Pilate’s Response

Scripture: John 18:33-38a

Let us pray:

Almighty God, King and Lord over all, guide our footsteps that we might walk in your ways. Help us listen to your voice and guide us into all truth. Amen.

I wonder that the lectionary stopped at verse 37 in the Gospel of John today. For the next verse, to me, stands out as the one that speaks louder than the words themselves what it is that troubles our world today. Verse 38 says:

“Pilate asked him, “What is truth?”

The scripture never tells us the answer, but I want to dwell just a little bit on their conversation and this question. Emilie Townes, commentator for Feasting on the Word, writes,

“The interplay between the more intellectual understanding of truth (which Pilate represents in this passage) and truth as revelation (which we find in Jesus Christ) is an important one to explore for contemporary hearers of the Word. Though important in helping establish and maintain many social norms, intellectual truth does not fill all of our needs.

We are compelled to go beyond merely understanding and making sense and order in our world. We must seek to know God and live as active witnesses on this journey into God. Jesus’ life and mission is a model…. In Jesus, we learn that truth is a stimulant for faithful living and witness, rather than only a matter for contemplation.”[1]

Theologian Dorothee Stephensky-Sölle saw a connection between truth-seeking and obedience. She urged all Christians to practice discerning obedience. In her book Beyond Mere Obedience, she defined discerning obedience as “an obedience which has its eyes wide open, which first discovers God’s will in the situation.”[2]

I’d like to try to apply the concept of discerning obedience to Pilate’s conversation with Jesus. Clearly, Pilate is attempting to discern what is best for the situation before him. From his question “Are you the King of the Jews?” to “What is truth?” we have a deeper issue peeking through: belonging. Pilate understandably views the terminology of “king” and “kingdom” as belonging to the earthly and political realm. This, he must stop or his job is in jeopardy. But, if Jesus is “the way the truth and life,” as he claimed four chapters ago in John, then perhaps Pilate playing along with the requests of the religious leaders to get rid of him could mean his own death instead.

Jesus, of course, is referring to something wholly Other, not of an earthly and political reality. A mentor and colleague of mine, Rodger Nishioka, writes, “[Christ’s] kingdom – his nation – is not defined by earthly terms, but neither is it some ethereal, imaginary concept. Jesus comes from and belongs to God’s kingdom.” Rodger goes on to write,

“The question of belonging continues to be a crucial if troubling one. Just as children test the resilience of their belonging to their families in times of frustration and disagreement, so too do adults. We test our belonging to our families. We test our belonging to our communities of faith…

Surely the kingdom is present wherever Jesus is present. It is present wherever we experience the reign of God through God’s invitation, healing, and restoration—but our belonging is not up to each one of us alone. Our belonging is up to God. That is the new reality that Jesus proclaims. That is the new truth to which all of us—the community of those invited, healed, and restored—belong”[3] (my emphasis).

Discerning obedience indeed. What was God’s will in the situation Pilate faced? I think Pilate did the one and only thing he could have done. Even though he found no case against Jesus, he handed him over to be crucified. God’s will was fulfilled, and the sacrifice of God’s very self opened the door for the incoming of God’s kingdom and the indwelling of God’s Spirit, no matter what kingdom, country, nationality, or ethnicity one might be.

And not only has the kingdom arrived and the Spirit infused, Jesus has, as commentator Robert Bryant describes it, “enabled people to face the truth about themselves, their relationships, their faith, and the world in which they live.”[4]

Did Pilate realize that? I suspect Pilate recognized the Truth, capital “T,” but due to his unfortunate allegiance to a political truth, lower-case “t,” he was forced to look away and allow the times – and the Empire – dictate his actions instead of the Truth that could have set him free. Let us pray:

Every day we live and move and have our being in this great land, for which we give you thanks. Yet turn our hearts to You, O God, that we might truly be members of Your kingdom, in Jesus’ name we pray. Amen? May it be so.

[1] Townes, Emilie. Feasting on the Word: Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary – Feasting on the Word – Year B, Volume 4: Season After Pentecost 2 (Propers 17-Reign of Christ).

[2] Soelle, Dorothee. Beyond Mere Obedience, tras. Lawrence W. Denef (New York: Pilgrim Press, 1982), p. 25; as referred to by Emilie Townes in Feasting on the Word: Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary – Feasting on the Word – Year B, Volume 4: Season After Pentecost 2 (Propers 17-Reign of Christ).

[3] Nishioka, Rodger. Feasting on the Word: Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary – Feasting on the Word – Year B, Volume 4: Season After Pentecost 2 (Propers 17-Reign of Christ).

[4] Bryant, Robert A. Feasting on the Word: Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary – Feasting on the Word – Year B, Volume 4: Season After Pentecost 2 (Propers 17-Reign of Christ).

 

About Scottrick

Parent ~ Pastor ~ Poet ~ Author
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