The Politics of the Bible
The election cycle is in full swing, and this year’s presidential race is certainly entertaining. That is a sad commentary, though, isn’t it? To describe our own political system as “entertaining” seems to be a humiliating admission on our sad reality. It all seems too weird for words sometimes. It is more like a political clown car than serious candidates for president.
What is even more fascinating is how some “news” channels get stuck covering the charades like they are actual news. Gone are the days when we only check in with the political sphere when something actually happens, like an actual election or the passage of a bill. Instead of news these days, we get soap opera, stupidity, personality-driven sap and entertainment. Where’s the news?
A trial of someone’s life is at stake in the gospel of John, however. It is real news. Life or death. Jesus stands before Pilate, and unlike the portrayal of Pilate in the Synoptic gospels, here Pilate takes on the aura of a philosopher. He gracefully receives Jesus, giving him every courtesy. Instead his focus seems to be on ridiculing the Jewish authority and harassing the Jews into accepting Jesus as the true king.
Pilate asks one of the most deep questions in all of scripture. After an exchange in which Jesus does not claim the title of a king, but instead claims he testifies to the truth, Pilate asks, “What is truth?”
Immediately after this question, Pilate goes to the temple authorities and says, “I find no case against him. But you have a custom that I release someone for you at the Passover. Do you want me to release for you the King of the Jews?” They shouted in reply, “Not this man, but Barabbas!” Barabbas was a bandit.
In John’s version, Pilate seems impressed with Jesus. Perhaps he thinks that the Jews should anoint him king, but knowing full well they won’t, he washes his hands of it, forcing the Jews into an untenable situation – choosing a guilty man over an innocent one.
I wonder what the political pundits and talking heads would have said about the outcome of Jesus’ trial. I wonder who would take the side of Pilate, who although weak was politically savvy. Would anyone take Jesus’ side? He was arguably not politically savvy at all, but even Pilate knew that Jesus was the only one who was right.
I suppose part of the story is that we simply do not know all that went on. One important ingredient that we do know is that Jesus’ own people rejected him. It happened to the prophets, and to Noah, and to many others. It continues with the theme of the World Upside Down that we see so prominently in the Bible.
Well, Lent is almost upon us. Today is Fat Tuesday – Mardi Gras. We take a sudden shift tomorrow, spending a season with the question, “What is truth?” and trying to simplify our lives and through prayer, fasting, and almsgiving – come to understand the mystery of Jesus’ final week.
May the kindergarten nature of our political world take a back seat to the reality of our lives, and may the reality of Lent dwell upon us.
My prayer for you is that your Lent grounds you more deeply in your faith, grounds you in the importance in life, and that the distractions of this world and the roller coaster of life not take you away from the awesome, transformative love that is offered through Christ Jesus.