March 21, 2018

Wednesday after the Fifth Sunday in Lent

It was nine o’clock in the morning when they crucified him. The inscription of the charge against him read, “The King of the Jews.” And with him they crucified two bandits, one on his right and one on his left.   Mark 15:25-27

 

We often assume that Jesus was executed for blasphemy: that the religious authorities simply couldn’t tolerate his claims of divine authority. Two facts belie this assumption. For one, there was a punishment prescribed for blasphemy, and it wasn’t crucifixion. Crucifixion was reserved for enemies of the Roman state: those who had challenged the emperor’s supremacy. It was a public spectacle, an explicit threat to any would-be rabble rousers. Furthermore, as Mark notes in this passage, the accusation against Jesus read, “The King of the Jews.” Only the gospels according to Mark and John include a reference to the inscription of the charge against Jesus. While John tells us that the religious authorities objected, saying to Pilate, “Do not write, ‘The King of the Jews,’ but, ‘This man said, ‘I am King of the Jews,’” Mark allows the charge to stand on its own. In Mark’s gospel, in other words, Jesus was crucified, not for blasphemy, but because he was the “King of the Jews.” This is a subtle, but crucial distinction. Rome decided that Jesus needed to be destroyed not because he violated the Jewish tradition, but because he embodied it completely. Jesus did this by putting his whole trust in God’s saving power. This represented an existential challenge to the emperor’s supremacy, because it fundamentally disrupted the Rome’s ability to secure its position of authority. Most tyrannical regimes coerce obedience by threatening death. By putting his trust in God and going willingly to the cross, Jesus nullified the tyrant’s ultimate threat.

When Jesus is crucified, he demonstrates how the gospel frustrates the powers of the world. The gospel we proclaim is deeply and quietly subversive. It insists that those who claim worldly authority have no real power over us, because Jesus Christ has neutralized their ultimate threat. The season of Lent is an opportunity to acknowledge this truth and recognize that there is nothing we have to fear.

 


For none of us liveth to himself, and no man dieth to himself. For if we live, we live unto the Lord, and if we die, we die unto the Lord. Whether we live, therefore, or die, we are the Lord’s. Amen.

 

The Rev. David F. Romanik
Church of the Redeemer, Bryn Mawr

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March 13, 2018

Tuesday after the Fourth Sunday in Lent

Then the chief priests accused him of many things. Pilate asked him again, ‘Have you no answer? See how many charges they bring against you.’ But Jesus made no further reply, so that Pilate was amazed.   Mark 15:3-5

 

Lent is a time for silence, and not always in the quiet contemplative way we might be tempted to associate with it. In this short but mighty scene from Mark’s Gospel we witness Jesus refusing to respond to Pilate’s demand for answers following a false accusation. His silence is a far cry from any image of a hermit sitting on a distant hilltop. His silence is a powerful form of protest—a sign of his true power in the face of a lesser adversary.

Pilate believes himself to have the upper hand, and at first blush the world might tend to agree. He has the might of the Emperor behind him. He has the crowd turning to him to wield their brand of justice. He has money, prestige, and military might. Because of all of these trappings of power, he has come to believe that people will listen and respond to him when he speaks—even if he is demanding answers to lies. Pilate was so sure of his own power that there were really only two responses he expected from Jesus in this moment: fight or flight. Jesus could have openly fought back with yells or screams or been terrified and tried to plead for mercy.

But Jesus chose a third way. Jesus chose the dignity and defiance of silence. Jesus chose the way of nonviolent resistance. Instead of pretending that Pilate was all-powerful, Jesus acted on what he knew to be the bigger truth—that God was in charge. As such, he did not respond to Pilate as though he were an equal of God. Assured in his knowledge that he was acting on God’s will, Jesus had no need to defend himself from lies or defer to a lesser power. Imagine what a shock it must have been for Pilate to see someone as low on the proverbial power scale as Jesus having the audacity NOT to respond to him! Jesus’ silence amazes him and he must take notice of Jesus in that moment.

In an era when people literally shout at each other for entertainment (think ESPN) or for political discourse (think Fox or CNN), making a choice to not respond to lies or inflammatory noise is an act of rebellion. It is choosing a third way of peace in a time that desperately needs the strength of those who do not need to be the loudest person in the room to feel like the most powerful. Lent give us the chance to develop the strength to be silent so that the love of God might be the loudest sound of all and that people might be amazed at his power.

 


O God, with you is the well of life, and in your light we see light: Quench our thirst with living water, and flood our darkened minds with heavenly light; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

 

The Rev. Dr. Hillary D. Raining
St. Christopher’s, Gladwyne