I was reading Luke 23 recently when I noticed something I don’t remember having seen before. When Jesus has been returned to Pilate (and he and Herod have become all pally, v12), Pilate has three attempts to set Jesus free. Luke even highlights it by recording “for the third time he spoke to them” (v22).
There is a striking parallel here with what happens a chapter earlier when Peter disowns Jesus three times. One of the surprising things is that this follower of Jesus is able to disown him, and this ‘enemy’ of Jesus defends him (though of course, ultimately, Pilate weakly capitulates to the demands of the crowd and goes against his own assessment of the situation).
It is a reminder of the complexity of living in a fallen world, but one in which there is common grace. The image of God in mankind – however distorted by the Fall – and God’s gracious and generous kindness to all kinds of people mean that even in the ‘worst’ of unbelievers it is still possible for there to be some truth and goodness in their actions. And correspondingly that even in the ‘best’ of believers it is still possible for there to be things that are wrong and displeasing to God.
It is worth remembering this truth. Too often we try and draw neat little circles – them and us – good and bad. The reality is rarely that simple. After all, no one is good – except God alone…