Today’s text is from John 18:28-40.
In 1995, the Disney movie “Pocahontas” was released. One of the feature songs in the movie is called, “Colors of the Wind”. Its lyrics, in part, say this:
“You think you own whatever land you land on, the Earth is just a dead thing you can claim, but I know every rock and tree and creature has a life, has a spirit, has a name… Come run the hidden pine trails of the forest, come taste the sun sweet berries of the Earth, come roll in all the riches all around you, and for once never wonder what they’re worth… you can own the Earth and still, all you’ll own is earth until you can paint with all the colors of the wind.”
In our text today we hear about two individuals who view the earth from these different perspectives – two individuals who have different interpretations about what it means to paint will all the colors of the wind.
In our reading we find ourselves in the early morning hours of Good Friday – we’re just hours away from Jesus’ crucifixion. But before we get there we get to spend two weeks with Jesus before Pilate. We get to see an earthly ruler stand toe-to-toe with a heavenly one. And, to borrow a wrestling term, the tale-of-the-tape is seemingly one-sided.
On one hand, we have Pilate. Now, Pilate’s a Roman prefect – but only of the small state of Judea. We could think of him as the Governor of a small state – say Rhode Island – he’s not in control of much land, much money, or much influence – but he still has the title and power that being a governor – or in his case, a Roman prefect, would bring.
And since the city of Jerusalem is in the region of Judea it falls under the influence – and oppression – of the Roman Empire. So, although the Jewish people have their own religious leaders and authorities – at the end of the day they have very little real power. Rome is the true center of power, Roman officials and guards are the true source of fear and oppression, Roman governors – like Pilate – are the final and true say on matters like life and death. At least, that’s what we’d be led to believe.
Because that’s where Pilate’s meager opponent enters the arena – or palace as it would be. The tale-of-the-tape on Jesus is a strange one. So far throughout John, Jesus has healed, taught, preached, and proclaimed the love of God to all the world. While certainly extraordinary and unusual, these actions wouldn’t seem worthy of death.
And yet, throughout John’s Gospel we’re told that the Jewish leaders are fearful of what the Romans might do to them if Jesus is allowed to continue healing and teaching and preaching. They’re fearful of an individual who is non-violent, peaceful, forgiving, and loving. They’re fearful of the freeing love and grace and mercy and friendship that this Jesus is proclaiming.
And so, standing toe-to-toe in Pilate’s palace we have two individuals who are vested in power. But power is such a strange thing. Strength, might, wealth, force – culture and society has taught us over the generations and millennia that these are something we must fight for, that we must use violence to win, that we must defend at every cost.
And so we have land plots drawn up, municipalities created to regulate ordinances and rules, cities incorporated, boards elected, counties outlined, states created, and a federal government to oversee the whole mess of political, regional, cultural, and practical powers that be.
So, when Jesus tells Pilate that his kingdom is from another place, I can only imagine Pilate is envisioning all of these different forms of government that Jesus is in control of. Pilate is envisioning a specific plot of earth that Jesus is staking a claim to, that Jesus is drawing his power based on how much land and wealth and influence he wields over his people.
I can only imagine that Pilate is thinking that the earth is just a dead thing that anyone can claim, that Jesus can own whatever land he and his followers land on. But that’s Pilate’s opinion. Because nowhere in John’s Gospel does Jesus announce himself to be king. Nowhere in John does Jesus claim that he can own whatever land he lands on, or that the Earth is just a dead thing he can claim.
Power for Jesus is not vested in land, wealth, force, violence, or the amount of fear that he holds over his followers. Power for Jesus has nothing to do with being crowned king. Power for Jesus has nothing to do with the blood-stained red of violence, but instead the intimate connection of relationship and love.
Power for Jesus has everything to do with being a servant, a friend, choosing love over law, forgiveness over death, healing over pain. Truth and power for the reign of Christ are made manifest in service, sacrifice, and love.
It is a truth that runs against everything culture and society have taught us – but it is a truth that sets us free: Freed to serve, freed to forgive, and freed to love.