May 14, 2013
Dear brothers and sisters,
I am taking the good news from Mark 15:1-5.
As soon as morning came the chief priests with the elders and the scribes, that is, the whole Sanhedrin, held a council. They bound Jesus, led him away, and handed him over to Pilate. Pilate questioned him, “Are you the king of the Jews?” He said to him in reply, “You say so.” The chief priests accused him of many things. Again Pilate questioned him, “Have you no answer? See how many things they accuse you of.” Jesus gave him no further answer, so that Pilate was amazed.
During the night Jesus had admitted to the high priest that he was the Messiah, the Son of the Blessed One. His blasphemy was enough for the Sanhedrin to take their charges against him to Pilate for condemnation to death.
So, here stood Jesus before Pilate bereft of his friends and defenders, beaten and bloodied, bound, simply clothed and shod. There was no shred of royalty about him to Pilate’s eyes. Pilate had heard the charge that Jesus purported to be the Messiah and Son of God. To him, though, this was not a religious issue; he had no understanding or reason for concern regarding the religious implications. Pilate, as the local authority for the emperor of Rome, translated the religious meaning into a political one. The Roman emperor claimed the mantle of god; there could be no other personification of god. Also, Pilate may have known enough of Jewish history to realize that the Jews anticipated the Messiah who would lead them in military victory over their enemies just as King David had done centuries before. Jesus neither corrected nor accepted Pilate’s misinterpretation.
Apparently, the numerous other charges that the chief priests leveled against Jesus were of no major interest to Pilate. The only reason for him to intervene was to quell any potential rebellion and to quash any rival claimant to the divine status of the emperor. Still he was surprised that Jesus made no attempt to defend himself against his accusers as any ordinary man would have done in an effort to save himself.
It strikes me that I have more often thought of Jesus as King rather than Messiah. Like Pilate, I too have politicized Jesus. We have a long history in the west of doing that. It calls to mind the divine authority claimed by kings and queens until recent history. We have a tendency to mix politics and religion. Jesus had no political aims other than justice. Neither did he have any interest in religious authority. His mission was to demonstrate God’s love for us and to convince us to love one another in the same way. Political and religious authorities were too often obstacles to those aims.
I heard a radio interview with Martha Mullen in Richmond, Virginia who had taken it upon herself to find a burial place for Tamerlan Tsarnaev, the alleged Boston Marathon bomber. She is a member of the United Methodist Church, a graduate of the United Theological Seminary, and a mental health counselor in private practice. She heard about the difficulty in finding a resting place for Tsarnaev’s body while sitting in a Starbucks. “My first thought was Jesus said love your enemies. I thought someone ought to do something about this — and I am someone.” She has been reviled and castigated by both Christians and Muslims as well as by political authorities and law enforcement officials. In response she said, “I can’t pretend that it’s not difficult to be reviled and maligned. But any time you can reach across the divide and work with people that are not like you, that’s what God calls us to do.”
That’s the kind of transformation that Jesus calls us to. That’s the attitude and action that brings about the kingdom of God. That’s what Jesus was all about, not politics and religion. No wonder he didn’t defend himself or respond to Pilate any further. Pilate and the chief priests couldn’t understand. They weren’t willing to “reach across the divide.” Martha is the model of the Christian that I am called to be.