Are you the King?
Then Pilate entered the headquarters again, summoned Jesus, and asked him, "Are you the King of the Jews?"
John 18: 33-37
November 22, 2021, Words By: Pat Thompson, Image By: Unknown
I have a confession to make. There were days during the pandemic where a veritable Netflix binge fest was happening in my living room: The Queen’s Gambit, All American, Mare of Easttown, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, Schitt’s Creek. I’m embarrassed to say the list could go on.
One night, we randomly settled on The Crown, and I was hooked! I was fascinated by the story of the Windsor monarchy and the events that lead to Elizabeth becoming the Queen of England. Her path to the throne was turbulent and unexpected. In fact, she only became queen due to a family scandal.
The show was a good reminder for me that, while monarchies appear strong from the outside, they are actually quite fragile. And their origin stories are seldom as clean as they’d have you believe.
Nor is their daily life. Every thought, word, deed and interaction is taken with the aim of preserving the legitimacy and authority of their rule.
In today’s lectionary text, Jesus is brought before Pilate. The Roman leader asks him, “Are you the king of the Jews?”
It’s possible Pilate is asking in disbelief, as in ,“How did YOU get here?” But I think he was viewing Jesus through his own contemporary political lens — he assumed self-preservation and power were Jesus’ primary motives. Pilate could only understand the use of power in the way he had seen it used in the world around him.
He was met, however, by Jesus’ counterintuitive way of holding power. After a short conversation, Jesus responds by saying, “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest…”
Jesus’ kingship may be from heaven, but it’s not top-down, nor does it seek to be preserved at all costs. It’s not power for the sole benefit of the powerful. It is not a monarchy that results in oppression, hypocrisy and corruption of all of the systems and institutions that are in place to serve, protect and empower its constituents.
Jesus’ kingship is difficult to see because it comes to us by way of a crucifixion, a self-sacrificing love of the other, even the enemy, rather than through domination.
It’s as if Jesus is trying to say, “My kingdom is on a whole ‘nother level! Trust me, you’ve never seen anything like this before!”
Pilate responds, “You are a king, then!” maybe because it’s true that Real Recognize Real. How about us? Is Jesus’ kingdom one that we recognize? Is it the one that shapes the way we hold onto power and interact with others, even those that could be called “enemies?”
Dwelling Among Us
In this week’s text, Jesus avoids giving a direct answer to the question “are you a king?” He refers to his kingdom, but without imposing the title of king on himself. In fact, the only title Jesus gives himself in the gospels is “Son of Man,” which literally means the “human one.” Why?