Good Friday 2017 – Talk 3

No. 3 – Jesus before Pilate

Fake news is an issue of our time. Overladen with information in a media-rich society – what or whom to believe? What, indeed, is truth?

You can read the discourse between Pilate and Jesus at different levels. Jesus claiming to embody God’s truth – I am the way, the truth and the life. But also, subversively, thus indicating to Pilate that he has the truth of this matter – kingship – authority  (in Jewish terms) – and it is not what others assume. Pilate understands these are elusive concepts, open to interpretation. Yet, no fool, he manipulates the situation to his advantage, ‘Shall I release the King of the Jews?’  Knowing that, in temporal terms, Jesus was anything but the King!

This passage exposes the uneasy dynamic between the Jewish and Roman authorities. Like tectonic plates Jewish secular and religious authorities rub against one another and against the occupying power, Rome. It’s more than rivalry – rather, a bid for survival. Ironic, really, given that both were destined to collapse within a short space of time. Rome remained, even ultimately embracing Christianity before finally imploding. Christianity survived!

Back to Pilate’s HQ. Jewish leaders saw their best chance of survival to be under Rome. Jesus was a clear threat, so must be exterminated. Better than one should die….. the lamb, the scapegoat. Although not, perhaps, in the sense that Scriptural scholars might have us think – the authorities don’t have Adam’s sin in their sights. Nor individual personal culpability. Their concern is political survival.

So, extrapolating or fast tracking to today – where is Christ amid the tensions in modern political systems? We have reasonable stability, but where is he to be found amid the claims and counter claims of how we should manage Brexit. For example? When our politicians slag one another off concerning taxes, benefits and support of the vulnerable – what would Christ say? ‘I Daniel Blake’ was a seminal film – please view it if you haven’t. What should our Christian response be to people in this country who have to choose between food and warmth? Who can never make ends meet.

The tensions between the Jewish leadership and Pilate is palpable. I’ve already noted how astute Pilate is. So are the Jewish leaders, because, by the time Pilate asks whom to release, they’ve mobilised the crowd to champion Barabbas. It is difficult to understand where the ordinary Jew might be in this: they feted Jesus into Jerusalem on a donkey and now bray for his death. But imagine living under not only occupation but the complexity of Jewish cultural rules and, effectively, the ‘thought police’. In a crowd, people would say anything to survive, brainwashed or otherwise.

We could say this has nothing to do with our modern situation. But, take all the Brexit issues, for example, whichever side of the argument we’re on, it is so easy to ‘buy’ what we are fed. And therefore expose ourselves to manipulation. Take immigration, for example  – a no-brainer if presented in a certain way. Yet…… A good dose of intelligence is needed to cut through to the realities. What options are both realistic and ethical? Which compatible with our Christian faith?

And that’s just one issue. For all of today’s issues there are questions which Scripture, Christ, God compel us to ask. And, if we are serious about our faith, attempt to answer. And, in so doing, as appropriate, challenge authorities and systems.

Yet in this country, despite living in a democracy, we are careless. Who here is sufficiently motivated to vote in elections early next month? Cynicism abounds. Unless we take seriously, in faith terms, the need to be involved, then nothing will happen. The question is, what does Christian involvement look like?

At very least it’s not switching off the TV when you hear the same political rhetoric once again. It is bothering to scratch beneath the surface, better to understand what is really going on. Not to be hoodwinked by false news. And then be prepared to act or speak. To join in where there is credible energy and integrity. In support of life-enhancing changes. In defiance of negativity and bad-mouthing. And, in the end, stand firm with Christ, in refusing to endorse any system, from whichever direction it comes, which does not have at its heart grace, humility and love. Within today’s political arena, both nationally and internationally, what is truth indeed?

Canon Alison M Adams