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A Matter of Allegiance.

Reign of Christ Sunday, Common Lectionary Year B

John 18:33-37

©2015 Rev. Elisabeth R. Jones

The Gospel reading today is short.
More like one small frame-freeze
in an excruciatingly drawn out melodrama.
Moreover, it seems to have no place in a Christian festival called “Reign of Christ the King.” But then again…….maybe it’s just what we need.
Let us set the scene for this reading.

We are taken by the Gospeller John to the Praetorium
– the headquarters of the Roman occupying forces
in Jerusalem on the morning before the start of Passover.

Over here is Pilate is in his judicial-military finery.
This is his turf.

Over here is the portico, the narthex, facing the street.
At the beginning of the scene,
it is occupied by representatives of the religious leadership.
They won’t enter Pilate’s headquarters;
it’s against their religion,
so they talk across this 5 foot chasm,
the powers of religion and state.

In between, hands bound with leather,
as if he might strike out, or run away,
stands the Nazarene Rabbi, Jesus.

Pilate comes out to the portico,
asks them what Jesus has done, why he’s here.
If he’s a rabbi, isn’t this a religious matter?
Can’t they sort it out themselves?
“It’s against our religion to execute” they tell Pilate.
“But he’s trying to usurp power over the people,
he’s calling himself a king, that’s your business.”

Pilate goes back inside the Praetorium,
taking Jesus with him,
across that religious no-fly zone.
Here we pick up the story. (John 18:33-37)

Pilate/ Well, then, Jesus, is it? Are you the king of the Jews?
Jesus/ Do you ask this on your own, or have others put you up to this? Did others tell you about me?
Pilate/ I am not one of your people! Your own nation, your own chief priests, your own religious courts have handed you over to me. So, Jesus, what have you done?
Jesus/ My “kingdom” is not from this world, not of this world. It doesn’t consist of what you see around you. If it did, my followers would be fighting to keep me from being handed over to them (point), or to you. But, my kingdom is not like that.
Pilate/ (frustrated, persistent)
Alright! So, then, you are a king?
Jesus/ You say that I am a king. I say, for this I was born, for this I came into the world, as a witness to the truth. Those who belong to the truth, they listen to my voice.
Pilate/ J What is truth?!!
The dialogue doesn’t end there.
Pilate again walks past Jesus,
goes back out onto the portico,
crosses the religious no-man’s land, again
trying to figure out why he’s dealing with this Nazarene Rabbi
whose speech is weird,
but not obviously criminal.

You may recall he tries to hand Jesus back on
a Passover parole
(which for all we can tell, having no evidence of such a practice in historical data, is something Pilate made up on the spot).
But that doesn’t work.
There’s now a crowd out there,
and they are baying for Jesus’ blood.
Pilate is no fool, he can smell a riot coming a military mile away.
He goes back inside the Praetorium,
back on his turf,
back on his terms.

In his world,
of military might and political clout,
he knows that sometimes,
for the sake or order and control,
innocence must be sacrificed by calculated violence.

In his Praetorium he has Jesus draped
in a purple mockery of majesty,
with a scrabble of prickly thorns
crowning his head,
has him whipped for good measure,
and personally drags him back out
onto the portico,
for all to see and deride,

“Will this do?
I’ve punished him.
Behold the man!
You can have him back now.”

O, Pilate….
pacing between Praetorium and Portico,
Seven times.
Like so many who are charged with the power
of politics and armies,
Pilate vacillates,
not wanting State to get mired in Religion,
it’s always messy.
For religions, and politicians,
and kingdoms and caliphates and regimes of the world,
then and now,
seem to know, to trust, only one way;
they use might and power
force, violence,
quid pro quo,
and the insidious hegemony of fear
to manage affairs within and beyond their borders.

All the while,
And here,
not there, nor there, but here, alone,
Jesus stands,
calm, still,
but seemingly without fear or hatred.

He doesn’t play by those rules.
Jesus will not defend himself through violence,
will not usher in God’s Dream through violence,
will make no followers with violence.

Calm, still,
but without fear,
he is not silent,
and we would do well to listen to what he says.

“My kingdom isn’t like yours,
not like anything you have known.
If it were, my followers would play by those rules,
they would be rushing to my protection.
But, my kingdom isn’t like yours.”
Which for the life of me,
the longer I do this,
makes me ask,
Why then,
for two thousand years have we insisted that it is?
Why have we draped his cross of all things, over our soldiers,
vindicated violence as a tool for religious coercion or conversion,
in every corner of the globe?
Why do we give his thorn-crowned head a halo?

He doesn’t stand here,
or here,
but he stands in this space out of time,
this location we cannot define
his very posture,
pledging allegiance to…..what?

If we’ll listen he’ll tell us.
Something we desperately need to hear
this day, this week, this month, this year.
“ I was born, I came into this world
to testify, to witness
to the truth of God’s Dream.”

If we insist on making Christ our king,
then let our allegiance be shaped by his,
not by the kingdoms of this world,
but by his word.

If we want to follow the Way of Jesus,
then we need to find our place,
neither here,
nor here,
calm, still,
witness to the truth of God’s Dream.
We know this is the choice of the moment, don’t we?
The Pilate-like dilemma of whether to answer
violence with yet more violence;
Succumbing to hide-bound religiosity
which feeds our fear of the stranger,
and threatens to deafen us to God’s call
to open our hearts and doors to brothers and sisters in humanity,
seeking refuge.

It’s daunting.
I can’t imagine it wasn’t then, for Jesus.
I can’t imagine this is easy for us now.
But, it is possible
to find ourselves here,
witnessing to the Truth of God’s Dream.

Of Jesus, they said,
“God’s word became flesh and dwelt among us,
full of grace and truth….
he was the light of all people, shining in the darkness,
and the darkness could not overcome it.”

In 1967,
Martin Luther King
stood right here,
he wrote,
“The ultimate weakness of violence is that it is a descending spiral;
begetting the very thing it seeks to destroy…..
Through violence you, may murder the liar,
but you cannot murder the lie, nor establish the truth. …..
Darkness cannot drive out darkness;
only light can do that.
Hate cannot drive out hate;
only love can do that.”[1]

Just last week, an ordinary man,
emerging from unspeakable horror and loss,
stood right here;
Light, love
his only answer to hatred and fear.
A witness to the truth of the Dream of God.
Play video clip

“We are only 2, my son and I,
but we are stronger than all the armies of the world.”
So was he.

[1] From Where Do We Go from Here: Chaos or Community?  (1967), p. 62. Thanks to David Lose, who cites this in his blog, In the Meantime,

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