Who is Jesus? This is not a rhetorical question. Who, for you, is Jesus? Is he your friend? Your Lord? Your teacher (this is how his followers referred to him: Rabbi; teacher.) Today is Christ the King Sunday. Is Jesus Christ your king?
We talked about this at Bible Study on Wednesday and many of us related to Jesus as our friend. Maybe we’ve sung “What a friend we have in Jesus” too many times. That is certainly how I feel about Jesus. He is my friend who stands by me in good times and bad. He is my friend who lets me know when I’m not acting my best. Jesus is my friend walking by my side every day.
The crux of today’s Gospel is this very question: ‘Who is Jesus?’ Pilate is working very hard to figure it out and his question is genuine. He has been asked to kill this man and he wants to know why, he wants to know who Jesus is.
Our gospel begins in the middle of Christ’s trial before Pontius Pilate, the prefect of the Roman province of Judea, serving under the emperor Tiberius. Pilate’s job is to keep the peace in his province. He’s been presented with a troublemaker so he needs to do something.
He and Jesus have an interesting dialogue. Pilate wants to know who Jesus is. “Are you the King of the Jews?” he asks. Now this seems to be a silly question because it is the Jewish elders who have brought Jesus to Pilate. Why would they bring their Jewish king to a Roman official, asking for his death? Jesus answers this question with another question, a very Jesus thing to do and a very Jewish thing to do: “Do you say this on your own or have others spoken to you about me?”
He and Pilate go back and forth. Jesus addresses this “king” charge by saying that his kingdom is not from this world. Pilate hears the word ‘kingdom’; “So you are a king?” Now Jesus sighs, “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.”
Our reading stops here but I love the next line where a very puzzled Pilate asks: “What is truth?” I think he has a headache by now.
In this dialog Pilate is keeping things secular: if Jesus is a king then he’s guilty of treason because the emperor Tiberius is the king of everyone, everywhere, including the Jews. Jesus keeps things holy: “My kingdom is not from this world. My kingdom is not from here.” These two stand little chance of understanding each other.
Who is Jesus? He doesn’t refer to himself as a king but he sure refers to his kingdom, the kingdom of God, all the time. And we refer to the kingdom of God very often too, as often as we pray the Lord’s prayer.
After the bombings in Paris, I saw Presiding Bishop Michael Curry on FaceBook. I watched a short video where he asked us to pray for the people of Paris. I nodded, thinking, “Yeah, I’ll do that later.” Then he said: “Our Father who art in Heaven …” and I sat on the edge of my bed, bowed my head and prayed out loud along with him. I felt shattered, thinking of the poor innocents killed. “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in Heaven. Give us this day our daily bread and…” Then we got to this part of the prayer; “forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us” and I was physically shaken by the knowledge that we have to forgive those terrorists. “Lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil.” Yep, we need to be delivered from the evil of bombings. “For thine is the kingdom, the power and the glory, for ever and ever. Amen.”
It had never occurred to me that we mention the kingdom twice in that prayer. The concept of kingdom is essential to our faith. Jesus tells us over and over that the kingdom is at hand. This kingdom is a state of being, a way to live. This kingdom is about love, not power. This kingdom is from God and we bring it about ourselves. We bring the kingdom of God to life right here in Montesano, right here at St. Marks by doing our best to live God’s love, God’s truth.
Once, on being asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God would come, Jesus replied, “The coming of the kingdom of God is not something that can be observed, nor will people say, ‘Here it is,’ or ‘There it is,’ because the kingdom of God is in your midst.”
In Romans it is written: “For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit, because anyone who serves Christ in this way is pleasing to God and approved by men. Let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification.
I was frightened last week after the multiple bombings but honestly, I’m more frightened this week, when I hear people calling for a registry of all Muslims in the United States. Kevin asked, “What’s next? Do we tattoo numbers on their arms, make them wear yellow stars?” This does not sound like Christ’s kingdom to me.
In the face of all that is happening I’m deeply comforted by these words of Martin Luther King: “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” I pray for that.
Jesus said, “I was born and came into the world for this reason: to testify to the truth. Whoever accepts the truth listens to my voice.” I join Pilate in asking, “What is truth?”
We hear so much these days, we have so much information flung at us. How do we know what is true? A simple way to determine God’s truth is to look for love. If you are hearing a lot of hate in a message then it is not God’s truth.
Here are some truths:
“Truth: God loves us so much that he comes to us as Christ.
Truth: God loves us so much that his grace extends to every single one of us.
Truth: God’s kingdom is right here on earth with us.
Truth: It is up to us to usher the kingdom in, not by right belief, but by right action, as we seek to love others, help our neighbors, and heal the broken ones.”
Let us pray: King of truth, help us to listen to your voice first so that your voice drowns out all of the false voices that surround us. Keep us focused on you and your love and mercy for everyone.