(11/21) 2 Samuel 23:1-7 and Psalm 132:1-12, (13-18) • Daniel 7:9-10, 13-14 and Psalm 93 • Revelation 1:4b-8 • John 18:33-37
As the church year ends, we are treated to a closing scene from the life of Jesus. He stands before Pilate: an earthly 'king' if ever there was one, with power to crucify, or not. Jesus – an itinerant preacher from the middle of nowhere, with no suggestion of power or even a fledgling army – has anticipated death by crucifixion. The night before, in the Garden of Gethsemane, he had spent hours facing the possibility of this cruel method of death. He was prepared: 'prayed up.'
Pilate, politically astute, begins by asking Jesus for his side of the story. Jesus, having none of it, responds by asking his own question. It's a cosmic shift. Who is in charge here?!
Pilate presses on, again bringing the question back to the Jews. Jesus seizes the chance to reframe the conversation. Maybe he's thinking, if I have to die, please God may it not be misunderstood as the result of an insurrection plot, which has nothing to do with what I'm trying to accomplish here. Or maybe, for Jesus, it would be more like this: If I have to die, let me go to my death being clear about who I am.
Pilate, though, hearing Jesus talk about a kingdom not from this world, latches on to the word kingdom, and persists in asking: So, you are a king? (John 18:37). Maybe by this time, Pilate has gotten a little curious, wondering what this guy is talking about. Or perhaps he's just being sure that Jesus is no affront to the Romans, who are after all, Pilate's main concern. Whatever is behind the question, Jesus uses it to declare: For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth.
What a brilliant, sweeping, statement of purpose! While the book of John records Jesus talking about truth in other places (John 8:32; John 14: 6), this is a little different, with a more universal tone. In the pressure of the moment, Jesus is able to articulate his rock-solid position: who he was and what he stood for.
For all of us, extreme pressure can create clarifying moments. Later, one looks back with surprise: I didn't even know I thought that. And yet, there it is, where one stands, with no regrets whatsoever, regardless of the consequences. While anxiety can be a negative, distracting influence, it can also – when grappled with – become a powerful tonic, distilling one's own essence.
The last thing Jesus does here is to talk about the impact of his mission, quickly balancing the urge towards his own individuality with his responsibility to others: Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice. In the moment, Pilate brushes him off: What is truth? What is truth? Great question, Pilate! And perhaps he spent the rest of his life wondering about it. Here Jesus offers a master class on the Socratic method: the best of the best evoke good questions in the listener, rather than simply asking them.
Morning: When have I had a clarifying moment about a rock-solid position of my own?
Evening: What does it mean to belong to the truth?
Psalm 93:1 The LORD is king, he is robed in majesty; the LORD is robed, he is girded with strength. He has established the world; it shall never be moved.