More Than Meets the Eye

Nov 25, 2018 by

Sermon – November 25, 2018 by Garry Blinch

 

John 18:33-37  (NRSV)

33 Then Pilate entered the headquarters again, summoned Jesus, and asked him, “Are you the King of the Judeans?” 34 Jesus answered, “Do you ask this on your own, or did others tell you about me?” 35 Pilate replied, “I am not a Judean, am I? Your own nation and the chief priests have handed you over to me. What have you done?” 36 Jesus 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 Judeans. But as it is, my kingdom is not from here.” 37 Pilate 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.”

The Gospel of Christ

 

It is perhaps strange to hear this scripture which is so central to the Easter story of Christ’s death and resurrection to be the basis of the sermon today, the last Sunday before Advent begins.

But that is precisely here because it focuses on an important question: who is Jesus Christ to you? To me? Before we enter into the contemplation of he who was, and is, and is to come, we need to affirm or re-affirm who Christ is to us. Just a baby born in a manger! Or Lord and king of our lives?

When Pilate saw Christ, he only saw a trouble-making Jewish peasant. There was so much more than what met his eye.

The Judean officials had brought Jesus to Pilate and made it clear that they wanted Jesus to be executed; that they did not have the authority to put anyone to death.

Pilate is puzzled by the attitude of these officials, and so he withdraws into the Praetorium and has Jesus brought into his audience chamber. His question could be stated, “Are you the king of the Judeans?” Or, “So you are the king of the Judeans, are you!” Pilate does not trust the priests so he wants to hear what the man has to say for himself.

He may also have been expressing surprise that Jesus did not look like a pretender to the vacant throne of Judaism and he seemed a lot less assertive than such persons usually were. Pilate expected to meet a sullen or belligerent rebel, but he met instead calm majesty and confidence. He could not reconcile the character of the prisoner with the charge brought against him.

Jesus’ reply irritates Pilate, because he is used to receiving answers to his questions, not challenges. Since he had shown interest in the prisoner by meeting with him personally, Jesus begins to probe him to find out how sincere his interest might be. The Lord’s reply says, “Are you asking for information on your own initiative or are you just following a legal procedure at the insistence of the Judean hierarchy?

After batting that question away- “I am not a Judean, am I?” – Pilate asks what Jesus has done to arouse such hatred from the officials.

Jesus’ answer is baffling to Pilate. He asserted that his Kingdom was not of this world because he had no military support and no locus here on earth; he did not, however, deny the title of ‘king’. He affirmed that his kingdom had a different origin and a different character to any Pilate knew.

Without attempting to argue an abstract idea that must have seemed irrational to Pilate, he comes back to his original question: “So, you are a king then, aren’t you?”

Jesus assents to this, but connects his kingship with an entirely different purpose of any other earthly king: he has come to testify to the truth. And anyone devoted to truth would listen to him.

The inference from his words is that, if Pilate really wanted to know the truth then he should give Jesus his full attention. Jesus was more interested in appealing to Pilate than defending himself. We see Jesus do this in all his other interviews in this gospel. He is focused on reaching the person addressing him, not on magnifying himself. He made an appeal to Pilate, not for mercy or acquittal, but for the recognition of truth.

People (then and now) only have one view of kingship: the power to rule, the authority to command and the subservience of everyone else to the king. Jesus’ type of kingship is completely unlike anything anyone has seen. He rules by love; he commands respect and loyalty and followership by how he serves and heals people.

On this Reign of Christ the King Sunday,

we do not see Jesus in kingly glory, such as when he was transfigured and dazzling on the mountaintop, or when rising from the waters of baptism with heaven declaring his exalted position in the cosmos. Not even performing one of his more spectacular miracles in front of an adoring crowd.

No. This is the correct scripture for today. A picture of Jesus bound and at the mercy of how own people and the ruling government. Arrested, disheveled, harassed, hungry, abandoned, sleep-deprived — and standing before the notoriously cruel Pontius Pilate for questioning.  If there is any story about Jesus that can smack all smugness out of the followers of Christ — all arrogance, all triumphalism, all sense of superiority — surely this is it.  Our king is an arrested, falsely accused criminal.  A dead man walking.  His chosen path to glory is humility, surrender, brokenness, and loss.

After Jesus concludes with, “I came into the world, to testify to the truth”, Pilate’s response echoes down to us across the ages: “What is truth?”

This is a very contemporary question. I read an article this week called , The King of Truth,  By Debie Thomas[i] (and I give her credit for many of the thoughts and ideas that inspired this section of the sermon).

Debie wrote, that she did some Google searches this week, looking for recent headlines featuring the word “truth.”  Here are the lines that popped up for her:

“The Death of Truth.”  “The Assault on Truth.”  “Notes on Falsehood.”  “Our Post-Truth World.”

She goes on to say,

 In the face of this question from Pilate, Jesus doesn’t respond.  Quite possibly, Pilate turned on his heel, not wanting to enter yet another esoteric debate, and headed out to confer with the Judean authorities once more. But there is something to this silence. The silence implies, “You’re looking at it”. “You’re looking at the truth.  I am the truth.”  In other words, truth isn’t an instrument, a weapon, or a slogan we put on placards . The truth is Jesus.  The life of Jesus, the way of Jesus, the love of Jesus.  He himself is truth’s most complete and complex incarnation. 

 

If Jesus came to testify to the truth, if he is the truth, if he is the King of truth, then what do we, his subjects, owe our king?  What does loyalty to truth look like, here and now?

Jesus took great pains to declare and show that he was not part of kingly power as the world knows it.

Sadly, the Church has a long and shameful history of believing in its right, based on “the truth”, to consolidate its power and abuse others.  Historically, the church has colonized, enslaved, rejected, and dehumanized people in the name of truth.

The truth Jesus embodies in his life, death, and resurrection is the opposite of human authoritarian behaviour. The truth humbles him.  It breaks him.  It takes away his life.

What does it mean, in our post-truth era, to worship the King of Truth?  What does it mean to “belong to the truth” in a culture that increasingly denies truth’s validity? Perhaps most importantly, how can we bear witness to embodied truth, complex truth, in a world that prefers soundbites, Tweets, and clever cartoons?

Jesus doesn’t privilege any version of truth that sidesteps humility, surrender, and sacrificial love.  He doesn’t secure his own prosperity at the expense of other people’s suffering.   He doesn’t allow holy ends to justify debased means.  He doesn’t make honesty optional when the truth strikes him as inconvenient.  And he never aligns himself with brute, dishonest power to guarantee his own success.

This is our King.  Can we stand for the truth as he does?  Let us tell and keep telling the beautiful, hard, joy-filled, pain-filled, undeniable stories we know to be true about this Jesus. This Jesus whose very identity is Truth, and whose best expression of power is surrender.

Soon, we will enter into Advent, a season of waiting, longing, and listening.  Soon we will walk into the expectant darkness, waiting for the light to dawn, for the Truth to reveal itself, for the first cries of a vulnerable baby to redefine kingship, authority, and power forever.  Yes, we have good reasons to fear the erosion of truth.  But we are not a people bereft of hope.  The king who reigns will not abandon us.  Truth will survive; it has died and returned to life already.  The truth lives.  And we belong to him. Amen.

 

[i] https://www.journeywithjesus.net/essays/2014-the-king-of-truth

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