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"An Interrogation"
John 18:33-37
       A common view of the last days of Christ in Jerusalem, prior to his crucifixion, is one of choosing up sides, of "us against them."  There are the many followers of Jesus, and there are also those who are out to get him, to destroy him. 
    And in our country, with what is basically a two-party political system, it's easy for us to think this way. 
    Even those of us who may think of ourselves as "independents," and who may even register as independent voters, are likely to lean very heavily in one direction or the other. 
    But thinking of an "us and them" situation may obscure some important things for us.  For example, might it not have been possible that in Jerusalem that week there were some, perhaps many, who simply did not care? 
    Might there have been some for whom this conflict did not matter?  We do know that there were Gentiles in the country, and they were obviously not observing Passover with Jesus and his fellow Jews. 
    And among those Gentiles were a whole bunch of Romans, an occupying army, who probably could have cared less that this was the season of Passover. 
    They were just serving their time, and probably wishing they were somewhere else, somewhere closer to home instead of in this impoverished land on the outskirts of the Roman Empire.
    But among the Romans were not only the soldiers going through their paces; there were also those with political and legal obligations to meet in their responsibilities to the Emperor.  They were entrusted to keep order, to keep things under control, to make sure that this little country stayed in the Roman Empire.
    Among those Romans, the one we know best is Pontius Pilate.  And in our Apostles' Creed we proclaim that Jesus "suffered under Pontius Pilate."  But although that is true, it doesn't really say enough about Pilate.
    This morning I would invite you to take a closer look at Pilate, and at his relationship to Jesus.  If we look closely, scripture can suggest more to us than that Jesus simply "suffered under Pontius Pilate." 
    And even what we WILL be looking at will not be ALL that can be found about Pilate in the gospels.
    In the Gospel according to John, in the thirty-third verse of the eighteenth chapter, we learn that "Then Pilate entered the headquarters again, summoned Jesus, and asked him, "Are you the King of the Jews?"
    Now, in one sense, Pilate is simply carrying out his responsibilities.  He is responsible for trying all those accused of crimes against Rome, and that makes it necessary that he interrogate them, that he question them with regard to the charges against them. 
    Obviously, the quickest way to handle something like this is to get a simple confession.  But look at the way he asked the question!  It is a question of fact.  He does not ask, "Do you BELIEVE yourself to be the King of the Jews?"  He simply asks, "ARE you?" 
    In truth, it is a silly question for him to ask, because a kingship should be proveable by outward evidence.  So why did he ask it?  On the other hand, if he WERE deeply suspicious that Jesus was a king, wouldn't he have been rather distressed by that possibility?  Shouldn't he have been upset that here was someone who would threaten his position and get him in trouble with the Emperor?
    Although we know, from the twenty-fourth verse of the twenty-seventh chapter of the gospel according to Matthew, that Pilate eventually "took some water and washed his hands before the crowd, saying, "I am innocent of this man's blood; see to it yourselves," we can hear him BEGIN to say this in the beginning of his questioning. 
    He asks what seems to be a silly question because he doesn't know what else to ask, and he wants this over and done with.
    Jesus doesn't make matters any easier for him when he answers, "Do you ask this on your own, or did others tell you about me?" 
    And he's asking Pilate, "Do you really want to know?"  "Do YOU really care?"  "Are YOU, personally, concerned with the answer to this question?" "Does it matter to you on a personal or on a legalistic level?"
    And although these questions may have been addressed to Pilate, they are the kinds of questions which might likewise be addressed to us. 
    When we raise questions about the kingship of Christ, are they academic questions coming out of our heads, or are they spiritual questions coming out of our hearts?
    When Jesus asks "did others tell you about me?" he is simply asking "did someone put you up to this?"  "Do you have the motives of OTHERS guiding you in this question?" 
    Now, Jesus knows the answer to the question before he asks it; but in asking it, he is putting Pilate outside of the conflict.  He knows that Pilate is a third party to all of this, apparent in the way Pilate asks the question, and Jesus wants to make it abundantly clear.
    But he's also asking US the question.  He's asking US what OUR motivations are.  Are we moved by the spirit within us, or by the influence of others upon us? 
    For many of us, it is good that we are brought up in the Christian faith, that we have been instructed in that faith since our childhood; but does that faith now spring from the spirit within us, or do we believe only because of what others would have us believe?
    Pilate does not take this well.  He wants a simple, straightforward answer, a yes or no, so he can get this matter out of the way and move on to other things.  Instead, the person before him seems to be beating around the bush, to be putting him on the spot.  Indeed, Pilate may be wondering, "Who's on trial here, anyway?  I'm supposed to be ASKING the questions, not answering them!"  But he's discovered that his task is not as simple as he had expected.
    So "Pilate replied, "I am not a Jew, am I?  Your own nation and the chief priests have handed you over to me.  What have you done?"
