Scripture Passage: John 18:33-37
The King, Full of Grace and Truth
Good morning! Today, we celebrate Christ the King Sunday and the reign of Christ! With all the fires in California and hurricanes on the East Coast, the violent episodes in our country, and the political climate in our country, do we suppose that it might helpful to have a spiritual king?! Yes, a king, who might be capable of bringing some grace, truth, and order back into all the chaos and destruction. For me, the fires in Butte County and Southern California have especially been on my mind. So, in thinking about today’s scripture and Christ as the King, I’ve pondered, “How has Christ reigned as the King in all the terrible destruction that’s been going on with these fires?” I think the people of Paradise and Butte County have really needed Christ the King in these last few weeks! I believe that a spiritual king, who can swoop down in all the flames and rescue them or their homes, would be most welcome with these fires. I heard a story on the news this week about a hospital in Paradise, where all the patients just barely escaped the flames. It was scary! One of the new mothers in the delivery ward, whom I will call Kristen, shared a story about their harrowing escape, as they got out with their newborn babies. A sheriff, whom I will call Chris, also shared his story, as he was the one, who got all the new moms and their newborns out of the burning delivery ward. The sheriff said it was difficult to get to this part of the hospital, but he refused to give up. Kristen confirmed that yes, it was very dangerous for this sheriff to make his way to this burning wing of the hospital, and she thought he was extremely brave to do what he did! I'm sure that the new moms felt very anxious about what might happen to them, and especially to their delicate, newborn babies. I'm sure they were hoping or praying hard that someone courageous would rescue them.
Similarly, I think that Jesus, in today's scenario with Pilate, also may have felt anxiety and dread about the outcome of this trial and what was ahead of him at the Cross, similar to what he felt at Gethsemane. I'm sure some thoughts about God, his heavenly Father, swooping down to rescue him from this gruesome death might have passed through Jesus’ mind. However, in the end, Jesus was enormously courageous and obedient to God's plan, and he accepted his suffering and torturous death and said, “but yet, not my will, but yours.” What an incredibly courageous and gracious attitude!
Jesus even reflected this type of courage in this encounter with Pilate. He knew that Pilate had the power to send him to the Cross or set him free. I think most people would have felt very nervous before Pilate, but not Jesus. This is because Jesus knew going into the trial, that he was innocent and had not committed any crimes against the Roman government or against the Jews. Jesus was not an insurrectionist in the Roman Empire or a threat to the Roman government. So, in reflecting on the thoughts of one insightful commentator, I think that Pilate was perhaps more nervous than Jesus. This is because Jesus is also putting Pilate on trial, emotionally and spiritually, trying hard to get him to face the truth in this situation and in his life. I have always pondered over why Pilate decided to condemn Jesus to the Cross, when he clearly believes him to be innocent of any crime. Thanks to this wise commentator, who is really able to put himself into Pilate’s ‘head’ and analyze what Pilate might have been thinking, I now have discovered some answers! I think that Pilate for sure believed Jesus to be innocent, but he went through with the condemnation, because he was fearful of the chaos, violence and perhaps even a small war, which might erupt with the Jewish leaders, if he were to release Jesus. I think Pilate was worried that he might not have enough military troops in Israel to control such an outbreak. Also, I think that it was probably highly important to Pilate, to maintain control over the situation in Israel, and he feared how this might affect his reputation, as one of the most powerful political leaders in the Roman Empire. Pilate may have feared what the leaders above him back in Rome would think about him if he allowed a war to break out. I think this interpretation makes lots of sense, especially if we consider what has happened and is happening, as we speak, with the politics in our own country. I loved the example that this commentator noted, of a senator, who wanted to make a public confession, that he had made a mistake about approving the War in Iraq. Sadly, the senator never did manage to make the public confession, because his political aids revised and sanitized his draft confession, sometimes omitting the confession, entirely and other times softening it to say that he only was misled, and this is why he approved the war! So in the end, the senator’ s confession was not an authentic confession, because he did not take ownership for his actions. The reason his aids softened his confession is political, because they wanted to avoid having him ‘step on the toes’ of others in their political party and help him maintain his power in that party. Well, I think that to maintain his power was also at the heart of why Pilate decided to send Jesus to the Cross, though he knew he was innocent! I think that Pilate felt it was more important to maintain control and power as a most powerful leader, than to acknowledge the truth and act according to truth. That is why I said before, that actually Pilate is on trial here, more than Jesus, because Jesus is trying to get him to face the truth here, rather than just protect his power and control.
So, Jesus tries to get Pilate to face the truth, but what actually is truth?! That is the other interesting aspect of this passage. I liked what one commentator said about truth, as not a rigid set of rules, but rather it is the will of God! So, to discern the truth, we must discern what God’s will or plan is. That puts a hugely different face on truth, because instead of being inflexible and stale, it is actually dynamic and always evolving! In fact, seeking the truth becomes an exciting and liberating journey, rather than something we dread with fear and guilt! Now, sadly in this scenario with Pilate, Pilate never succeeds in facing the truth and makes his decision based on his desire to maintain power and control. However, the grace and good news in this story, is that each of us can learn from Pilate’s mistakes and poor choices, and respond to Jesus’ truth, by going down the path of God’s plan for our lives.
I think that Sheriff Chris definitely responded to Jesus’ truth, in courageously working with determination, until he succeeded, in getting one mom with her newborn out, after another, out from the flames, until all of them were safely out of the hospital! If Chris had been like Pilate, he could easily have said, “This is too hard and dangerous” and had given up, thinking it was more important to protect his own life and position. Thanks be to God, that this sheriff was not that way at all, and he recognized God’s will, that it was more important for him to be brave and put his life on the line, for the greater good, of saving many new moms and their newborns! And, so Chris did, and I think that the living Christ and Spirit were directly involved in this situation, too. Chris brought the moms and their babies to a nearby house and put them all into the garage. Well, later the flames traveled into that neighborhood, and somehow miraculously, the flames skipped over this house, where the moms and babies were, and the house was untouched, though the houses to the left and right of it burned! Amazing! I think that perhaps Christ the King and the Spirit were watching over that house, where all the moms and babies were, kind of like how God watched over Daniel in the Lion’s Den, and Shadrach, Meshach and Abednikov in the fiery furnace.
While this church has thankfully not experienced a fire like what is happening in Butte County, it has gone through quite a bit of transitions, lately. Change is never an easy or comfortable thing, but I think the good news in today’s story for this church, is that truth and change are not meant by Jesus to be nerve-wracking and scary! Rather, truth and change is intended by Jesus to direct us and the Church to God’s will, which is dynamic, alive, positive and exciting! God always has our back and our church’s back, and promises us light, love, peace and joy in God’s plan.
So, like Jesus, who graciously accepted God’s will to sacrifice his life for us and now sits enthroned at the right hand of God as the most powerful King, Sheriff Chris, who followed God’s will to courageously save that ward of new moms and babies, and the living Christ and Spirit, who hovered over that house with the moms and babies to protect them, may each of us joyfully and excitedly seek out the truth or God’s plan for our lives and our church! Amen.