St. John's, Centreville
November 25, 2018
Proper 29 B (Christ the King)
God of new beginnings, meet us where we are on our journey, imperfect as we are, and use us in ways we cannot imagine to make a difference in the world for you, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Today is the last Sunday in the season of Pentecost, that last Sunday in the Year B lectionary cycle, the Sunday that is known as Christ the King Sunday, which is why our gospel lesson this morning is about Jesus standing trial in front of Pilate before he is crucified.
When Jesus is born and the magi arrive to worship him, they ask "Where is this child who has been born king of the Jews?" Matthew's genealogy traces Jesus line to King David. When Jesus arrives in Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, the people shout, "Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord."
But Jesus has not come to be an earthly king. When he feels that the people want to force him to be the king, he slips away from them. The Jews want him to lead the revolt to drive out the Romans. But that is not why Jesus came. That was not the work he was given by his Father to do.
Pilate, too thinks Jesus is an earthly king and he feels threatened by him because people are listening to him. Pilate sees himself as the most powerful person in the world, the local representative of the Roman Empire, the world's greatest power. During his encounter with Jesus, he lets Jesus know just how powerful he is. "Do you know that I have the power to release you and the power to crucify you?" Pilate says. He wants to be sure that Jesus knows who he is dealing with.
But in a way, Pilate is trapped. Here is Jesus, beaten and scorned, wearing a crown of thorns and mocked by the crowds, standing before him. He doesn't really think that Jesus is going to start an insurrection and overthrow the government. But the Jewish leaders want Jesus killed. He is upsetting the power structure, going against some of their laws, like healing on the Sabbath and they want him out of the way. Pilate is stuck. If he does not give them what they want, can he stay in power? Can he stay in control? How will he be seen back in Rome if he is not able to take care of this small matter in Jerusalem?
"Are you the king of the Jews?" Pilate asks Jesus. But as Jesus often does, he answers a question with a question. "Do you ask this on your own or did others tell you about me?" In other words, do you think I am a king or did someone just tell you that I am a king? At this point, Jesus may be trying to draw Pilate out, see what he really thinks, what he believes. Jesus tries to encounter the real Pilate, not the one who is out on display for others to see, not the public Pilate but the private Pilate. Jesus invites Pilate to be transparent, to share what he is thinking, to share how he feels trapped, to be honest with Jesus. It may be that even as Jesus faces crucifixion, Jesus is trying to minister to Pilate.
But Pilate does not seize this opportunity. He sees Jesus, not as a heavenly king but as a rival earthly king. Then Pilate thinks of one way to get out of this trap. It was custom that one prisoner could be released at Passover, perhaps as a gesture of good will. So Pilate will let the people decide - Jesus or Barabbas. Now Barabbas was known to be a political revolutionary and a murderer, someone much more dangerous than Jesus. When Pilate asks the crowd who should be released, they shout "Barabbas!" Pilate is surprised and stunned. He now has no choice but to send Jesus away to be crucified.
On this Christ the King Sunday, we know that Jesus was not an earthly king. He did not look or act like a king. He did not command armies or rule over people. He did not wear beautiful robes or dazzling jewelry or a crown. In fact, Jesus was the opposite of what we think of as a king. He came to serve, not to be served. He healed the sick, loved the unlovable, touched the lepers, cared for others and rode into Jerusalem on a humble donkey.
Jesus is a heavenly king. As he tells Pilate, "My kingdom is not of this world." His kingdom is the kingdom of heaven. And Jesus' kingdom is through eternity.
Jesus' kingdom is not about power and control, like Pilate's kingdom. It is not about being served by others, being famous, ruling over others. That is our earthly world. We live in a world where kingdoms are defined by power and control, people fighting to get to the top, having authority that can be used or abused, nations fighting nations for control.
Pilate will do anything to stay in control, even ordering Jesus to be crucified. To what lengths do we go to, to stay in control? What do we give up, whom do we persecute to exercise our power? For those who abuse their power, the victims are usually those who are weak or poor, the immigrants, the foreigners, the sick, the homeless, those who have no power themselves. Those are the ones who are trampled on as people try to climb the ladder of success.
But Jesus came to show us a better way. Jesus' heavenly kingdom is not about power and control and authority. It's about loving one another, serving one another, caring for the sick, the widows, the orphans, those on the margins of society, those who are easily ignored or overlooked. Jesus' kingdom is about caring for one another, putting the other first, worshipping God our Creator.
Pilate did not understand this. He could think only in earthly terms - in power and control. But this is not the way of Jesus. The way of Jesus is love - love of self, love of family and friends and neighbors and our community of faith, and all those whose lives we touch every day; as well as those who are in need.
Jesus calls us to keep our earthly power in check, to use it for the good of others, and to love one another as God loves us. That is the call of the heavenly kingdom, the call of Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.