THEY TALKED BUT DID NOT COMMUNICATE
II Samuel 23:1-7, Psalm 121, John 18:33-38
November 23, 1997 by Tad Mitsui
One mischievous man went to a wedding and approached the reception line. The bride”s mother had a permanently fixed smile on her face. Smiling as well, he said to her as he shook her hand, "My mother died yesterday." She said, "Oh, that”s nice. Thank you." Nobody listen to others at a party, especially at a wedding. So, people don”t hear you if you suddenly introduce a notion which comes from a different situation. It is as though you are speaking in a foreign language. Communication breaks down when two persons are speaking from two different sets of circumstances. Parents and teenage children, for example, often do not live in the same world. So teenagers can not see how parents can ever understand their lives. Most of you have heard this conversation before! "Where are you going?" "Out." "What are you going to do?" "Nothing."
The interrogation that Pilate conducted before he condemned Jesus to death was a bizarre encounter. Even though they were talking about the same thing, they were not communicating. Jesus and Pilate were facing each other in the same room and were trying to focus on the same subject of whether Jesus was a king, but their minds were in two different worlds. A similar situation happens in our lives, too, maybe too often.
When Pilate asked Jesus, "Are you the king of the Jews?", He was using the word "king" as it was understood in the Roman Empire. The notion of "king" has to do with control, territories, and power. How much power a king had depended on the size of the land he controlled. In the territory he controlled, he had absolute power. The life and death of many were in his hand. The king had armies to enforce his authority. He lived in a palace, had many servants, and wore nice clothes. That was what Pilate had in mind when he used the word "king".
The Jewish religious leaders, on the other hand, used the word "king" for Jesus to provoke the wrath of the Roman governor. They were angry about the title people began to give to Jesus. People began to call Jesus, the "Messiah" which is the word reserved for the second coming of King David. The leaders believed that only they could decide when the Messiah had arrived. Jesus began to be a threat to their authority and power. They hoped that Pilate would eliminate Jesus for being a threat to the Roman Empire. That would fit their purpose just fine, if the Roman authorities got rid of Jesus. If people got angry, they could always blame the Romans.
Pilate did not take the bait immediately, because Jesus, who was standing before him, did not fit his image of a king. Jesus had no army, nor land, nor even decent clothes. He dressed like a peasant. At most, he looked like a leader of a band of crazy religious fanatics. How could such a pathetic figure be a threat to the mighty Roman Empire? Pilate had no idea that the influence of this man he saw as a travesty of a king would eventually overwhelm the whole empire.
Jesus was indeed handed over to the soldiers and crucified in the end. But his followers never stopped speaking about him, and continued to live according to his teaching. They had the strength to do this, because they believed that Jesus defeated the power of death, and was still living with them and guiding them. Their faith meant that their numbers increased rapidly. This was amazing, because during the first three centuries, it was illegal to be a Christian. The penalty was death. Jesus was a presence in their lives that continued to inspire courage and loyalty. He did not need the trappings of power. His apparent powerlessness was the sign of real power. This power remained so strong that even his death on the cross did not deter his followers.
When Pilate asked Jesus if he was the king of the Jews, he replied in a question. "Who said that I was the king?" He needed to know what kind of situation had led Pilate to ask such a question. We must also learn to do the same thing more often in our lives. We answer questions too quickly. If you don”t know what lies behind the question, you may be giving a completely wrong answer. When a child comes to you when you are busy with a thousand other things to do and ask you too many questions, probably the child is not interested in your answers. He is asking you to, "Please pay attention to me. Please show me that you care about me."
When Jesus asked Pilate, "Who asked you to ask me that question?" Pilate said, "I am not a Jew. It was your leaders who told me." It was clear to Pilate, that Jesus was not his problem. He was just a nuisance. He was ready to release Jesus, but also just as easily he was ready to execute him. Obviously, Pilate didn”t care. Justice and truth were not his concern. He didn”t care whether his judgement was just or unjust, so long as it was effective. Pilate had shown the true nature of his worldly kingdom. He murdered the true king, and made the corrupt leaders happy.
Jesus said, "My kingdom does not from this world; it comes from truth." Of course, Pilate didn”t understand that. So he asked, "Truth?" What do you mean by truth?" Truth had nothing to do with politics. You lie, cheat, and kill to get more territories and power. So the conversation between Jesus and Pilate stopped there. Truth was not in Pilate”s vocabulary. God”s kingdom, on the other hand, is bound by affection, allegiance, commitment, and loyalty. No truth survives without those qualities. You can be truthful if you truly love. You are a Christian no matter where you are, so long as you are faithful to God through Jesus Christ. Likewise, a country is bound by spiritual qualities like love, loyalty, and trust. You are a true Canadian no matter where you are, so long as you love this land and its people. The Roman Empire and many empires fell to ruins because they did not understand how loyalty and love were part of the language of heart. They thought that the army could threaten citizens and conquered people into being loyal. But a true leader rules with love and truthfulness. It is tragic that Pilate didn”t understand that. It is tragic that many politicians do not understand that.
We believe that Jesus Christ is the King of Kings, who is the model for all leaders. Jesus had no land, no army, nor fancy clothes, nor money. But he had the most important qualities for a leader; abundant love and absolute truthfulness. We believe that these same qualities work within our family, our community, our church, and our country. It is our responsibility as Christians to communicate that to the world. We risk being misunderstood as Jesus was. But it is only through our witness that the Messiah can be proclaimed as King, once more.