    Here is a man with a duty to perform, and he doesn't know how to go about doing it.  He admits his confusion, his inability to know what to do, when he asks, "I am not a Jew, am I?"  Pilate is NOT a Jew, and he doesn't understand what IS a Jewish conflict. 
    But he's also telling Jesus that he is not one who is making charges against him.  He is attempting, as he should, to make himself objective in this matter.  And he clearly points out who has brought the charges:  "your own nation and the chief priests."
    But the most telling part of this passage is Pilate's next question:  "What have you done?"  And it really isn't that simple.  Because what Pilate wants to know is "Why have you been charged?" 
    What he wants is a simple statement of a crime that has been committed, so that he can respond in a straightforward legalistic fashion.  But what he has literally asked is one of the most complex questions in all scripture:  "What have you done?" 
    And he wants a simple answer to a complicated question.  It really isn't much different than when, in our lives, things go wrong, and we ask "What did I do WRONG?"  We want simple answers to incredibly complicated questions.
    And if we are asked the question, "What have you done?" how do WE respond?  Where do we even BEGIN to answer that question?  It probably depends upon who is asking the question. 
    In the case of Pilate, Jesus probably knew that there was no simple way to respond to him, no way to give him a workable "crime" that would really fit within his experience of handling criminal cases.
    So "Jesus answered, "My kingdom is not from this world.  If my kingdom were from this world, my followers would be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Jews.  But as it is, my kingdom is not from here."
    And as soon as Jesus speaks of "my kingdom" he has answered half of Pilate's first question.  Indeed he does affirm that he IS a king.  But to say that his kingdom is not from this world is to deny that he is "King of the Jews."  And in a technical, legalistic sense, he is off the hook.  The answer to Pilate's first question is "No." 
    And Jesus goes on to point out that if he WERE a king from this world, he wouldn't even be on trial; that there would be those who would have prevented that.  And he's telling Pilate, "If I'm a king from this world, why am I here?" 
    Pilate probably understood that.  Indeed, Pilate was probably asking himself, "If this man is a king, where is his army?"
    But there is a more important aspect to this answer, and it is implied in what is NOT said; and that is, that because Jesus’ kingdom is not from this world, his followers do not fight, and have not fought, to prevent his being brought to trial.
    Pilate probably had some difficulty with the "not from this world" business.  He was probably writing Jesus off as some religious crank.  The evidence he has, from Jesus testimony, is that, yes, he is a king, but not of the Jews. 
    He also has testimony, implied anyway, that he's not a trouble-maker.  For if he were, there would have been fighting in the streets to keep him from trial.
    In Pilate's world-view, this should be enough to turn Jesus loose.  Jesus is not a threat to territories of the Roman Empire, because he makes no claims on Rome.  He's not a threat to the Roman armies, because he has none of his own. 
    And all Pilate is concerned with is keeping the peace with Rome and in this little country for which he is responsible.
    "Pilate asked him, "So you are a king?"  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."
    And Pilate, grasping at straws, holds on to the only specific testimony that would indict Jesus, his admission to being a king, and asks him to confirm it again.  Jesus’ answer was probably unsettling; for in it, he defines his kingship. 
    As he has told Pilate, his kingdom is not from this world.  There is only one reason for his being born and coming into the world:  to testify to the truth.  And who are those of his kingdom, his followers, those who listen to his voice? 
    They are everyone who belongs to the truth.
    On this, the last Sunday of the season after Pentecost, we celebrate Christ the King Sunday.  This day is also referred to as the Sunday of the Reign of Christ, the Dominion of Christ, and Christ the Sovereign. 
    Sometimes the language that we use to describe Jesus Christ and God can be troublesome. 
    Some of this language has come to us out of the early seventeenth century England and the Anglican Church, which, under the leadership of the King of England, King James at the time, produced one of the finest Bibles in the English Language.
    In subsequent revisions, most notably the American Standard Version of 1901, the Revised Standard Version of 1952, and the New Revised Standard Version of 1989, much of the language was changed to adapt to modern usage.  Yet, much of it also still retains King James vocabulary. 
    When I was examined for the order of elder, I was called upon, as are all elder's candidates, to explain my understanding of the "lordship of Jesus Christ" and the "kingdom of God."
    Now, I don't reject the words "lord" and "king" in our liturgy, because I find great beauty in our traditional language. 
    But as I pointed out to those examining me for elder's orders, I find that lords and kings were more a part of medieval England over three hundred years ago than they are  of my contemporary relationship with Jesus Christ and God. 
    So what should we do with the word "king"?  First, Jesus TOTALLY redefines the word when he tells Pilate, "My kingdom is NOT from this world."  In those few words he throws out the window EVERYTHING we ever understood about kingship. 
    But second, look again at the thirty-seventh verse.  When Pilate asks "So you ARE a king?" Jesus has two separate, independent responses:  The first response--"YOU say that I am a king." 
    And the second response--"For THIS I was born, and for THIS I came into the world, to testify to the truth."  Amen.  

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