The next two poems, I think, need to be published together, because they flow into each other and make less sense by themselves. Their titles comes from common Latin phrases – “Vivant Rex” meaning “Long live the King”, “Amicus Caesaris” meaning “Friend of Caesar” – and they continue the story of Pilate’s trial of Jesus, with a brief flashback to a time when Jesus was interrogated about correct conduct towards Caesar.Vivant Rex (John 19:1-16) Long live Long live the king Long live King Caesar Long live the king Here is your king Dressed in purple robes Thorn-crown on his head Here is your king Bow before him Here is your king, the Tyrant governor said. He’s not our king We have no other king We have no other king But Caesar What shall I do with him Say what I shall do Shall I set him free to you Shall I set him free? Crucify him Free Barabbas Crucify him He’s no king Crucify him, we have no Other king but Caesar What has he done I find nothing Wrong with him What has he done Have him whipped Have him mocked But let him go I find no fault If you free him You are no Friend of Caesar’s You are no
Amicus Caesaris (Matthew 22:15-22) One day They came to Him with a coin, The standard Roman fare, The face of Tiberius, the inscription of a god, The pride of a tyrant all clearly displayed. “Rabbi, what,” asked they, “should we do For our taxes? Is it right for us to pay?” The trap stretched out between them and Him, A line of thread, so delicate, So perfectly, expertly spread. Perhaps he did not see the trap. He showed no fear, no startled, darting Eyes to say that he was stuck. He took the coin and looked upon The face, inscription, all its pride: “Whose face is this upon the coin? And this inscription: whose is it?” The name stuck in their throats, a dry Resentful lump: “Caesar’s,” said The haughty ones. Their trap – so sure, So sublime – what had it done? His eyes, so certain, cut into theirs. “Then give,” he said, “unto Caesar What is Caesar’s. Give to God What is God’s.” He walked away, a line of thread Dangling round his walking feet.
I feel that this poem might need a word of explanation, because I am very wary of it being misunderstood.
In the flow of the story, as we move from Pilate to the surprising response of the crowd to Pilate’s request to free Jesus, there is a need to hazard an explanation: why did the crowd call so vehemently for Jesus to be killed? It was certainly not a universal response among the Jewish people, many of whom either followed Jesus or were unaware of the debate that raged at that moment. But some did call for his death, and they were motivated at least in part by expediency: what Jesus represented seemed to threaten the already uneasy peace with Rome.
And so, at this point, we have two competing but intertwining interests: Pilate wanting to be seen by Rome as a good governor while also keeping the people happy; the people (some of them) wanting to avoid conflict with Rome but also wanting to protect their interests. Meanwhile, none seemed to understand the actual role that Jesus played: as the one perfect sacrifice for all involved – the perfect Passover Lamb.Paschal Lamb It is better, the priest said, That one man die Than all the nation Be destroyed. The words he spoke, we knew, Were true. We’d seen before The pagan hordes Charge in with force, Repel with scorn Our frail attempts to Stand up tall. All the nation be destroyed: Yes, we’d all Seen that before: In our minds, the Shattered wall, the temple Crushed to debris, and The glory of the presence Gone. Better by far That one man die. He spoke a truth We did not know, But in the moment All was clear: Better for us That one man die; We raised assenting Voices high. Echoes off the palace walls Shouted with us: Crucify.