God.”

“You dared execute a God? There is no crime more heinous than deicide. I, as a Roman God, won’t tolerate it.”

“Surely your Divinity is not implying that the Christian God is really a God.”

The Emperor pursed his small fleshy lips and rested his chin on his index finger. He regarded Pilate thoughtfully.

“You killed this so-called God, but now you attend his rites. Have you visited my temple while in Rome?”

“No, your Divinity. It was thoughtless of me, but I’m an old man haunted by the past and careless of the present.”

“Were you aware that it’s a crime punishable by death to be a Christian?”

“Yes, Majesty, but I am not a Christian, I was researching.”

“Why didn’t you ask our permission first?”

“I realize my error now, and beg for your mercy.”

The Emperor rubbed his chin. “I do feel merciful, but the security of the Empire is at risk. This cult poses a grave threat to the morale of our legions. Have you thought what would happen if our soldiers became Christians and began loving their enemies, and turning the other cheek?”

“No, I have not. I can see that the barbarians would be at our gates in no time.”

“Exactly! And you can help me prevent that.”

“How?”

“Are you willing to die for Rome?”

“I have always been willing to do that.”

“Excellent! Here is our problem, up to now I have thrown to the lions only members of the lower classes. This has emboldened certain sons and daughters of powerful senators to become Christians. Now, if I threw their children to the lions, these senators would become enemies. But, If you confess in a public trial to be a
Christian, your sentence to die in the Circus will send a powerful message that no one is safe from punishment. You’re perfect for that important role. You’re a patrician, an ex-general, an ex- Proconsul, and you’re old, and have no powerful friends in the Senate. Would you perform this last service for Rome, Pilate?”

“I would, but I have a memoir to finish.”

The Emperor looked at him and smiled sadly. “Ah, Vanity is our master. That others, not yet born, will remember us seems more precious than life itself. Does it not? You understand, of course, that whether you agree, or not, your life will be used for this purpose. It`ll be just more effective if you confess, repent, and exhort others not to end like you. But never mind, as I said before, today, I feel merciful. Make it a short memoir. I grant you four months before you die. Until then, you will live with me as my guest. I’ll provide two scribes to assist you. Would that suffice?”

“It will. ”

“Excellent! It’s done, then, my secretary will take you to your quarters and provide all you need. And please, take a bath right away. ”

***

Four months later, Pontius Pilate, in his finest toga, shaved and perfumed, walked down one of the lower corridors of the Circus. The light of the torches gleamed with a red glow on the moist stones, and off his guard’s breastplates. During the last few days he had time to think in the isolation of his luxurious room. What had it all
meant? His long life was coming to an end. Who was he? Was he a patriot dying for his country, an instrument of a desert god, a deicide? How would the world remember him if at all? And would it matter? Time had consumed his life, his titles, his power, and soon lions will consume his body. If his name lived on, it would be only as an empty sound. No one would ever know again how it felt to be him.

The sunshine blazed at the end of the corridor. It took Pilate by surprise. It hit his brain as the spark in Jesus’ eyes had, many years ago. He saw in an instant he had lived his whole life as a blind man.

The blinding sand outside the gate, the dark corridor, and the stone faced guards were bathed in unearthly beauty.

The iron grid gate opened, and a guard shoved him out. He heard the rusty gate closing behind him. He heard the roar of the crowd as they saw him. He walked ahead admiring everything, as once, Jesus had in the Hall of Judgment. He admired the tawny pride of lions resting by the shade of the wall. They looked at him with innocent, big yellow eyes. Pontius regarded them with equal innocent curiosity. Two
lionesses lazily got up and moved toward him. Who is dying here? he asked.

The answer came to him as the first lioness leaped at his throat.

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