1 Then Pilate took Jesus and had him flogged. 2 And the soldiers wove a crown of thorns and put it on his head, and they dressed him in a purple robe. 3 They kept coming up to him, saying, "Hail, King of the Jews!" and striking him on the face. 4 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." 5 So Jesus came out, wearing the crown of thorns and the purple robe. Pilate said to them, "Here is the man!" 6 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." 7 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." 8 Now when Pilate heard this, he was more afraid than ever. 9 He entered his headquarters again and asked Jesus, "Where are you from?" But Jesus gave him no answer. 10 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?" 11 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." 12 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." 13 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. 14 Now it was the day of Preparation for the Passover; and it was about noon. He said to the Jews, "Here is your King!" 15 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." 16 Then he handed him over to them to be crucified.
Today, we pick up where we left off last week and hear the last half of Jesus trial before Pilate, the Roman Governer of Jesus home and community. The report of this trial is filled with rapid movement inside and outside of Pilate’s office (and of Gods kingdom and of people in and out of the light and darkness). The flow is complex, like any court today. There are layers of rules and there is a hierarchy of decision making powers. There are people with various levels of knowledge, about the procedures and process but Jesus is the only one who knows about what God is doing. The trial starts in John 18:28-32 as the religious authorities stand outside Pilate’s office and demand death of Jesus for his crimes against the Jewish law (which Pilate barely cares about). Then the trial moves inside, where Pilate and Jesus debate with one another on kingship. Then outside again as Pilate goes before the crowd to announce that he does not find Jesus guilty of any crime, let alone one punishable by death. That is where last week’s reading ended. Now this week, in verses 19:1-3, the action moves inside, soldiers abuse Jesus, beating him and putting a crown of thorns on his head. After this, the trial moves back outside. In verses 19:4-8, Pilate once again declares that he does not find Jesus guilty of any crime, He shows a physically weakened, humiliated and abused Jesus to the crowd, hoping they will be satisfied, it is not death but at least Pilate did something nasty. The trial goes back inside and in verse 19:9-11, Pilate and Jesus have another debate on power. Like the last one about kindgoms, they are once again talking about completely different things. Finally, the trial moves outside again and in verses19:12-16a, a frustrated, anxious and uncertain Pilate reluctantly gives in and sentences Jesus to death. The crowd manages to get Pilate to take action, to sentence Jesus to death, by accusing Jesus of violating Roman law (which gets Pilates attention, after all, his power is from Rome and could easily be taken away by Rome, especially for tolerating people challenging the emperor with claims of kingship).
Last week, we looked at the power of God vs the power of this world, expressed in who sees the whole picture (Jesus) and who is not influenced by outside factors or worldly forces like power or glory (again Jesus). This is all expressed through a trial, one of main ways throughout history that people have relied on to make sure order is maintained, laws are enforced, power is expressed, fair decisions are made and justice is served. Of course, the system does not always work that way, never has really, at least not for everyone. There are always examples of innocent people found guilty, guilty people who walk away unfound or unpunished or several people who commit the same crime with very different consequences.
Last week, I promised that I would talk about my day in court, well it’s really my 2 or 3 minutes in court as a defendant. It was a long time ago, probably 20 years. My brother and I were accused of jumping a turnstile at our local train station and were issued summons with a few dollar fine. I was anxious in all sorts of semi realistic ways, we had just turned 18 a few weeks before. I wondered if this would stay on my record, if I’d have to check off that box on all sorts of paperwork and applications that ask “any trouble with the law”, I thought I could lose my scholarship for college, I wondered what if I applied to jobs and people were, “um I don’t think so, we don’t accept people who try to rip the city off for $1.50”. This all happened before the internet was so available and research so easy. (I just googled it for this sermon, it’s considered like a parking ticket, a non-criminal complaint and has no impact on your record). At the same time, I know that people have been trapped in cycles of crime, poverty and struggle for less, with severe and lasting consequences from convictions for minor quality of life stuff. I’ve read entire books on it, about what’s broken with broken window policing and policy.
First, I was shocked that we were actually given summonses, my brother had just joined the Navy, I was doing volunteer work with the local police precinct and we both volunteered at the local community ambulance (all of which we conveniently worked into our brief conversation with the officer). We fully expected our good deeds to get us off the hook, probably a warning, “don’t do it again, you can get in real trouble” and a response of “okay, we certainly won’t , thank you for your understanding” (it’s happened that way before in other matters, you look like good kids, don’t be stupid anymore)
We decided that we would fight it. I don’t know what we expected to say at court but my brother and I spent an hour or two getting some sort of story together, our defense and evidence. We had a story about a broken machine and defective card or something. Whatever we had, we were going to use it. We assumed that we would be given a several hour hearing, call each other as witnesses, take a lunch break, be grilled on the stand and fight the unfair system. (I can’t imagine why I thought this 40 or 50 dollar fine would occupy a whole day). A few weeks later, when I went before the judge. There was a public attorney there (at least I think that’s who he was, time restrictions prevented him from bothering to introduce himself). He knew the system, He looked at the summons for a second and said, just sit there and be quiet, don’t say a word in front of the judge. I thought “huh, what am I missing”, It was obvious that he knew something I didn’t. I had this elaborate story to explain what happened, it was going to be great. The judge said some technical formalities, this is answering summons number, the hearing is open etc. Then I thought, okay, it’s my time to at least say something, my name, not guilty or whatever. After the formalities, the judge says something along the lines of “The wording on this summons does not meet the legal requirement to indicate any violation actually occurred, the matter is dismissed”. Immediately after he reads off some other legalese sentences and that’s all. Relieved, I say “is that it, I’m all done” and then guy who told me to be quiet gives me a dirty look like “dude I said don’t say anything at all”. I saw my brother in the hallway afterwards, same thing in his room.
This story of my minutes in court has a lot more to do with the results of Jesus trial before Pilate that it does with the actual arguments and events. After this trial, Jesus is sentenced to death by crucifixion, a nasty punishment reserved for the worst offenders and offenses and definitely not where anyone following Jesus from Christmas to now thought he would end up. Of course, the results of this are also not what anyone expected. Jesus will endure that death and rise again, for the forgiveness of all sins and giving of eternal life. It is the ultimate victory over death and evil, the limitless presence of God in and through all suffering. This is also the heart of God’s grace revealed through Jesus, scripture and our experience. In this story, Jesus tells us the same advice I got in court that morning, sit there and be quiet, don’t say a word, let God be God, remember by faith, not works your sins have been forgiven,
My good deeds did not keep me out of court (although I thought they should). I was all set to save myself from this but my creative thinking didn’t save me, it didn’t even get told. Honestly, If I had opened my mouth and said anything at all, I would have been found guilty of the original accusation or worse. This case was over before it started, I just didn’t know it. I wanted to do the work, I wanted to save myself, I wanted to have power. Last week, we saw the interaction of power, there were lots of factors beyond any one person’s control. Pilate could not disregard the crowd, the high priest could not sentence Jesus to be crucified, the crowd could not do much without being prodded and instructed, Jesus, following God’s will to the end, would not stop it from happening. Through history, people have wanted to punish the Jews for their role in this, especially as recorded in John. That ignores the truth. In this trial, people act like people, sinful and anxious. However, God acts like God, in control, speaking truth and responding to serious injustice with grace and mercy.