Apr 042012
 

Pilate said to them, "Here is the man!" 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." 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."

Now, when Pilate heard this, he was more afraid than ever. He entered his headquarters again and asked Jesus, "Where are you from?" But Jesus gave him no answer. Pilate therefore said to him, "Do you refuse to speak to me? Do you not know that I have the power to release you, and the power to crucify you?" 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."

As we move closer and closer to Jesus' crucifixion, we find Jesus, ironically, more and more in control of the situation. The chief priests and the police pressure Pilate to crucify Jesus for violating their laws against heresy, but Pilate – the only authority that can legally perform the execution – seems unconvinced that Jesus poses a sufficient threat to the Empire to justify an execution.

We are sometimes told that the same crowds that cheered on Jesus on Palm Sunday are the ones who called for his execution on Thursday, but this isn't the story that John tells (I don't think the other gospels tell that story, either). Instead, what we see in this text is a very particular group of people – religious leaders who are from Judea – who are calling for Jesus' death.

In either event, it is clear that everything rests on the decision that Pilate is about to make.

Pilate describes his authority to Jesus in terms of the power of life or death, but Jesus retorts by saying that Pilate does not truly hold such power over him. Rome's power exists only because God is allowing it to exist. The supreme authority within creation doesn't rest in the Empires that are "from" this world, but in the Kingdom of Christ.

Jesus will later demonstrate the power of his own Kingdom when he "breaks" the power of Rome, demonstrated in his execution, by rising from the dead. When the dead rise again, the State can no longer claim its choke-hold on the people.

In a sense, this is the ultimate "good news" in the gospel – God has demonstrated his ability to defeat the powers by raising his son from the dead.

For Reflection: Do you think that human, political authority still exists only because God allows it to be so? Can the "good news" that God has ultimate power over human authorities – and the power over death – bring hope to the world? How so?