The might of Rome encounters a lowly preacher from a backwater town in Galilee.
What is your kingdom? What is the truth? Questions that loom large in the reading for this week as we start the final path to a cross on a hill. You can read the reading itself here. There is a commentary from the Working Preacher folks here and a podcast here.
So many times I have preached this part of the story and focused on Pilate’s question “What is truth?” (Partly because then I get to play the scene from Jesus Christ Superstar where Pilate asks the question in song “we all have truths are mine the same as yours” — could there be a better question for those of us shaped by post-modern thought?). And yet I have always forgotten that john’s Gospel has already answered the question back in chapter 14. “Jesus said to him “I am the way, and the truth, and the life.” (14:6). Pilate does not recognize this truth though (or does he? Maybe it depends if you see Pilate as a man who wants to set Jesus free but is forced to crucify him out of fear of the angry mob or if you see Pilate as someone who really does not care if this man dies.) because Pilate is looking at different criteria. Pilate looks to a presumed king to rival Caesar, Jesus looks to a kingdom that is wholly different.
Maybe the way to prepare for Good Friday using this passage is to muse on what kind of king Jesus is/will be — given that his enthronement will be on a cross rather than a chair? And to fully embrace the Kingdom requires us to ask what type of truth will guide our actions.
Or maybe we reflect back and remember that the authorities have had it in for Jesus for a while now. They have attempted to incite folks into stoning him more than once already. And after the raising of Lazarus back in chapter 11 have decided that this Jesus must die. Maybe out of jealousy? Maybe out of fear of that letting him live will lead to the total destruction of the nation?
So now they have made their final move. But to get what they want they need to convince Pilate. As John tells the story Pilate is not willing to be convinced. At the same time the leadership is bound that they will maintain the appearance at least of following the tradition and so refuse to allow themselves to be defiled this night before Passover. Which leads to this semi-comic image of Pilate, the power of Rome in Jerusalem, popping in and out of his headquarters for this supposed trial. Maybe one of the discussion points in this passage is to ask who the power player(s) in the story really are. Caiaphas and company? Pilate? Jesus?
Last week we had Peter trapped in what he saw as a no win situation — deny the one he followed or risk joining him before trial. This week Pilate seems trapped in a different way. Still Jesus stands firm. Next week we get the second part of the interaction between Pilate and Jesus. Who will be trapped then?
Gord Waldie is an Ordained Minister in the United Church of Canada, currently in Northwestern Alberta. He shares his life with his partner and their four daughters and blogs (once in a blue moon apparently) at Following Frodo or shares his “churchy-stuff” at Ministerial Mutterings.
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