Pilate went back into the palace. He summoned Jesus and asked, “Are you the king of the Jews?” Jesus answered, “Do you say this on your own or have others spoken to you about me?” Pilate responded, “I’m not a Jew, am I? Your nation and its chief priests handed you over to me. What have you done?” Jesus replied, “My kingdom doesn’t originate from this world. If it did, my guards would fight so that I wouldn’t have been arrested by the Jewish leaders. My kingdom isn’t from here.” “So you are a king?” Pilate said. Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. I was born and came into the world for this reason: to testify to the truth. Whoever accepts the truth listens to my voice.” “What is truth?” Pilate asked. John 18:33-38
I was in Target the other day looking for something. I honestly cannot remember what. I walked around perusing the aisles. I looked at the Legos. I walked past the latest Oprah suggested book, and then my eyes meet glory itself. I became Ralphie that kid from the famous holiday film, The Christmas Story.
Wide-eyed I starred…at all 12 inches of heavenly glory; it was Talking Jesus: Messenger of Faith. The box declared, “This colorful and richly detailed talking figure brings the New Testament to life with a Jesus character that kids can play with and move. God’s only son, Jesus helped people by teaching them God’s lessons, healing them and performing miracles. The Biblical character comes with a vibrant mini storybook that kids may follow and use to recreate the tales. A delightful action figure and fully interactive way for children to learn and participate in religious education. Batteries Included.” I giggled to myself. Jesus is Chinese! It says so on the box, Made in China. The Son of God remains dangerous to the world, as now he may contain lead paint. I went home pleased and was ready to work on this sermon.
As I researched for today’s sermon I discovered how difficult it is for Americans to understand kingship. It is impossible for us to understand because we do not have kings. One article suggests that it is due to the weight we place on individuality over collective rights that bars us from understanding kingship. Obviously they have not been to Target.
Today, Christ the King Sunday, marks the end of ordinary time and the beginning of Advent. Often we hear a sermon on the power and authority of Christ as we enter the triumphant time of Advent. The all powerful advent. The time when the reconciling victory of conquering Easter Jesus and the meandering ordinary gospel dispensing Jesus is displaced with the mysterious little gift of a baby with all the salvific love we can hope for, gloriously lying in the manger on a bed of hay. With cows, chickens, and three tired wise men standing around making admirable baby talk to the future King of Kings and Lord of Lords.
We make haste in our move from the ordinary to Advent. It is as if we are fearful of gazing upon the lifeless body of Jesus. Today’s text calls us to pause just as the holiday revelry ramps up and it forces us to look up at the cross and consider for a moment, who is Jesus? We are forced to look at the birth of Jesus in a different way when we are faced with this text of Jesus the Christ sort of not really, kinda, maybe accepting the kingdom but not really. We are going to enter in to Advent and prepare our hearts to receive the grandest miracle of them all, the little baby Jesus with a story of adult Jesus kinda sort of being king or whatever…
The babe in swaddling cloths born in a manger is the same person that we hear in today’s text that has been beaten, mocked, and scorned by his people. Jesus the swaddling little babe is going to be crucified upon a cross. Jesus meekly enters Pilate’s palace and sort of, kinda, maybe accepts his kingship. Pilate tries to offer him an out. If only Jesus adamantly denies being a king than it’ll all go away. The punishment stops and Jesus is not put on that cross. We are looking at a hipster, Big Lebowski Jesus screaming in his heart, This aggression will not stand, man!
The John Wayne Jesus of our culture would never go out like that. Jesus with his leathered face, 3 day beard, his well worn hat, spurs jingling, his swagger swaying, and his trigger finger itching would have been more dramatic than meekly dying on the cross and taking all that abuse. Jesus forgives, but he is secretly remembering all of the people that mess with him so he can dish out the proper amount of justice, cold as ice. Jesus is going to do something, right? He is the CHRIST! Our Jesus is John Wayne!
It is difficult to accept the silence. We tend to be more comfortable with the candy coated Jesus wielding the parables, challenging the rich, which we are most definitely not a part of. We delight in the Buddha Jesus as he dispenses peaceful wisdom like Kane from Kung Fu. We will embrace the mighty minority Jesus demanding justice for all oppressed and marginalized folks. Then there is the Disney like character of wise ancient Jesus with all the right things to say that deliver us to insight and best of all a happy ending. We tend to seek anything but the broken, bleeding, kinda, sorta, human Jesus. Up there in Pilate’s palace still offering another way to look at this world that we don’t quite understand.
Jesus is in there with Pilate and the Jewish religious command holding on hope that someone in that room is gonna get his message. He is holding on hope that the truth will be made know to someone. Jesus waiting for the inevitable.
We know what happens after this scene. No one smells the truth Jesus is cooking. No one gets the knowledge being dropped. Jesus is going to die on the cross. His death crosses the existing sanctions of death and claims a new reality. In a very real way the death of Jesus breathes new life into all of creation.
But now in this moment we are filled with ideas of truth, kingships, and a gesture towards, “Who do you say that I am?” What an odd place to be right before we enter in to the majestic mysterium of advent and towards birth of Christ, we pause here with ponderances of truth and claims of kingship and we have no idea what it means to be governed by a king.
Yet, here we are…clothing ourselves with lessons of the past, a hope for the future, and peace for today. The truthiness of Jesus is beyond our comprehension. Thankfully Jesus’ Christness has little to do with how or what we understand. As we make our way around this colorful and richly detailed world let us remember that Jesus’ truth is calling us to question authority, not stand with aggression, and be delightful and interactive with the world around us.
There are many kinds of Jesus in our lives. There is a Jesus for every event and situation. Jesus is contextual and adaptable. But there is only one truth and it lies in Jesus.