a biblical reflection, based on John 18.33-38, for the Last Sunday after Pentecost (aka Christ the King Sunday), November 22, 2015
“Are you the king of the Jews?”
“King.” An antiquated word laden with outdated meanings of hierarchy and patriarchy that grate against more expansive, inclusive tastes and temperaments of our post-modern era. Yet when I interpret “king” as a metaphor for the ever-present, never-absent realities of power (the ability to do something) and authority (the capacity to act on the power one possesses), then I behold new meaning in this old story of the encounter between Jesus and Pontius Pilate.
Jesus, throughout his servant-ministry, reached out in radical hospitality, welcoming especially the disconsolate and the disenfranchised. Jesus, though, was more than a pastor helping others. He was a prophet, a proclaimer of God’s word, who denounced both secular and spiritual leaders for their single-minded preoccupation with maintaining the status quo of institutional preservation over care for the least and the last. This aspect of his mission brought him before Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor of Judea. Though Pilate cared not in the slightest that Jesus fed the hungry, healed the sick, or even raised the dead, he could not ignore the reports that Jesus was being hailed by the people as their king.
The scene: Jerusalem.
The city of David, the long-ago monarch whose legacy made an indelible mark on the idea of messiah; the long-awaited coming of whom fired national hopes of promised liberation from Roman occupation. It also is Passover, the annual centuries-old celebration of the emancipation of the Hebrews from Egyptian slavery. The rebellious fever of an already restive people couldn’t be higher. Pilate had to check out the rumors about the arrival of another king.
Illustration: Jerusalem, Oliver Pichat, 1886