Then Pilate took Jesus and had him flogged. And the soldiers wove a crown of thorns and put it on his head, and they dressed him in a purple robe. They kept coming up to him, saying, ‘Hail, King of the Jews!’ and striking him on the face. Pilate went out again and said to them, ‘Look, I am bringing him out to you to let you know that I find no case against him.’ So Jesus came out, wearing the crown of thorns and the purple robe. Pilate said to them, ‘Here is the man!’ When the chief priests and the police saw him, they shouted, ‘Crucify him! Crucify him!’ Pilate said to them, ‘Take him yourselves and crucify him; I find no case against him.’ The Jews answered him, ‘We have a law, and according to that law he ought to die because he has claimed to be the Son of God.’
Now when Pilate heard this, he was more afraid than ever. He entered his headquarters again and asked Jesus, ‘Where are you from?’ But Jesus gave him no answer. Pilate therefore said to him, ‘Do you refuse to speak to me? Do you not know that I have power to release you, and power to crucify you?’ Jesus answered him, ‘You would have no power over me unless it had been given you from above; therefore the one who handed me over to you is guilty of a greater sin.’ From then on Pilate tried to release him, but the Jews cried out, ‘If you release this man, you are no friend of the emperor. Everyone who claims to be a king sets himself against the emperor.’
When Pilate heard these words, he brought Jesus outside and sat on the judge’s bench at a place called The Stone Pavement, or in Hebrew Gabbatha. Now it was the day of Preparation for the Passover; and it was about noon. He said to the Jews, ‘Here is your King!’ They cried out, ‘Away with him! Away with him! Crucify him!’ Pilate asked them, ‘Shall I crucify your King?’ The chief priests answered, ‘We have no king but the emperor.’ Then he handed him over to them to be crucified.
This morning’s reading reminds me of the one about a farmer who owned a hen and this hen would occasionally wander over to his neighbor’s property. One day the hen laid an egg along the property line and, right in front of the farmer, the neighbor walked over and picked up the egg. A battle of words ensued. The farmer asked, “Why are you stealing my egg!?” “It’s my egg, it was laid on my property,” the neighbor responded. This went on for some time. Finally, both annoyed and frustrated, the farmer proposed a compromise. “Let’s sort this out like men,” he calmly said. “We’ll each kick the other in the crotch and the one who gets up the fastest gets to keep the egg.” “Okay, you go first then, it is your hen,” agreed the neighbor. The farmer gestured for his neighbor to wait and walked off towards his barn where he swapped his shoes for the heaviest work boots he owned. The farmer came back and on the count of three, wound up and kicked his neighbor right where it counts. His neighbor doubled over and went down, tears streaming down his face, writhing in pain. Finally, after half an hour, he found the strength to stand up. “Ok, my turn,” he wheezed. “Nah, it’s all good, you keep the egg.” And the farmer walked away cradling his hen in his arms.
I can’t help but liken that clever farmer to Jesus in his confrontation with Pontius Pilate. Two powerful men quibbling over the boundary lines of their property, Pilate’s property restricted to the earthly realm while Jesus’ property confined to the spiritual realm. Along came the Jewish leaders who laid an egg on that borderline and thus set the conflict in motion. Words were exchanged and Jesus settled it “like a man.” He gave up his life but not before kicking Pilate below the belt, so to speak. Jesus said, “You would have no power over me unless it had been given you from above.” Talk about a sucker punch! Pilate no doubt worked hard to get where he was, probably harder to stay there, and to be told that all his work was in vain, that his position was nothing more than a gift from God…it must have stung a little bit. Especially since history remembers him for nothing more than being the man who sentenced Jesus to death! Quite a legacy to have to carry for two thousand years and counting! Perhaps one day his legacy will include something else about his life and accomplishments. But for now it’s hard not to focus entirely on his role in getting Jesus crucified. Yes, Jesus certainly got the buckling kick in before leaving the conflict.
Jesus offered yet another insightful lesson on a topic familiar to many of us, the topic of power. Beneath the entire interaction between Pilate and Jesus is this issue of power: who has it, who wants it, and how much is there? Pilate was a man of considerable power, undergirded by the mighty Roman empire. He was in a position to either give life or take it away. He could reward from the largesse of the Roman bounty or he could punish with the strong Roman hand. The Roman empire was a mighty force indeed, both in maintaining order and invoking fear. Pilate knows his power, Jesus knows his power, the Jewish leaders know his power. And yet Jesus wasn’t intimidated by Pilate’s power. Why? Because he knew the limitations of his power. Pilate’s power was limited to a very small geographic area for a very short time. And contrary to what Pilate believed, the full extent of his power wasn’t earned or deserved. The power of the Roman empire was bigger than any one person. Its leaders took advantage of only small portions of it. Yes, Jesus understood this about Pilate’s power. More importantly, he also understood the full extent of his own power. Jesus’ power is limitless! It is fueled by all of the universe and of the spiritual realm for all of eternity! He has control over realities that Pilate couldn’t even imagine! He even had control over the Roman empire, believe it or not! Pilate was nothing more than a pawn in his reality. Jesus used Pilate to take on the sins of the world and bring them into death only to then conquer death altogether. Jesus’ power is much greater than Pilate could even begin to understand. It’s no wonder Jesus stood before Pilate speechless…”you couldn’t even begin to understand power, Pilate!”
So beneath Pilate’s interrogation was a great power play between two powerful people. Except Pilate’s power was infinitesimally smaller than Jesus’, Pilate just didn’t know it. I often wonder if we know the extent of Jesus’ power. We hear of the soldiers beating him, mocking him, crying out, “Hail! King of the Jews!” and smacking him in the face. We cringe at his suffering and agony and we quickly forget just how powerful he is! He, unlike us, knows what awaits us after death. He knows who awaits us after death. He knows our hearts better than we do. He knows the answers to all the mysteries of the universe. He knows all realities and all time. Jesus is so much more than you or me! His power is beyond anything WE can imagine too! Pilate isn’t alone in his ignorance…
We’re closing out our Lenten journey this week and heading into Holy Week next week. Rather than dwell on the suffering of our Lord in the next couple weeks, let’s dwell on his power as revealed in his suffering. Let’s dwell on the power that each of us has in this world as well. 2 Timothy says, “for God did not give us a spirit of cowardice, but rather a spirit of power and of love and of self-discipline.” (1:7) Jesus wasn’t afraid to stand before Pilate or the Jewish leaders. He wasn’t afraid of the soldiers. He wasn’t afraid of suffering and dying. No, Jesus knew his spirit of power and love and self-discipline…the same spirit that you and I have! In our own suffering, we ought to “trust in the Lord forever, for in the Lord God [we] have an everlasting rock” as the prophet Isaiah (26:4) tells us. There is great power in having an everlasting rock! Jesus knew it, let us know it too. Thanks be to God!
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.