Rev. Rebecca Heilman
(Mark 18: 33-38)
Welp, did we skip over Christmas? Did we miss Advent and we’re now in Easter? This text falls out of nowhere for us today, as if Advent and Christ’s birth flew right by. And it’s a text Steve and I chose months ago and indeed, I questioned this week why we chose it. And yet we walked away on Wednesday in the Well Bible Class pondering this text with inspiration and awe.
We are inching towards Jesus’s death in our text today. Jesus has had the last supper with his disciples. He has been betrayed and arrested. Peter has denied him three times and now we witness, like a fly on the wall, his trial with Pontius Pilate, the Roman leader in Galilee. We are reading the second scene amid seven scenes of Jesus’s trial before Pilate. When you read the full passage, all seven scenes, it places our text today into context and you can almost sense a real pull and tug between Pilate, the Jewish people, and Jesus. There is a tension among the three. The Jews practically begging Pilate to put Jesus to death, Pilate hesitating to do so and yet wanting to maintain peace and his power, and then there’s Jesus, eerily and lovingly accepting his fate knowing his Jewish friends do not know what they are doing. These are strange verses and we talked about how uncomfortable they made us on Wednesday, not only because it falls right before Advent, but also because of this back-and-forth conversation between the three parties.
It’s a confusing conversation with more questions than there are answers. Not to mention, many comments from Jesus that probably didn’t make much sense to a Roman leader, a gentile who did not practice Judaism. Pilate’s primary concern was maintaining his power in the community and keeping the peace among the Jewish people outside his palace doors on the edge of revolt. And so, no wonder his first question to Jesus was to inquire if he was a King. Pilate is a politician, wondering if there was an act of treason against the power of Rome, a power that would put Pilate’s own authority into question. Pilate was threatened by this potential king and so he had to get down to the truth. But Jesus never mentioned he is a king, Jesus says, “You, Pilate, you say that I am King.” Jesus only mentions a kingdom that does not originate from this world and then invites Pilate to be curious that the power that Jesus talks of…belongs to God, not to an earthly king. Jesus distances himself from a kingship and instead invites Pilate to think differently about what an earthly kingdom might look like if Pilate centered himself towards God. Pilate takes the bate and asks the final question in our scene, “what is truth?” And I’m wondering if Pilate meant to ask, “who is truth?” If you read further on in the other scenes, you get the sense that Pilate if listening deeply to Jesus, pondering this truth, that Pilate is hesitant in his decision and may believe all that Jesus is saying. But we really do not know his inner thoughts during these conversations. What we do know is that in the end, Pilate chooses power, rather than the truth of God.
I remember watching the events unfold at the Capital on January 6th in the Welcome Center with Steve. I remember how disturbed we felt when we not only saw signs of hate, but among that hate, large signs with Jesus 2020 or Jesus saves. Everything on that day shook me. And watching those signs about Christianity and Christ walk among that violence gave me nothing but chills.
We’re witnessing and witnessed an unbelievable time where power is considered more important than truth. Where bending the truth is justified and expected.
Truth no longer matters, as long as power succeeds. We’ve seen this throughout history, whether it’s through poster propaganda, speech rhetoric, mass groups shouting their desires outside of palace doors, or manipulative ads on Social Media. We’ve seen this throughout history and our text today is no different. It’s not foreign. For humans, we tend to lean toward power more than truth. And as much as we would like to understand the Kingdom, it’s simply not from this world and we must stretch our brains and our faith to grasp Jesus’s point and vision beyond the immediate crisis.
For Jesus, what he’s trying to get across to Pilate and Christians throughout the centuries is that the reality from which he sees the world is not limited to the power and politics of the Roman regent in Galilee, or even the rulers of the temple in Jerusalem, or the churches that are hurting God’s children, or the Christians using God’s name for violence. God’s reality, the power of God in the world is so much bigger than the immediate events.
Jesus knew this. Jesus could have been more concerned for his life and innocence that day. If Christ wanted to stop the trial, he could have easily said something to change Pilate’s mind. He could have begged for his life and innocence. He could have made a case and called witnesses and more. He could have made peace with the leaders of the synagogue and of Rome. No, Jesus kept his story in motion because he knew the ending, he knew the larger reality that God had planned. He knew the truth that he would face death and then resurrection for hope to settle within the story. Jesus knew of the kingdom that may not originate from this earth, but that has the ability to settle upon the earth, if we so desire. A kingdom where there’s peace among the lions and the lambs. A kingdom where justice prevails, and love drives all force. A kingdom where relationships flourish, and hope brings relief. Perhaps this larger perspective, this vision of peace and love and the kingdom on earth as it is in heaven, gives Jesus the courage to live into what must be done instead of being dismayed by the bleak reality of the immediate, disturbing situation.
For the past few weeks, we’ve talked about having more than enough – enough to love, enough to give, and enough to know. In our story today, Jesus is reminding us how to live into God’s expectation of abundance and bigheartedness. That the reality that we face right now – the pandemic risks, financial strain, strained relationships, mental illness, a darkness that we can’t seem to overcome, addiction, loss of independence, stress, exhaustion, concerns about the church and its numbers, – the reality we face on a day-to-day basis right now is not the whole story. They are not our whole story. They are not your whole story. They do not define your very being. They may be a part of the story we are living right now, But God is doing something bigger, something beyond the immediate now. God is leading us towards wholeness and hope. Towards a world where truth exceeds power. And power has no choice but to listen to truth. God is leading us to that reality – God’s reality – giving us enough courage, enough strength, an abundance of love, knowledge, and truth to live, to have the will to live, and create a world where others can live too. May we take God’s abundance and run with it, fly with it, work towards a kingdom that we can’t help but be a part of.