As for me, I am in your hands;
do with me what you think good and right. But mark well: if you put me to death, it is innocent blood you bring on yourselves, on this city and its citizens.
For in truth it was the LORD who sent me to you, to speak all these things for you to hear.”
Saint Matthew, describing the execution of Jesus and its significance, remembered Jeremiah' s warning to the mob that beset him.
When Pilate saw that he was not succeeding at all, but that a riot was breaking out instead, he took water and washed his hands in the sight of the crowd, saying, “I am innocent of this man’s blood. Look to it yourselves.”
And the whole people said in reply, “His blood be upon us and upon our children.”
Historically, this verse has been used as a pretext for ostracism, persecution and killing of Jewish people. That was certainly not Saint Matthew's intention, nor need we suppose this is a historically accurate account of what happened on that fatal day in Jerusalem. The Evangelists had more important things on their minds than rendering factual accounts of Jesus' death.
First, there is the comparison of Jesus to the Prophet Jeremiah, and the recognition of Jesus' mission as a prophet. In our Christian rush to recognize him as Lord, Savior and Messiah we sometimes neglect his prophetic mission.
A prophet speaks to the nation of God's justice. He reminds them of their moral and ethical duties as God's holy people to act justly, love tenderly and walk humbly with their God. If they neglect these duties -- especially their duties to care for "the least among you" -- they should expect no mercy when God comes to judge justly.
We must see in the comparison with Jeremiah also Jesus' defenselessness. When Christianity became the official religion of the Roman Empire and, later, in different forms, the official religion of many nation states, its theologians developed theories to explain why Christian citizens could kill in the name of God. They developed the oxymoron just war.
But war is going to happen in any case; it needs no justification. It's what sinful humanity does. The oxymoron simply salves the troubled conscience of those who think they have no other option.
The cry of the mob, “His blood be upon us and upon our children.” echoes Jeremiah's warning and, more importantly, the faith-filled response of Exodus 24: 7-8
Taking the book of the covenant, (Moses) read it aloud to the people, who answered, “All that the LORD has said, we will hear and do.”
Then he took the blood and splashed it on the people, saying, “This is the blood of the covenant which the LORD has made with you according to all these words.”
The irony is intentional, like Jesus' crown of thorns, his royal robe, and the cries of his enemies, "Hail, King of the Jews."
Jesus is our King and we could not recognize him without his crown of thorns, his robe of mockery and the contemptuous sneers of his enemies. He cannot be our king unless he is despised.
Nor can we be his people if we are not willing to be despised like Jeremiah and all the prophets.
Periodically, not very often, as a priest-chaplain in the VA, I meet contempt among the patients. As a priest I am only specifically sent to those identified as Catholics, so these are the only ones who might refuse my visit. For whatever reason I cannot imagine, some patients reply to my cheerful offer -- "Would you like a visit from the chaplain?" -- with "No." One fellow recently said, "Suit yourself!" which I took as a no.
As veterans, citizens, patients and human beings they have every right to refuse my offer. And I try to shake it off as Jesus advised me, but I feel it nonetheless. It was a personal offer, how can it not feel like a personal rebuke?
This is Jeremiah's disappointment and God's sadness and the grief of the whole Church.