a biblical reflection, based on John 18.33-38, for the Last Sunday after Pentecost (aka Christ the King Sunday), November 22, 2015
Jesus and Pontius Pilate. The New Testament’s most intense and all-encompassing encounter; embracing issues of being and meaning, history and destiny, opportunity and choice, life and death.
Jesus is brought for judgment to the headquarters of Pontius Pilate, Judea’s Roman governor. Jesus’ adversaries know that a charge of blasphemy, claiming to be God, is a theological matter of no importance to Pilate. To accuse Jesus of calling himself a king, however, has political ramifications that Pilate, seeking to keep order and the favor of Tiberius, the Roman emperor, cannot ignore.
In this all-and-everything encounter there also is irony. Pilate’s headquarters is a place of judgment. For Pilate. Pilate, the captor, with power over life and death, is challenged by Jesus, the captive, to see the truth of his innocence and to do what is just.
Exercising a writer’s license, I revise the dialogue in modern idiom and reinterpret the scene…
Pilate, curious and concerned: “Are you the King of the Jews?”
Jesus peers into Pilate’s heart: “Is this truly your question?”
Pilate, annoyed, feints: “Why should I care? All I need to know is what you did to be brought to me?”
Jesus parries, responding to the original question: “My kingdom is not here.”
Pilate trumpets: “Aha! So you admit you are a king?”
Jesus keenly discerns that in Pilate’s question he has revealed the resolution to his dilemma: “As you have said, then it is true.”
Pilate, exposed, reacts defensively: “Humph! What is truth?”
This last query is rhetorical, for Pilate, neither wanting nor waiting for an answer, “went out.”
As the story unfolds, Pilate, with no evidence of a crime, condemns Jesus to die. And for two millennia, history records that Pilate, with power to do justice, sacrificed Jesus and his own integrity for the sake of political expediency.
This, for Pilate, was his destiny-and-legacy-altering moment in time as described by the hymn:
Once to ev’ry (one) and nation comes the moment to decide,
in the strife of truth with falsehood, for the good or evil side;
Some great cause, God’s new Messiah, off’ring each the bloom or blight,
and the choice goes by forever ‘twixt that darkness and that light.
Blessedly, for most of us, we do not encounter, endure a singular instant or one occasion when we must bear the triple burden of compromised principles, troubled conscience, and history’s timeless judgment. Still, at the heart of human life, I believe, is the quest for truth. So, I ask (for what is a quest without questions?):
Where and when, how and how often do you, do I stop our daily business of doing long enough to focus on our being and our search for truth?
What is your truth, my truth through which we make meaning, make sense of our lives?
And what happens not if, but when in our various relationships and communities our truths conflict and contradict the truths of others?
Illustration: Quod Est Veritas? (What is truth?) Christ and Pilate, Nikolai Nikolaevich Ge, 1890
 From the poem, The Present Crisis, by James Russell Lowell (1845); adapted into the hymn Once to ev’ry man and nation by W. Garrett Horder (1896).