No Clear Cut Villain

Scripture: Matthew 27:1-2, 11-25

On the day singer, songwriter, and actor David Bowie died I looked up his artistic works. Honestly, as a child of the mid eighties and early nineties he was most famous to me for his role as the Goblin King in Jim Henson’s fantasy film ‘Labyrinth.’ I soon discovered. from among multiple eclectic and assorted roles, he once was Pontius Pilate in Martin Scorsese’s film adaptation ‘The Last Temptation of Christ.’ The Goblin King and Pilate. As a lover of the Muppet world in the late eighties, and someone whose heart was busted wide open for the Way of Jesus in the mid nineties, it is hard to take on two more ominous roles in my developmental world.

I’ve not yet seen David Bowie as Pontius Pilate. I realized I initially had images of him being as sleek, sinister, and stunning as his villain in Labyrinth. And maybe he is. But I am not getting my hopes up. As a child, I was unnerved by Bowie’s depiction of the Goblin King. As an adult, I am enamored by the way he makes creepy, and conniving come together as cool in the Goblin King. Perhaps in the late eighties David Bowie was on a campaign to present a more complex, nuanced, and sophisticated ‘villain.’

Pilate and the Pharisees are both typically depicted in an incredibly negative light. It is likely most of Jesus’ Roman occupied people would have not looked kindly or sympathetically to this representative of dominant international superpower. Nevertheless, the gospel narratives do not paint Pilate as a wholly sinister, cynical, and devious antagonist twirling his mustache as he lets out maniacal laughter.

If we are willing to take an honest look at the portrayal of Pilate’s life, and our own, then we are likely to see many of the same tensions, struggles, contradictions, and looming questions. It is not merely those outside of the church who must decide afresh who Jesus is in their lives, community, and world. It is posed to us. We know all to well how we can be amazed by Jesus in one moment, and be on the brink of repudiating him the next. The life of Pilate helps us to come to grips with our own inner demons, and our deep desire for something else. We see how no one can be easily written off as a villain or a hero. Pilate is no clear cut villain. Which causes us to wonder about all the other villains in our lives.