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A New Kind of King
Good Friday (Year C)
Old Testament: Isaiah 52:13—53:12
Psalter: Psalm 22
Gospel: John 18:1—19:42
Grieving God, on the cross your Son embraced death even as he had embraced life: faithfully and with good courage. Grant that we who have been born out of his wounded side may hold fast to our faith in him exalted and may find mercy in all times of need. Amen.
Royalty in a constitutional monarchy does not operate the way monarchs did in Jesus’ day. Queen Elizabeth has influence, to be sure, and from all appearances she is universally respected; but she does not have the kind of absolute authority wielded by ancient queens and kings. When thinking about the monarchs of the ancient world, Queen Elizabeth does not compare to Herod the Great or Emperor Tiberius.
Jesus has been arrested and is standing before Pilate. He is being interrogated. For Pilate, Jesus is an enigma. Jesus stands before him accused as a revolutionary, one who is preparing to lead a violent revolt against the empire. Pilate has seen revolutionaries before. He has had his share of would-be deliverers. As Pilate sizes up Jesus, he does not seem to fit the bill. The fact that Jesus’ final act of revolution didn’t even get off the ground: arrested with only a handful of followers with him, makes Pilate wonder whether Jesus was up to anything revolutionary. If Jesus was in Gethsemane organizing his revolt, he was terrible at being a Messiah. Pilate has the same understanding of violent Messianic methods as the disciples. Nope. Jesus as this kind of Messiah doesn't fit the profile.
”Are you the king of the Jews?” Pilate is direct and to the point. Jesus does not deny his royal calling, but puts his kingship in a different context with a different mode of operation.
Jesus answered, “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” (John 18:36).
It is a mistake to interpret Jesus’ words in a way that draw a sharp line between his heavenly kingdom and God’s action in the world. Jesus’ kingdom is not so heavenly minded that it does no earthly good. Jesus’ kingdom is not from, it does not originate in this world. That is why Jesus’ forbade his followers from using violence. Jesus is a new kind of king and that makes his kingdom of a different kind. Jesus stated as much during his ministry.
James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came forward to him and said to him, “Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.” And he said to them, “What is it you want me to do for you?” And they said to him, “Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory.” But Jesus said to them, “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?” They replied, “We are able.” Then Jesus said to them, “The cup that I drink you will drink; and with the baptism with which I am baptized, you will be baptized; but to sit at my right hand or at my left is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared.”
When the ten heard this, they began to be angry with James and John. So Jesus called them and said to them, “You know that among the Gentiles those whom they recognize as their rulers lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them. But it is not so among you; but whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all. For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.” (Mark 10:35-45).
Here is a kingdom that is upside-down, at least from the standards of worldly kingdoms. The irony here is that worldly kingdoms proceed as if it is a truism that might makes right, power is the way to guarantee order, and violence is necessary to peace—and in operating in this way the earthly kingdoms continue to turn things upside-down for their subjects. Only Jesus’ upside-down kingdom has the power to turn the world right-side up through offering reconciliation; and Jesus will accomplish this through his own example of suffering and submission to death. In so doing, Jesus will take upon himself all the might and power and violence of the world. He will absorb all of it in his beaten, bruised, and bloody body. Jesus will rule not by sitting on a royal throne upon a pedestal, but by hanging from a cross on a hill called Calvary.
Pilate struggling to figuring out Jesus asks him a second time, “So, you are a king?” (John 18:37) Yes, Jesus is a new kind of king, which is why he does not fit the bill of this world. It is only in being a new kind of king of an upside-down kingdom that Jesus can be proclaimed a few days from now, King of kings and Lord of lords.
Soon the interrogation will be over and Pilate will hand Jesus over to his soldiers to be crucified. What does it matter to Pilate whether or not Jesus is innocent? One more life in exchange for the Pax Romana, the Peace of Rome, is acceptable in the continued existence of an earthly kingdom that knows little about the ways of heaven.
And yet, the crucifixion of this One Man, one of many executed by the Romans, will be remembered more than any other. Even Pilate himself will be remembered only because of the death of this One Man. The history of the Roman Empire will be a footnote in the telling of the story of this One Man who died a new kind of king. However, the story is not yet over...
...Sunday is coming.
Read more about Good Friday here.