03/18/18 – JV – A Higher Power

A HIGHER POWER

March 18, 2018
Jazz Vespers
John 19:1-16a
Rev. Denise Clark-Jones

 

I’ve heard it said: “A comfort zone is a beautiful place, but nothing ever grows there.”  Seeking comfort and security can lead us into decisions that are toxic to our souls, leading to death rather than life.

Our readings for the past two weeks have come from John’s narrative of Christ’s trial with Pilate as the judge. In this third scene, Pilate is placed in an untenable position.  He does not see any lawful reason to condemn Jesus to death, but the leaders of the Jewish religious establishment demand that he does so. It is important to recognize that where the Bible translates the word “Jews, “what is meant is not all Jews, but the Jewish leaders at the Jerusalem temple. Horrible acts of Anti-Semitism have been justified by their perpetrators, using these verses to accuse all Jews of being “Christ-killers.”

The Jewish leaders who saw Jesus as a threat to their power were not allowed by their religious law to condemn someone to death. Yet, they got a political leader to do their dirty work. We have seen that same situation in this country when the leaders of the Fundamentalist Christian movement realized in the 1980’s they could use the abortion issue, which had never been an issue for them before that point, to bend politicians to their will on other social issues. Abortion became a political sword by which politicians could beat their election opponents.

When Pilate informed the Jewish temple leaders he had no reason to condemn Jesus, they threatened his own power. If Pilate allowed Jesus to live as the “King of the Jews,” he would be subordinating himself to Jesus. Jesus, whose claim to be the Son of God challenged Pilate’s claim to power based on that of Caesar, who also claimed to be the Son of God. Religion and politics can become a force of evil when they join in securing their own power over people to do their will, not God’s. This is how a nationalist Christianity has been formed.  We now hear accusations that if you don’t support political views “you don’t love America and you don’t love God.”

“Pilate asked them, ‘Shall I crucify your King?’ The chief priests answered:
‘We have no king but the emperor.’” – John 19:15

Pilate and the Jewish temple leaders formed an unholy alliance because their own worldly power was threatened. The Jewish temple leaders manipulated Pilate to carry out their evil intention. They used the oldest trick in the book – fear. Weak leaders are most dangerous when fear overtakes their better judgment. Pilate needed to affirm his power and he did so when he said to Jesus:

“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.” – John 19:10-11

Thus, Jesus turned the tables on the religious leaders, the judge became the judged.

Jesus didn’t play by the rules of either the empire or the religious establishment. He had a different set of rules laid down by a different, higher authority. As Christians, we are challenged to submit only to God’s authority as Jesus did. When we do abide by God’s will we will be forced out of our comfort zone. We will give up all pretensions over having power over others or being able to ensure our own safety and security. But, when we do, a heavy burden is lifted from us and placed into the hands of our loving and merciful God – a God who so loved this broken world that he gave his only Son to bring us back home when we had strayed into the wilderness of our own sin.

Love is a comfort, but it is also risky and dangerous. God’s love and forgiveness is our own salvation. When we dare to stretch out our hands in love and forgiveness to others we join our hearts with the heart of God.

Amen.

 

 

© Rev. Denise Clark-Jones, 2018, All Rights Reserved
Westminster Presbyterian Church – Peoria, Illinois