John 19: 1-16 3-18-18 ACCUCC Rev. Tony Clark
Then Pilate took Jesus and had him flogged. And the soldiers wove a crown of thorns and put it on his head, and they dressed him in a purple robe. They kept coming up to him, saying, “Hail, King of the Jews!” and striking him on the face. Pilate went out again and said to them, “Look, I am bringing him out to you to let you know that I find no case against him.” So Jesus came out, wearing the crown of thorns and the purple robe. Pilate said to them, “Here is the man!” When the chief priests and the police saw him, they shouted, “Crucify him! Crucify him!” Pilate said to them, “Take him yourselves and crucify him; I find no case against him.” The Jews answered him, “We have a law, and according to that law he ought to die because he has claimed to be the Son of God.”
Now when Pilate heard this, he was more afraid than ever. He entered his headquarters again and asked Jesus, “Where are you from?” But Jesus gave him no answer. Pilate therefore said to him, “Do you refuse to speak to me? Do you not know that I have power to release you, and power to crucify you?” Jesus answered him, “You would have no power over me unless it had been given you from above; therefore the one who handed me over to you is guilty of a greater sin.”
From then on Pilate tried to release him, but the Jews cried out, “If you release this man, you are no friend of the emperor. Everyone who claims to be a king sets himself against the emperor.” When Pilate heard these words, he brought Jesus outside and sat on the judge’s bench at a place called The Stone Pavement, or in Hebrew Gabbatha. Now it was the day of Preparation for the Passover; and it was about noon. He said to the Jews, “Here is your King!” They cried out, “Away with him! Away with him! Crucify him!” Pilate asked them, “Shall I crucify your King?” The chief priests answered, “We have no king but the emperor.”
Then he handed him over to them to be crucified.
I try to imagine who I might be in the gospel story. In this season, as we hear the stories of Jesus being betrayed, arrested, tried, and then sent to the cross to die, I often wonder who I would be in this story. Would I be there with Judas, or Caiaphas and the other high priests, or with Pontius Pilate, or in the crowds that first hailed Jesus with Hosannas and then turned and cried “Crucify him”?
This is a very human story of people facing the truth of God’s love and running away from it, or deciding it is fake news, or believing it is not for them because they are not deserving or in need of it. This is the story we tell every year of a person who could show this truth and reflect back to each of us, not who we believe we are, but what God believes that we are beloved. As I place myself into this story, I ask whether I can see that truth, hear the voice of the shepherd, and respond in kindness, humility, and doing justice, or not.
I confess that often I do not see myself in the way Jesus sees me, as beloved, as part of the kingdom of God with an important role to play. In many ways I am Pilate, rejecting the truth of the one who stands before me.
My mother took me to see the musical The Man of La Mancha when I was in Jr High School, and more than 35 years later, I still remember the scene when the Man of La Mancha, Don Quixote, faces the Knight of the Mirrors.
Don Quixote is a character who spends the majority of the play believing he is a vivacious young knight who kills dragons and saves beautiful maidens. In reality, he is very old; there are no dragons, only windmills that he attacks and kills; his beautiful maiden, Dulcinea, is actually a prostitute. He has a servant, Sancho Panza, who takes care of him in his madness, allowing his fantasies to be a reality for him. However, In the real world of pre-modern Spain, it is dangerous to live in a world of fantasy, and Don Quixote is forced to face his madness by the Knight of the Mirrors. The Knight of the Mirrors points out to Don Quixote the truth. While several other knights surround Don Quixote, holding their shields, which are mirrors, the Knight of the Mirrors tells him to look within to see the truth.
What I remember most about the scene that these knights had very large shields, almost full-length mirror size, and that they were very bright. With Don Quixote’s back to the audience, the mirrors not only faced him, but they also faced us, showing us who we were, catching the stage lights and reflecting bright light into the darkened house and into our widened pupils. This bright light hurt, reminding us that the truth might hurt, and also reminding us that we cannot live in fantasy forever.
Somehow this scene comes to mind when I think of Pilate judging Jesus. When Jesus met Pilate, Pilate asked him if he was the king of the Jews, and Jesus said, “You say that I am.” The guards then dressed him in a costume, a purple robe and a thorn of crowns, putting him in the role of king in the drama to unfold. Pilate then asked Jesus, “Where do you come from?” and Jesus did not answer because he had already answered, “My kingdom does not come from this world.” Pilate told Jesus he had the authority to set Jesus free or to have him crucified, and Jesus told Pilate that Pilate’s power was granted by God. Pilate believed that truism in his own way, that his authority had been granted by his own god and king, the Emperor Tiberius.
