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Christ the King, November 25, 2012

In the old Batman TV series, there is always some point in the show when the villain seems to have Batman and Robin over a barrel. The evildoer has devised an intricate method to send the two super heroes to their graves so the villain can get away with his dastardly scheme of world domination. But Batman and Robin are the good guys. Somehow they always get out of the death machine that has been created for them, defeat the villain, and are there to serve Gotham City once again. The villain thought he had the power but it really belonged to Batman and Robin, because they were the forces for good in the world.

Jesus and Pilate have a conversation about two very different kinds of kingdoms. Pilate represents worldly kingdoms and Jesus the Kingdom of God. Pilate has Jesus on trial – or does he? On the surface, it seems like he does. Pilate summons Jesus to the praetorium to question him. Pilate is the most powerful representative of the Roman government in Palestine. He has power to have Jesus released or killed. He is in control. What he wants done is going to be done. Pilate has his agenda – to determine whether Jesus is a king who is a threat to Rome. But Jesus has an agenda too and it is this agenda that takes control. Jesus wants to talk about the superiority of his kingdom. This passage functions in three ways to do this. First Pilate’s power is undermined by the situation and by Jesus. Second, Jesus describes his kingdom and how different it is from worldly kingdoms. Third, Jesus proclaims himself the revelation of the truth of God. By the time the conversation is finished, it is Jesus who has the power and Pilate is on trial for his non-support of Jesus’ kingdom and his position as revealer of the truth.

First Pilate’s power is undermined. He is not acting on his own, but under the power of Rome. His power can be taken away at any time at a whim. But we know that Jesus’ power is eternal. It was given to him by God and it will not be taken away. Pilate lives under the illusion that he is acting alone, but he is not. The Jews are manipulating him. Pilate really did not want to have anything to do with this Jesus mess. He had tried to convince the Jews to take care of this matter themselves. But now we see Pilate with Jesus. In addition, Pilate does not really see Jesus as a threat. So during the trial he walks between his inner sanctum and the portico outside where the religious leaders wait. Their arguments always convince him to keep going with Jesus. Pilate is also under the impression that he is in control of the conversation with Jesus, but from the first words Jesus utters, he is in control. His agenda of telling about the superiority of his kingdom becomes the subject of their exchange.

When Pilate asks Jesus if he is King of the Jews, Jesus does not answer. Instead he responds characteristically with a question of his own. He wants to know if Pilate asks this question on his own or did others tell him this? He directly questions Pilate’s authority, and Pilate is demoted again. Pilate has had to be told about Jesus by the Jews. He does not know on his own. The Jews (John’s words for those that reject Jesus as the revelation of God) give Pilate that characterization of Jesus because they know that particular accusation would draw Pilate into the controversy. Pilate, who defends himself by saying he is not a Jew, winds up being the very thing he does not want to be – a Jew, one who does not accept Jesus’ revelation.

Pilate tries again. “What have you done?”, he asks. Again Jesus does not answer. It is as if they are not even speaking the same language. Pilate is all about assessing a possible threat to the Roman kingdom, and Jesus is talking about something completely different. “My kingdom is not from this world, he says. It is a spiritual kingdom that comes from God. It is an eternal kingdom that brings mercy and grace and love from God to God’s people. It is not just a kingdom of theological propositions to agree to; rather it is a kingdom that advocates counter-cultural behavior on earth that will upset the political authorities.

Pilate again tries to wrest control of the conversation from Jesus, and get to the fact of whether Jesus is a king or not. Jesus has talked about a kingdom and has indirectly said he is a king, but not one like Pilate knows, not a Caesar, who rules with power and oppression and violence. Jesus responds according to his own agenda as he has all the way through the scene. You say I am a king, not I.

Then Jesus essentially tells Pilate that he is asking the wrong question altogether. He came into world to testify to the truth. Pilate is looking for facts, which is not at all the same as the truth. Pilate is looking for understanding of who this Jesus character is, and Jesus is here to reveal the truth about God and God’s kingdom. Not only is he there to reveal the truth, people actually belong to the truth. They are in relationship with the revealer of the truth. “Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice”, he says. The people that do belong obey Jesus.

Jesus is putting Pilate on trial, not to condemn him but to try to save him. He offers Pilate the chance to belong to the truth, but Pilate is too frightened to enter into that kind of spiritual relationship. Instead, he contemptuously says, “What is truth?”, indicating his unwillingness to participate with Jesus in the kingdom. Pilate and Jesus are talking at cross purposes throughout the entire conversation. Pilate is wedded to the concept of a kingship that means control and domination. Jesus’ kingdom is about the spiritual world, about the kingdom of God. Pilate’s kingdom is about being served; Jesus kingdom is about service. Like Batman and Robin, the good guys live to serve others, while the bad guys are self serving.

On the Feast of Christ the King, we proclaim our allegiance to God’s kingdom. We say that we will not put anything else above following Christ and obeying his word. Pilate was wrong. He thought that a spiritual kingdom was no threat to Rome, but Robert A. Bryant says “Jesus’ rule and kingdom are profoundly subversive to any worldly authority that demands allegiance over loyalty to God.” The kingdom of God is an active kingdom in the world, not just a theoretically theological one. People who are members of the kingdom of God follow Jesus in his work of showing mercy and obtaining peace and justice. People who are of the kingdom belong to the truth and listen to Jesus’ voice.

Belonging to the truth means facing the truth about ourselves. It means giving up our illusions and examining our actions and attitudes. It means looking at what we are now and at all that we could be. It means having a personal relationship with Jesus in which we can be taught by his love and grace what we are to do in the world, so that our lives may be lived according to God’s purposes for us.

Second, it means facing the truth about others. We all make mistakes, and all have gifts to offer the world. Everyone is worthy of being treated with respect and dignity, and everyone is worthy of forgiveness. We are called to love all our neighbors, even the ones we may find most unlovable.

We all need to face the truth about God’s love for us. We are all God’s children, and we are enough.4  Who we are right now is good enough for God. We have to accept ourselves as we are before we can become all we can be. God never gives up on us. We are always invited into the kingdom for restoration and healing. The good news from today’s text is that no matter how bad it looks, Jesus is always in control. Like Batman and Robin, there is always one more wonder up his sleeve, in this case the resurrection and his defeat of death forever. He is the ruler of all the kings on the earth and has made us into a kingdom of priests to serve God. Our allegiance to Jesus is primary; we are to serve no other. Our job is to make the service of God’s kingdom our purpose in life until Jesus comes again to judge the earth. Let us continue to seek the truth about ourselves, others and God’s love for us, so we can journey deeper into God’s kingdom and become all we are meant to be.

AMEN

   - Rev. Ann Barker

 

Works Cited
1. Gail O’Day, New Interpreter’s Bible, John, p.816.
2. Robert A. Bryant, Feasting on the Word, Year B, Vol. 4, Exegetical Perspective, p. 337
3. Rodger Y. Nishioka, Feasting on the Word, Year B, Vol. 4, Pastoral Perspective, p. 336
4. David Lose, “A King’s Gift”, blog post 11/18/12