Grace to you and peace in Jesus’ (not Caesar’s) name. AMEN.
Friends in Christ, this is a painful text about violence.
Violence begets more violence. The Word Made Flesh chooses to enter into a violent world and is coming face to face with it again — from Pilate, from the Jewish leaders, from the crowd. All succumbing to violence. This is the way of the world. It is the way of the state. It is the way of our hearts.
Whenever you see violence, know that it is the way of this world. Violence is what happens when no other options can be imagined. It starts with our children. When we can’t figure out how to get our kids to do what we need them to do, even if that’s something good for them, what do we do? When we’re all out of creativity and options? We hit them. Many of us were brought up this way. We were taught and we teach them, hitting is the answer, when other methods don’t work.
That early message, even gets affirmed later on. When a bully is doing what bullies do on the playground, how many of us received the message, “Well, hit him back!” The answer to violence is more violence. And everyone cheers when the smaller kid hits the bully back. Hitting back is always the answer, this world tells us.
When we get older (although not too much older these days) weapons, beyond words and fists, which are already great weapons — heavier weapons get involved: knives and guns eventually fighter jets and bombs. It’s a very natural progression. When a bully hits you, hit back. And you feel affirmed and powerful when you do. Violence always begets more violence. You hit me, well, I’ve been taught to hit you right back. It’s no wonder this world this nation has been in wars since our inception. It’s part of growing up. It’s no wonder we individually have been in fights since our inception. It’s part of growing up…in this world.
Friends, we live in a violent world. Let me notch it up: this world = violence. That’s the truth. Some of us are disgusted by that. Some of us are OK with that. Some of us are even more than OK with it: some of us are teaching our children to affirm it and promote this violence that we’ve all inherited.
Violence begets more violence. That is the way of this world. And it’s all playing out here in Pilate’s palace, the current setting of violence in our scripture text for today.
The story of Jesus’ has intensified here in Chapter 20 to unmask the violence that’s been there all along. Often violence works under the radar — words: social back-stabbing, betrayal and slander. Today, Jesus and Pilate face-to-face in front of the seething crowd, and this-world’s violence comes out even more, into the open.
And look what happens: Jesus actually is showing Pilate a different way! Just has Jesus has shown so many in this Gospel — Nicodemus, the woman at the well, Nathaniel, the blind man, Mary and Martha, even and especially Lazarus was shown that violence and death don’t rule the day. Jesus, one might argue, is starting to get through to the powerful Pilate. I don’t know if you agree with that, but I’m reading that. At the least, he gives Pilate pause. “Who are you? Where are you from?” Pilate asks, both curiously and even reverently.
It’s like things slowed down for a moment, and Pilate gets this almost ecstatic (out of body) experience, where he leaves the ways of this world for a second and starts to see Jesus, who is not of this world…I wonder what he saw in those moments?
But almost immediately, violence wins the earthly day, and the crowd snaps Pilate out of his Jesus with a dig at his loyalties.
If you ever want to upset someone, anyone in this room, question their patriotism.
Question their loyalties. How many of us, if I called you un-American, would feel the hair on our neck go up? Our blood starting to boil. [Here comes the violence, right?]
How many of us would start to want to list all the ways, if you’re going to come at me — with insults and accusations around my loyalties — all the ways that not only am I a good American, I’m actually a better American than you are? What do we call them? Fighting words.
If you’re going to hit me, I’m going to hit back.
That’s exactly what the crowd does to Pilate. Violence snaps him out of his other-worldly experience of Jesus. And violence then continues. It’s been violent up to this point. Flogging, mocking, crown of thorns. And that’s not even enough for this crowd (of which we’re a part, if we’re honest). And apparently it’s not enough for Pilate either, who gets snapped out of looking at Jesus.
Violence begets more violence. And our text today concludes with, “Crucify him!” We cannot be surprised at this. This is the way of the this world. In fact, if you opt out of violence, what are you called? (All kinds of names, right?)
One of our prayers of the people today: The cries of “crucify” still ring in our ears every time an innocent is punished, every time a guilty one goes unquestioned, every time your creation suffers from abuse and misuse. Forgive us and show us the way that leads to life…
All this violence talk is setting us up. Friends, we’re so immersed in violence, I don’t think we can even see it. We’ve been “attacking” children this week in our country walking out of school in order to stand up to violence. That’s how saturated in violence we’ve become! We’re entertaining, suggesting and in some cases demanding our teachers to carry guns as they teach our children about peace.
Do you see?! Maybe you do? Maybe you don’t.
Here’s where all this is going. This text couldn’t be more timely:
Jesus’ way is not the world’s way. Jesus brings peace. Jesus’ condemnation is not that at all. There is this flip that the world cannot see. The world sees the cross and Jesus’ sentence to crucifixion as a victory of violence.
But we know that this condemnation is rather a reflection on ourselves. Pilate is on trial before Jesus. The crowd is condemning themselves. The nation being judged, not doling out the judgement.
Jesus is the king. Everyone laughs at this, then and now:
“No, he’s not! Look at him, in that silly purple cloth and crown of thorns!”
But Jesus is the king, and the scene is about to get even ore ironic: he is about to place on his thrown, that is, the cross. Foolishness to this world, St. Paul says, but to us who are being saved it is the wisdom of God.
The opposite of violence is peace. The opposite of this world’s violence is Divine Peace.
We don’t sing about God as a warrior; we sing about God as a shepherd.
This is Jesus, and he loves you. He loves this whole, violent world.
This peaceful shepherd invites you now — just as he invited Pilate — to stop the violence, and come and follow and see. AMEN.