Then Pilate took Jesus to be judged in a public plaza called Gabbatha, which was attached to the Antonia Palace, the Jerusalem home-away-from-home for the prefect of Judea. Pilate sat in the raised judge’s seat, and Jesus was forced to stand or kneel below him. The crowd of chief priests cried out, “Kill him, crucify him.”
The scene feels like the Knight of the Mirrors facing an accused man who is kneeling below, with the knight towering above him, as the chief priest hold their mirrors for Jesus to see the truth. Yet, we know that in the gospel, it is not Pilate and the priests who hold the mirror; it is Jesus who holds it up to them, and to us, to see the truth of ourselves.
In John’s gospel, every person who meets Jesus must face themselves, and, finding themselves reflected in the mirror that is Jesus, they see the truth of themselves.
At the Samaritan well, Jesus met a woman, and he revealed that she had been married several times-- not out of love or failed love but out of duty to the law. In those words she heard a truth, that in spite of her situation as an outcast, she had a role as evangelist and teller of the good news of Jesus. Jesus was living water; she was the one who led people to the well to drink. Jesus held a metaphorical mirror up to her and she saw that she was a beloved child of God with a role to play in the new kingdom.
Later, Jesus met a man born blind, whom everyone believed had been born in sin, and when Jesus spoke to him and rubbed mud on his eyes, he heard the voice of Jesus and responded. The formerly blind man, an outcast, had heard the Shepherd’s voice, and now he could speak about that to others. Jesus held a metaphorical mirror up to him and he saw that he was a beloved child of God with a role to play in the new kingdom.
When Jesus met Pilate, Jesus held a metaphorical mirror up for Pilate to face himself and the truth. Yet, I wonder if Pilate could see himself as a beloved child of God, or if he saw someone else there. Did he look through the mirror and project himself onto Jesus, seeing only a heretic, a traitor, an impersonator of the king, and one who disrespected power?
Pontius Pilate, whose title really was the King of the Jews, nicknamed Jesus the King of the Jews. Pilate’s kingdom was of this world; Jesus’ kingdom was not of this world. Pilate’s role was to judge guilt and pronounce death sentences; Jesus came not to judge sin, but to pronounce sight. What he saw in Jesus saw Pilate believed he had the mirror; yet, it was Jesus who really had the mirror.
Jesus did not judge the Samaritan Woman at the Well who had several husbands. Her society had already done that, and they found her morally lacking. Yet when Jesus held up the mirror to her, she saw not what her neighbors saw, but what Jesus saw--that she was Beloved.
Jesus did not judge the Man born blind; his neighbors had already done that and found him sinful. Yet when Jesus spoke to him, he did not hear the voices of his neighbors calling him a sinner, but the voice of the Good Shepherd calling him Beloved.
Nor did Jesus judge Pilate; He spoke to him, telling him the truth. He held a mirror up to Pilate and to the chief priests, but they could not see themselves. They believed the images they saw were of Jesus, the heretic, traitor, impersonator of the king, and one who disrespected power. They could not judge themselves guilty because they could not see themselves in the mirror being held up by Jesus. Nor could they see the deeper truth, that God so loved the world--even them, that Jesus came into the world not to judge but to heal its brokenness it. They could not see that they were part of the world that God so loved and they were part of the broken world that needed healing.
What they saw in Jesus was really a reflection of their true selves. However, they could not see the truth that even they were beloved by God.
In this way, I confess that sometimes I, too, am like Pilate or Caiaphas, unable to see the truth that God believes me to be beloved with a role to play in the kingdom. I act The task for me, for all of us, in this season is not to get trapped in the sadness of betrayal and judgement and death, but to look in the mirror that Jesus holds up and see trust, truth, love, and the desire for life. To see myself not as a betrayer of the truth, not as the judge of the world, not as the one who cries, “Crucify him”, but as a beloved by God with a role to play in the kingdom.
I think I will go home this afternoon and put a note on the bathroom mirror that says, “You are beloved by God.” Perhaps this is what we all need to hear as we step into the passion story.