Discernment and Belonging

Scripture: John 18:33-37

Let us Pray: May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in thy sight, O Lord our Rock and our Redeemer. Amen.

Discernment and Belonging. Clearly, in today’s text, Pilate is attempting to discern what is best for the situation before him. From his question “Are you the King of the Jews?” to the judgment he renders to the Jews, “I find no case against him;” Pilate understandably views the terminology of “king” and “kingdom” as belonging to the earthly and political realm. Thus, he must discern whether or not Jesus presents a threat politically to the Roman Empire.

However, as Jesus finally tells him, his Kingdom is not “from here.” I have always been intrigued with Pilate’s response. In fact, I have had compassion for him ever since I first remembering hearing this story as a youth and thinking more deeply about it. Pilate is between a rock and a hard place. He asks, “What is truth?” rightly, for indeed there are two truths presented to him, and he has to choose which of the two to live with. His job is with Rome. His searching for truth? I wonder if that is perhaps another matter.

Politically, he has to make the decision, as we find out during Lent, to ultimately hand Jesus over for crucifixion. Factually, the witness of Jesus puts him at ambassadorial level, not at the level of a political rival bidding for independence from the Roman government.

But for Pilate, a different truth dictates almost his every move. It is the obvious ploy of the enemies of Jesus – who up to this time are not Rome but his own tribal leadership – to get him killed; but it is the iron will of the Pax Romana that must be upheld. If that is threatened, however, Pilate must take action. In the dance between Pilate, Jesus and the Jewish leaders, the stability of Jerusalem does in fact become an issue; which does in fact threaten the Roman imposition of truth and peace…all that is, that enhances Rome. I imagine subjugated people cannot even remotely show an independence of spirit, for the will of Rome is law.

“So you are a king?” asks Pilate, dispenser of the will of the law of Rome to the chosen scapegoat of the leaders of a subjugated people. “Jesus answered, ‘You say that I am a king. For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.’ 38 Pilate asked him, ‘What is truth?’”

“In Jesus, we learn that truth is a stimulant for faithful living and witness, rather than only a matter for contemplation.”[1]

Jesus says, “Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.” “Everyone who belongs to the truth…”

I had to stop and think about that for a while. In fact, I had to stop and rethink the whole interchange between Pilate and Jesus. Summarily, it is the culmination of one of the main themes in the Gospel of John: Truth. One commentator put it this way:

“John began his Gospel by identifying Jesus with God’s truth (1:1–5, 9–14, 32–34; etc.), demonstrated the truthfulness of Jesus’ perceptions (1:47; 2:25; etc.), and proved that Jesus’ teaching bears witness to the truth (4:23–26; 5:33; 8:32, 40, 45, 46). Jesus also imparted truth to his disciples (14:6; 15–17, 25–26; 15:26; 16:7, 13–15; 17:17, 19). The opponents of Jesus, however, have rejected the “truth” (8:44) and sided with the “world” (11:47–53). In this last reference to truth, Jesus declares that his kingdom is present in everyone who hears and accepts his testimony.

But what has Jesus done? In John’s Gospel, he has enabled people to face the truth about themselves, their relationships, their faith, and the world in which they live. Now Pilate has the possibility of recognizing the truth, and he is looking Truth in the face (14:6).”[2]

Is that what Jesus does for us today? Help us to face the truth about ourselves? About Trout Lake First Presbyterian Church? About our life in this community, both individually and corporately?

“On this Sunday, the church proclaims Christ the King. The church announces that it bows only to Jesus the Christ. The church declares that it does not give allegiance to any other person, principality, or power claiming to be sovereign. Yet will the church live out its profession? Forever fearful in this increasingly post-Christian era of losing members and thus losing influence in the community, does the church temper its message and its mission in a desperate effort to maintain position?

Yet notice Jesus. As Pilate asks that question designed to catch Jesus in a capital offense, “Are you the King of the Jews?” Jesus says to him, “Do you ask this on your own, or did others tell you about me?” (v. 34). There, before Pilate, Jesus seeks to encounter the real Pilate, the one who in truth is utterly trapped in his desperate effort to stay in control. There, Jesus gives himself to be with the true person who is Pilate. There Jesus invites Pilate to be transparent, to share how it is with him, to utter the truth of his own life…

Here in the very last encounter Jesus has with a human being before his death, an encounter that leads to his death, he makes an offer to Pilate. “Everyone who belongs to truth listens to my voice,” says Jesus to Pilate. Even to Pilate Jesus offers to be the good shepherd, the good shepherding king, who, when his sheep listen to his voice, are led into abundant life (John 10).

This is always Jesus’ offer. But to receive it means facing the truth about our lives, the truth Jesus holds up before us.”[3]

Are you ready to be led by the shepherding king? To belong to God? As we enter into the time of Advent next week, let us prepare ourselves to welcome once again our true sovereign infant king; for he comes to claim his own, and his own must be ready.

May all glory be unto the One who lived, died, and rose again for us, even Him who is the Christ. Amen? May it be so.

[1] Emilie M. Townes, “Theological Reflection, John 18:33-37 in Feasting on the Word – Year B, ed. David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2008). Accordance edition hyper-texted and formatted by OakTree Software, Inc. Version 2.0

[2] Robert A. Bryant, “Exegetical Perspective, John 18:33-37” in Feasting on the Word – Year B, ed. David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2008). Accordance edition hyper-texted and formatted by OakTree Software, Inc. Version 2.0

[3] Pete Peery, “Homiletical Perspective, John 18:33-37” in Feasting on the Word – Year B, ed. David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2008). Accordance edition hyper-texted and formatted by OakTree Software, Inc. Version 2.0

Questions for Reflection

Jesus is exalted over the whole of creation through his loving allegiance to God alone. His life, death, and resurrection reveal that true power is found through loving service, and it is this that makes him King. If his life and death give a radically new meaning to the words “king” and “kingship” and how justice is enacted in love, how does this change your understanding of power? How does it change the way you live? 

Household Prayer: Morning

Loving God, it is a new day.  Awaken my desire to delight in you by more faithfully serving your world.  Keep me alert to the earthly powers and privileges at play in this world as I seek to foster justice and serve your reign. Amen.

Household Prayer: Evening

Brother Jesus, I have done my best to love and serve your realm this day.  Where I have succeeded, I give you thanks.  Where I have failed, I ask your guidance and forgiveness.  I release all my cares and fears to you this night as you watch over your wondrous and wounded world. Amen.

About Scottrick

Parent ~ Pastor ~ Poet ~ Author
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