First of all, I want to thank all who post ideas and questions to our Narrative Lectionary group on FB—you help us to think and move forward.
Last week, I—and, it seems, many others—struggled with what and how to preach the passage we dealt with. Again this week, the passage seems dryly narrative (whoever thought I’d complain about ‘narrative’?!), and I’ve had to dig a bit to get to the message. But, again, God is faithful....
As one commentator points out, this is obviously a seamless continuation of the previous passage, divided only by 13th Century editors who introduced the system of chapters and verses. So, we may want to read the entire narrative (John 18:19-John 19:16a) to keep things in context:
v.1-3: The Romans flog and mock Jesus
v.4-7: Pilate argues again with the Jewish leaders. The Jewish antagonists change their charge from political (“he claims to be a king” 18:34) to religious (claims to be ‘Son of God’ 19:7).
v.8-11: Pilate and Jesus resume their conversation, and the issue of power surfaces.
v.12-16: Pilate again argues with the Jewish leaders. They return to political arguments (v.12). Finally, seemingly reluctantly, Pilate hands Jesus over for crucifixion.
Thoughts and Observations—
Pilate is an important enough figure to be included in our creedal confessions:
“...Suffered under Pontius Pilate....”
It’s no wonder the Church has had this love/hate relationship with this man. Some in our Lectionary group have bemoaned the leniency that some have shown Pilate; others reject the vilification of the man. Above, even I have read a bit of reluctant leniency into the story—but, I’m not sure if the reluctance on Pilate’s part comes out of his sense of justice or out of being dragged into local issues he rather not have a part in (I lean towards his sense of justice, but my wife will tell you that I’m a hopeless romantic, too trusting of others and always wanting to presume the best....)
For the preaching of this passage, verses 10-11a hold the key. First, whenever Jesus speaks, I tend to focus there—Jesus is always central for me, and if Jesus says something, I better dig there if I hope to find gold.
“Do you refuse to speak to me?” Pilate said. “Don’t you realize I have power either to free you or to crucify you?”
Jesus answered, “You would have no power over me if it were not given to you from above."
Power. Here’s how Merriam-Webster defines the term:
1) ability to act or produce an effect...2) possession of control, authority, or influence over others...3) physical might...political control or influence.
Where does power come from? Jesus reminds us that power comes “from above.” We see the gift of power entrusted to humankind in Genesis 1:28 –
God blessed [the male and female] and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.”
There is it—right in the middle of the verse: Rule. The Creator gives humanity power over this world. And, with the gift of freewill, we get to choose how to use that power. Pilate claims his ‘power’ here in our passage this wee...and even recognizes that he can use his power how he wishes: “Don’t you realize I have power either to free you or to crucify you?”
My daughter has a coffee mug that I notice every time I visit her apartment, a mug inscribed with, “I’m and ER Nurse—what’s your superpower?” I chuckle each time but only because my daughter really is a force, a power, to be reckoned with. However, I’m also reminded when I see that mug that we all have power—we can all produce an effect, have some control or influence over someone...and we may even possess physical might.
As parents, spouses, children, grandparents, aunts and uncles, members of the community, neighbors, employees, employers, managers, workers, voters, cooks, maids, school administrators, teachers, students, police officers, soldiers, politicians, pastors—every one of us has a place of power with respect to others. How do we choose to use that power?
As we come to the end of Jesus’ earthly ministry and as we live through this time of Lent, I cannot help but think of the beginning of his ministry—his baptism and journey through the wilderness/desert. At the end of those 40 days, Jesus was confronted with both the devil’s power and his own power. The devil revealed (or claimed) his power to hand over the worldly kingdoms to Jesus. The devil also recognized Jesus’ power to turn stones to bread, to escape death and make a big scene...and his power to set up the devil as a god (one to be worshiped.) But, as we have preached and taught many times, Jesus did NOT use his power to serve himself. Rather, as we follow Jesus through his ministry, he uses his power to heal the sick, give sight to the blind...he uses the power of story (parable) to reveal the kingdom. He uses his social power to welcome the outcasts (Zacchaeus), to forgive the broken. And, here before Pilate, his choice is to not use his power to effect a different outcome—he ‘uses’ his power to follow the course set for him.
What is your superpower? Where do you have power in your life...over whom? And, how are you using your power?
“Don’t you realize I have power either to free you or to crucify you?”
Do you realize we all have that power? We can free others or crucify them. We have the power to bully and abuse (no, bullies don’t exist only in the school yard); to abuse and maim—physically or emotionally; to rob others of their self-esteem, self-worth and integrity; to crucify/kill people’s hopes, plans and dreams. And, we have the power to protect and serve; to heal; to build others up, to strengthen their self-esteem; to feed others' hopes and dreams.
God has given you power. How will you use your power? Will we bow to the pressures of the world or give in to the desires of self? Or, will we use our God-given power to bring life and hope and joy to the world around us. Will we use our power to effect good in the lives of others? Will we use our influence, wealth, voices and strength to only better our own position in life, or will we—like Jesus—use our power to bring life to others?
So, this is where I think I’ll be going this week. I know there are many examples in the news about the abuse of power. Perhaps you’re in a setting where you can use those newsbits with glee (you have that power). Perhaps, like me, keeping an open relationship with your congregation ‘trumps’ the temptation to bring too much political stuff to the pulpit. In any case, wishing all of you the very best as we proclaim the Good News of Jesus Christ this week.
(Go HERE to read my intro to this series.)