By: Melba Padilla Maggay
Text: John 18.28–19.24 Jesus Before Pilate
Comments on the text:
The action in the last three chapters of John takes place in less than 24 hours. Starting John 18, Jesus is arrested, brought to trial and sentenced to death.
In his trial before Pilate, we see a confrontation between the nature of the kingdom that Jesus inaugurated and kingdoms of the world like the Roman Empire as represented by its governor in Jerusalem. “Are you king of the Jews?” was the one question Pilate was interested in. “Take him and judge him by your own laws,” was his initial reply to the temple police of Caiaphas who brought Jesus to him. Quite rightly, he refused to be party to what he considered to be internal religious wranglings among these troublesome Jews. But the claim that he is ‘king of the Jews’ is potentially subversive, for many rebels like Barabbas had tried to overthrow Roman rule, and Jesus had been gossiped about as the messiah who would wrest control from the colonial rulers
and restore the long-decayed dynasty of their great king David.
“Is that your own idea,” Jesus asked, “or did others talk to you about me?” To which Pilate replied, “Am I a Jew? Your own people and the chief priests brought you to me. What have you done?”
When pressed to make a stand on the question of Jesus’ kingship, Pilate evades the question. Instead, he narrows the issue to whatever it was that Jesus has done to make him politically liable. In turn, Jesus does not directly admit to being a king, which in effect could make him vulnerable to charges of supplanting the Caesars.
“My kingship is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight, that I might not be handed over to the Jews. But my kingship is not from the world.”
“You are a king, then!” says Pilate.
“You are right in saying I am a king. In fact, for this reason I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.” To which Pilate, like all sophisticated, world-weary cynics, replies: “What is truth?”
Implications on issues of our time
In this trial, we see Jesus eventually charged, not with what the Jews consider a spiritually heinous sin: Jesus blasphemously claiming to be God, — but with a political one: Jesus affirming before secular powers that he indeed is king, and the truth of this is universal, of significance not only to the tribal religion of the Jews. It lays claim to the allegiance even of Pilate, who represented the most powerful empire of the time.
“We have no king but Caesar!” was the cry of the mob. Ironically, the Jews, most recalcitrant among Rome’s colonized peoples because of their zealousness in guarding their religious rights, resorted to the political arm of an ungodly Empire to execute the Son of David, the messiah that for so long they have longed for.
That Jesus’ kingdom is ‘not of this world’ means that we cannot fully identify it with any political movement, ideology or party. This kingdom comes ‘from another place.’ The nature of this kingdom is such that there is both an affirming and critiquing element that upholds those on the side of the good, and exposes to light those on the side of evil, even when it wears the appearance of goodness.
At the same time, Jesus’ kingdom is ‘in the world,’ palpably present in our time, even when often, we do not see it. It surfaces when people who are genuinely citizens of the kingdom stand up for the cause of justice and right, no matter how lonely or in the minority.
History has many witnesses to this truth. A black seamstress, Rosa Sparks, refused to surrender her seat to a white passenger on a segregated bus in Montgomery, Alabama in 1955. This sparked a 381-day Bus Boycott that led to nationwide efforts to end segregation in public facilities and helped launch the American civil rights movement in the 1960s.
Today, Lourdes Sereno, also a woman and the youngest to sit as Philippine Chief Justice, is besieged by overwhelming forces that seek to get her out of the way so as to replace the rule of law in this country by one-man rule.
Depending on how the churches respond, her struggle can become the tipping point, used by God to raise a tidal wave of change that will sweep this nation, or just one more case of
the churches failing to seize the opportunity to be salt and light in an utterly corrupt country.
In the end, Pilate is right in sensing that if Jesus truly is king over his supposed followers, such a hidden kingdom is a threat to the Caesars and will eventually become visible in its effects, turning the empire upside down.
Clarity and discernment on what the Filipino Church can do in the light of the assault on the integrity of our institutions as highlighted by the charges against the Chief Justice. Pray that she will have her day in court, that the quo warranto will not prosper and her case will be elevated to the Senate for a fair impeachment trial.
Justice for all who have been unjustly killed in the drug campaign and those who suffer and get clapped to jail because they happened to oppose such killings.
The hand of God to descend and remove from office those who use state power to silence and eliminate dissenters by legal technicalities.
Do you know of anyone in your church or in your community who has been unjustly held or killed for drug use or any alleged crime?
Support the grieving families by getting to know them, praying for them and mobilizing the gifts and professional training of your church members and making these available to help in whatever way their grievances can be redressed.