The Last Sunday after Pentecost: Christ the King – November 22, 2015
Preacher: The Rev. Leigh Mackintosh, Associate Rector, St. Michael’s Church
Welcome to our pre-Advent worship on this Christ the King Sunday before Thanksgiving. And in honor of the great food and football we will experience in just a few days, we bring to you today one of the greatest matches of all time: the faceoff between Pontius Pilate and Jesus. Roman Governor versus Son of God.
Let’s take a look at John’s recap to get a closeup view of what exactly is going on in this gospel.
The match starts off with Jesus in chains; an angry, jealous mob yelling at the doors; and Pilate in the position of power. Pilate says to Jesus: “Are you the King of the Jews?”
Jesus responds with the question: “Do you ask this on your own, or did others tell you about me?”
Now, what do you make of this strategy? Let’s go to Kate, fabulous rector and Biblical scholar to give us the inside scoop on Jesus’ gameplan. Kate, great to have you here.
Kate: It’s great to be here Leigh.
Leigh: Kate, what do you make of Jesus’ response?
Kate: Well, Leigh, Jesus is smart to throw another question at Pilate. With Pilate in the position of power, Jesus reclaims his authority by demanding some answers from him. In other words, he doesn’t just sit there and take the heat—he gives it back. And, in classic Jesus-style, Christ the King doesn’t disappoint us by asking the hard questions. Here, Jesus is asking not only where Pilate got his information from but also, who is really in control.
Leigh: Ouch, nice one J.C. That’s puts Pilate on the defensive. Next we see Pilate trying to replicate Jesus’ strategy by rebuffing the blow with another question: “I am not a Jew, am I?” Doesn’t seem to pack as much power in that punch. What do you think Kate?
Kate: Yes, you’re right. Pilate’s question reveals the hard truth that Pilate has already lost control of the situation. He is not acting out of his own authority but has given over to the mob mentality.
Leigh: Ah, peer pressure and society’s expectations. We’ve all been there. Pilate’s in a vulnerable spot, so let’s see his recovery technique. “Your own nation and the chief priests have handed you over to me. What have you done?” Another question, looks like Pilate is trying to regain the upper hand here.
Kate: Right you are. Pilate is now trying to place the blame on Jesus and justify the anger and jealousy of the crowd.
Leigh: So Pilate decides not to embrace his powerlessness and turn to Jesus for help. Instead he tries to make a power play by clinging to his own authority and position. Sounds like a bad move. What does Jesus throw at Pilate next? He says, “”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.” So the questioning period ends and now we have the obscure Son of God statements thrown in. Kate what is Jesus trying to do?
Kate: Well Leigh, Jesus is claiming his power and authority in God. Rather than rely on the things and forces of this world, Jesus acknowledges that his reign and kingship come from another world—the spiritual realm.
Leigh: This is a big contrast to Pilate who is trying to carry power by his status, position, land, and force.
Kate: Exactly right. And by claiming his authority in God, Jesus does not put himself in a position of power against the Roman Empire.
Leigh: Nice one Jesus. Pilate can’t nail Jesus to the cross for trying to outshine the Emperor—he’s got to find another reason. Pilate’s still on the question strategy: “So you are a king?” Uh oh, watch out Jesus, this sounds like entrapment.
Kate: Son of God says, “You say that I am a king.” Nice turnover.
Leigh: And Jesus hands the decision right back to Pilate and Christ the King wins.
How can we follow Christ the King’s strategy and harness the true power that lies within—how can we own our spiritual authority?
Taking a look at Jesus’ playbook, Christ the King gives us the following tips:
Let go and let God. To harness the true spiritual power that lies within, we must find the courage to let go of our need of external distractions and idealizations. Unlike Pilate, we must let go of the need to cling to external sources of power like fame, fortune, status, or might in order to validate our worth and authority in the world. We must let go, and let God.
Own up to our part. If we are going to harness the true power that lies within, we must find the courage to embrace the fullness of who we are. To acknowledge the darkness and light, the good and the bad and bring those before God. We must not be afraid to admit that we are vulnerable and powerless at times. We must not be afraid to admit that we are wrong. If we remain like Pilate, unable and unwilling to claim responsibility for our choices and actions—if we remain like Pilate, we will continue to place the blame of evil in the world on others. If we remain like Pilate, unwilling to own up to our part, we will continue to crucify Christ again and again and again. To harness the true power that lies within, we need to face our own inner darkness and demons so that these no longer have power over us. Because it is only in knowing them, naming them that we can cast them out.
When we think of a King, the last image that comes to mind is a man in chains, imprisoned by the force of the Roman Empire, oppressed by the hatred of an angry, jealous crowd. The last thing we imagine is a man who nailed to a cross, left to die. And yet, this King, Jesus, reveals the way to claim our true power and authority in God—the power that lies in vulnerability, in compassion, in transparency—this King reminds us of the power of God—the same power that lies within us. Amen.