Meditation – Lent 4 – March 11, 2018
Jesus before Pilate
28Then they took Jesus from Caiaphas to Pilate’s headquarters. It was early in the morning. They themselves did not enter the headquarters, so as to avoid ritual defilement and to be able to eat the Passover. 29So Pilate went out to them and said, “What accusation do you bring against this man?” 30They answered, “If this man were not a criminal, we would not have handed him over to you.” 31Pilate said to them, “Take him yourselves and judge him according to your law.” The Jews replied, “We are not permitted to put anyone to death.” 32(This was to fulfill what Jesus had said when he indicated the kind of death he was to die.)
33Then Pilate entered the headquarters again, summoned Jesus, and asked him, “Are you the King of the Jews?” 34Jesus answered, “Do you ask this on your own, or did others tell you about me?” 35Pilate replied, “I am not a Jew, am I? Your own nation and the chief priests have handed you over to me. What have you done?” 36Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not from this world. If my kingdom were from this world, my followers would be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Jews. But as it is, my kingdom is not from here.” 37Pilate asked him, “So you are a king?” Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.” 38Pilate asked him, “What is truth?”
Jesus Sentenced to Death
After he had said this, he went out to the Jews again and told them, “I find no case against him. 39But you have a custom that I release someone for you at the Passover. Do you want me to release for you the King of the Jews?” 40They shouted in reply, “Not this man, but Barabbas!” Now Barabbas was a bandit.
Once again, we are continuing our journey to the cross, and this week’s readings carry on right after last week’s Gospel when Peter denied Jesus. This week, we find that Jesus has been brought in front of Pilate to stand trial. We began Lent with talking about what we need to be unbound from in our own lives to follow Jesus to the cross. Then we spoke about how Jesus’ washing of the feet – Jesus lowering himself to take the role of a servant – might indicate for us that we, too, are called to be transformed through that act of washing – to be present in a world where there are not divisions, where we are all equal. This past week we spoke about being called to face our weaknesses, our failures, our shortcomings, just as Peter was weak in denying Jesus, and regardless, we are never abandoned by God. This week we are once again forced to look at our own lives in relation to what we hear in our sacred stories.
I had a conversation the other day with someone who asked me how I deal with stress in my life, and I think that I am like many of you, in that when I am stressed I work to occupy my mind with non-important things. So, in saying that, I have been spending a bit of time binge watching the television show “Bull” these last few weeks in order to de-stress in my life. “Bull” is about a doctor of psychology, Jason Bull, played by Michael Wetherly, who runs a company that is focused solely on, what he calls, jury science. In other words, he helps either those accused of crimes, or those who prosecute crimes, understand the workings of juries in order to get the best possible outcome. In an early episode of this show there was a young socialite who was murdered. Her fiancé of two weeks was accused of the murder and after an eleven hour interrogation, confessed to the crime. It was easy to see this young man as the murderer because his background was one of poverty and struggle – so what would a rich, beautiful socialite see in someone like that? – so he obviously killed her because she was going to leave him. There were a handful of jurors who had passed this judgement on the accused and refused to consider the possibility that the verdict was coerced. To offset this sense of judgement, Bull arranged for them to get stuck in an elevator, and, after a short 10 minutes, they claimed, to the fake service individual through the emergency intercom, that one of the occupants of the elevator was having a heart attack, complete with false symptoms. The moral lesson was around judgement of others, when we too have failed in our own life.
Our reading this morning from John’s Gospel continues the story of Jesus’ last few days in Jerusalem. The powers of the day have brought Jesus to Pilate to be judged, and I am sure that many of them were hoping that Jesus would just be dealt with once and for all. The Chief Priest, the scribes and the Pharisees have been trying to get rid of Jesus for a long time. It appears as if they have had enough of his challenging the status quo. I suppose that many of them were thinking that getting the Romans to do their dirty work would be perfect because then their hands would be clean. It is quite an interesting contraction that they would bring Jesus to Pilate, but then refuse to enter Pilate’s headquarters because they did not want to defile themselves, but they seemed to have no problem at all bringing Jesus there to die. Meda Stamper, a minister in the Presbyterian Church (USA) who I used last week, states what happened here in the following way; “The word for handed over is used repeatedly of Judas’ betrayal at Satan’s behest. Now the religious authorities do their part. Pilate wants them to judge Jesus by their own law. Who judges whom and by what law remains at issue throughout their interaction.”
So Jesus is brought before Pilate, who begins his interrogation with an important question; “Are you the King of the Jews?” But Jesus, even under these horrendous conditions, turns this around on Pilate and brings the focus not on kingship, but rather on truth; “You say that I am a king. For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.” Pilate’s response to this; “What is truth” is most telling because it is something that we struggle with today, what really is truth? There are many that would say that truth has become totally subjective. I saw a picture that showed a numeral painted on the ground. One person on one end says; “that is a 6” while the other person says, “that is a 9” and the point of the picture is that both are correct, it depends on your perspective. While I don’t disagree with this I also know that whomever painted a number such as that also had a specific number in mind, so is there only one truth. What happens when we cling so strongly to what we believe – does that give us authority and the right to judge another, because we know that we are “right!”
This is where I see this television show intersecting with our reading this morning. In the show the members of the jury were sure that no one who was innocent would ever confess to a crime that they would not commit, and from that place of judgement they decided that the young man had obviously committed the crime. They could never see themselves doing what the accused did, until they were faced with their own weakness.
We know that Jesus is being judged by others who have not even seen their own, nor would they even been willing to see their own, faults. This entire reading, as does last weeks, and next weeks, reads as one long trial, as Jesus is accused, but what I find fascinating in John’s Gospel is that we never actually hear what Jesus is accused of – what crime did he commit that would demand his death? Now, we sitting here today can look back to Jesus’ life and we can pick out what this was all about, but it was never really articulated in the story that we hear. So, what happens when we refuse to see our own failings, but highlight every failing of another? I am going to once again rely on Meda Stamper, who states; “Caiaphas and the Sanhedrin want Jesus dead (John 11:47-53) but, having failed in their repeated attempts to stone him, need Pilate to do their dirty work for them. While they may remain outside, like us when we avert our gaze from injustice or cruelty perpetrated on our behalf, they are defiled by their complicity.”
We are called as Christians, and especially at this time of the year, to look at ourselves and our own shortcomings. There are many who say that Lent is a time of penitence – a time when we confess our sins, our failings, our shortcomings. I believe that this is true, but I believe that it is also a time when we are called to follow Jesus. When we might want to see the entire scope of Jesus ministry, as Meda Stamper sees this fully articulated in the reading today; “Verses 37b-38 offer the whole Gospel in a nutshell. The only-begotten Son, full of grace and truth, comes into the world to make God known.” So what is truth? It is that God has been made known in the world so that we understand that God is with us. In knowing this we are called to bear witness then to the truth of God’s love, to the depth of God’s mercy, the extent of God’s compassion for each and every one of us. If we find that we are sitting in that place of judgement, we need to look to our own eye, see what is there and then to move to a place of love. Those with power in the ancient world were so afraid to lose their power and prestige that the only thing that they could do was to sit in places of judgement and fear. When we judge, we too are sitting in places of fear – fear of the other, fear of those different, maybe the fear of losing our place in the world. Jesus witnessed to the love of God among us – God’s redeeming love – as we learned last week, even when we do fail. So, this fourth Sunday of Lent, will you stand with those who judge, turning a blind eye to injustice, inequality, racism, or hatred? Or will you stand in the truth of God’s love – that love that is far greater than even we can imagine? Amen.