Well, we’re finally here – for the last month or more our Sunday Gospel readings have all been leading up to Jesus and the disciples entering Jerusalem for a final face off with both the religious and political authorities, which resulted in Jesus’ crucifixion. It always seems a strange turn of the story, coming as it does right before Thanksgiving, hearing a Good Friday text when we want to be thinking about family, and giving thanks, and Pilgrims and maybe even football. But this disjointed and out-of-time placement of the Gospel serves to underscore the disjointed and disconnected nature of the conversation the Jesus and Pilate are having.
Remember that Jesus is standing before Pilate, the Roman military governor, about to be sentenced to death by torture on trumped-up charges. You would think that Pilate would have the upper hand, be in control of the conversation, and yet he is woefully out of his depth. Jesus and Pilate are talking on completely different levels from each other. Pilate just wants to get through this, not have a political and religious mess on his hands; he’s looking for an exit strategy that won’t make him look bad.
Jesus, on the other hand, is talking on the meta level – not because he’s disconnected from Pilate’s concerns, or avoiding the reality of death by torture, or because he is so holy that earthly things don’t touch him or don’t matter. What Jesus is saying is of the utmost importance to God, to humanity, and to the world God has made and loves.
Let’s listen to that conversation again:
- Pilate So let me get this charge straight…you are the King of the Jews? Is that what you are claiming?
- Jesus Well that depends, are you asking because you really want to know, or is it just what you’ve been told?
- Pilate How should I know? I’m not Jewish! What have you done?
- Jesus My kingdom is not from this world; that’s not where my authority and power come from. And my followers don’t need to fight to protect my sovereignty.
- Pilate So …you are a king?
- Jesus That’s what you say. I was born, and came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who cares for the truth recognizes my voice.
- Pilate What is truth?
Now, this is a particularly intense and frought dialogue, but we know what these kinds of disjointed conversations are like, don’t we? Earlier this month the news brought us a tempest in a teapot – or better put, in a coffee cup – when Starbucks introduced this year’s holiday cup: plain red, with only the Starbucks logo on it. Someone online began to stir the pot about this being an example of the “war on Christmas” because there were no Christmas symbols on it. What pictures have there been on Starbucks cups in the past at this time of year? Snowflakes, reindeer, plain pine trees – not one Christian religious symbol among them. And yet there were people who were very upset, driven – I suspect – by an underlying unhappiness with the increasing diversity and secular nature of American society, and they missed the point that the Christian way to celebrate Christmas is to worship God, to share in the angels’ song for peace, justice, and good will in the world, and to care for the least, the lost, and the lonely in the name of God who came into human life as a powerless baby.
And this last week the disjointedness of our public discourse has jumped at least tenfold as the fear that followed the Paris attacks has taken hold and landed squarely in the middle of the Syrian refugee crisis - which began in 2011, but increased greatly in 2013 as life in Syria became impossible for the great majority of ordinary citizens and families. If my Facebook newsfeed is any indicator, there will be many difficult, awkward, and heated conversations around Thanksgiving dinner tables if the talk turns to this particular topic.
And on late night TV last week Stephen Colbert interviewed Bill Maher; it was a very awkward conversation: Colbert, the faithful Christian of the Catholic variety - despite his ability to deliver some real zingers, and Maher, the noted atheist and detractor of all things religious and spiritual. Their words went right past each other, sometimes insultingly so.
So how in the world can we listen to one another? How can we have any sort of meaningful conversation, or real relationship, if we are so fearful and defensive any time a difficult subject comes up, or someone disagrees with us strongly?
When we come together and talk about important things, we always need to be aware that our opinions and views are most often driven by our feelings and concerns – good and bad - and then we need to remember to listen for the feelings and concerns of the person we are speaking to; otherwise we are likely to get into a shouting match, to dismiss what is being said, and to communicate that we are dismissing the other person’s value as a human being. As Christians we need always to remember that the person to whom we are speaking is a person beloved of God, made in God’s own image; someone for whom Christ was willing to give his own life. That doesn’t mean we’ll always agree, or that emotions won’t run high sometimes; but we must always respect the dignity of every human being, as we promise in our baptismal covenant.
We also must be able to be at peace within ourselves when we speak truth – our truth, or God’s truth – and it is rejected; just because we know the truth and share the truth does not mean that it will be received. And as limited, fallible human beings we know that we will never have perfect knowledge, complete wisdom, unending love, or total truth; only God has all those things.
Yet we are still called to live and speak God’s truth, as much as we are able, even as we pray for greater wisdom, deeper love, and more profound truth.
And the truth is that God made the world for love and joy, and delighted to call humanity into being in God’s image, to be at peace and in harmony with all creation.
The truth is that humans broke off our relationship of trust with God, and in doing so, set in motion the sin that defaces and separates us from one another and the rest of God’s world.
The truth is that God tried every way possible to call us back into right relationship with him and with our neighbors – to get us to do justice, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with God.
And so, in the fullness of time, God’s Truth was born into a human family, temporarily homeless, who needed to seek refuge in a foreign country, facing all the pain and sorrow and joy that all human beings face.
The truth is that Jesus – fully God and fully human – showed us by his life and words as an itinerant rabbi how we are to be in this world if we are to be love God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength, and to love our neighbor as ourselves.
And the truth of God’s kingdom, and power, and purpose came to fruition when Christ defeated sin and death in his resurrection on Easter morning, opening for us – for all who put their trust in him – the way to God and fullness of life now and in all the ages to come. Amen.
Victoria Geer McGrath
All Saints’ Church, Millington, NJ
Last Sunday after Pentecost/Christ the King
November 22, 2015