A reflection on John 18:33-37, Christ the King, Proper 29, written for 2015 Abingdon Creative Preaching Annual. (Here is a link for the 2014 issue.)
Power and authority are often conflated, but the two are not necessarily the same. Pilate has the power to determine if Jesus lives or dies. But he seems a little confused about his authority. The religious leaders come to visit Pilate so he will do their dirty work and kill Jesus. But they won’t enter his quarters because it would religiously defile them. Pilate goes out to see them, and his authority begins to evaporate. Why didn’t he just tell them, “right. I’m a busy man. I’ll be in my office whenever you’re ready to talk”?
Instead he runs back and forth, seemingly at their whim.
Jesus is summoned to Pilate’s office with no concern for his defilement. You wonder if the religious leaders are outside, smirking, “not only is Jesus guilty, now he’s defiled!”
But Jesus doesn’t seem concerned about defilement, about the religious leaders and their plans, or about Pilate and his power.
When Pilate asks if Jesus is King of the Jews, Jesus doesn’t answer, but says, “did you come up with that question all by yourself? Or did others tell you what to ask me?” Who’s got the authority now, Pilate?
We are constantly reminded by Jesus’ words, his calm presence, and his actions, that worldly authority has no power in the Kingdom of Heaven.
Yet we continue to seek, value, and lift up worldly power.
We want to trust in the power of guns, or the power of might. We seek political power and prestige. And Jesus stands there calmly, reminding us to ask our own questions, to let the allure of worldly power walk on by.