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A Kingdom from Elsewhere              

November 20, 2015

Psalm 93             John 18: 33-38pilate

 

Today is the Feast of Christ the King. Today the lectionary sends us to the gospel of John to a very important passage.

 

To understand the story of Jesus you have to understand that first century Judaea was a hot bed of revolution. The Jewish people had been nurturing hopes of divine justice and revenge for many years. Revolutionaries had come and gone and still the people were kept under brutal military rule. The Romans did their best to keep onside with the locals where they could and Pilate is the Roman ruler on the scene. He has the power to kill any suspected terrorist and there are many potential suspects. The whole population really. No point in getting them to wear Star of David badges, or the kind of badges Donald Trump wants Muslims to wear. There’s just too many of them. Pilate also has a finely tuned politicians instinct to what is least likely to provoke Jewish rebellion. He will avoid it if he can.

 

So his opening question is straight to the point. Are you the King of the Jews? Are you the leader of the rebellion? It’s an interesting dialogue between Jesus and Pilate. Each time someone asks a question the other person doesn’t quite answer the question. They just seem to avoid it. It feels very much like real life. But the common themes come back.

So rather than saying yes or no to “king of the Jews”, Jesus asks a question back. “Do you ask this on your own, or did others tell you about me?” Pilate in turn doesn’t answer this question directly. “I am not a Jew” he replies. “Your own nation and the chief priests have handed you over to me, what have you done?” Pilate plays ignorant. Clearly he has heard something from the Jewish leaders who brought Jesus in, hence his opening question. Again Jesus doesn’t answer the question ‘What have you done?’ Instead he circles back to the original question about being a king. But his answer is one of the most interesting and important statements he makes. It’s where he begins to nail his colours to the mast (so to speak).

“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’.

 

Some of you might have translations which say “My kingdom is not of this world” but this is not an accurate translation. The more accurate translations say ‘My kingdom is not from this world’. That’s what the Greek says (ek = from). And its different.

 

There’s no suggestion in Jesus’ life and teaching that is kingdom is not about this world or for this world, that its all about an afterlife. Throughout Jesus teaching the kingdom of God is invading this world. But it comes from elsewhere. It has everything to do with this world. It just has a source from beyond this world. It is the kingdom of God or the kingdom of heaven. Both terms are about where the kingdom is from. Jesus announces the arrival of God’s kingdom in this world.

 

And how can you tell it is not from here?

“If it were my followers would fight to defend me from being taken…”

 

Because it comes from God, its members are learning not to participate in the violence of the world and the modes of kingdom-building that happen in this world. Jesus disciples do not fight back in defence… even in defence of their greatest treasure, their beloved teacher, Jesus. Their instinct was to fight and to defend with violence. Peter pulls his sword and cuts off the ear of the soldier. Jesus tells him to put his sword away. “Those who live by the sword will die by the sword”. Believe it or not, says Jesus, the world will not be redeemed by violence.

 

I say ‘believe it or not’ because our lives are surrounded by the idea that the solution to violence must be violent. Almost all our movies and books seem to be build around this idea that some call ‘the myth of redemptive violence’. In the end the hero will have to use violence and that will solve the problem.

 

Into this world comes a man who comes from ‘somewhere else’. His whole heart and being has been formed elsewhere. He totally believes and commits himself to the kingdom of God from elsewhere.

 

And Pilate says, aha, so you are a King. You’re admitting it. His political mind is on one track. It’s as if that idea of a leader with followers who didn’t fight back was so crazy that it just flew past without him noticing.

 

Jesus says, ‘You say that I am a King’. A philosopher might say, ‘it depends what you mean by King.’ If the kingdom looks nothing like anything anyone would call a kingdom, is the leader really a king?

 

All Jesus can do is stretch their imagination. And when we celebrate the Feast of Christ the King we come to have our imaginations stretched. The politician works to get things done. Jesus is more interested in stretching imaginations about what can and should be done.

 

“For this I was born and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth.” There is a truth from outside the world. Jesus is living that truth.

 

Pilate is living a different kind of truth… it might not even be about truth… What Pilate the politician is all about is power and control. All that matters is that Rome remains in control. You stay in power so that you can stay in power. You say what you need to say in order to stay in power. Life is a battle. The meaning of life is ‘winning’.

 

All Pilate can do is dismiss this talk of truth. His last word is ‘What is truth?’ In his world that means ‘what good is truth?’, ‘who needs truth?’ In the world of cultural diversity, Jewish Roman, Greek, whatever … everyone has their own truth. There are truths but not truth. What matters for Pilate then is power.

 

In Jesus world God’s truth comes from elsewhere. Because, of course, truth is inseparable from love. In Jesus world, truth lies in the call to submit his own power to the good of his neighbour. To love God with all his power and being, and to love his neighbour as himself. To do so is to testify to the truth, to do so is to live in a defenceless kingdom, a kingdom whose only hope lies not in borders or armies but in a love that comes from elsewhere.

 

Such talk can be easily dismissed. Such a life can be easily dismissed… by crucifixion. But God does not dismiss it. God restores it through resurrection. God still restores it.

 

Let me finish with a quote (its becoming a habit of mine). This one is from Stanley Hauerwas:

 

Christians are called to live nonviolently not because we believe nonviolence is a strategy to rid the world of war, but in a world of war, as faithful followers of Christ, we cannot imagine being anything other than nonviolent

 

 

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