Exploring the Scripture:
And, thus the Christian year closes! The annual journey with Jesus ends. Most recognize December 31 as year’s end, but this Sunday is the day to acknowledge we have walked once more through the life of Jesus. It is time for examen; time to stop, look back, and review where and how our lives intertwined with the patterns and rhythms of the life and ministry, death and resurrection of the Christ. Next week we prepare expectantly for the advent of God with us. Next week it all begins again!
The reading from the Gospel of John is not a “happily-ever-after” close to the Christian year. Good stories often end with a sense of resolution. Loose ends are tied up and things are fitly framed together. Not here. We are transported back to the agonies of Holy Week and squeeze into the room with Jesus and Pilate. The tension is too much to carry.
Pilate, the potentate of political power, holds Jesus’ fate (at least he so believes!) in his hands. Pilate, intrigued by Jesus, senses the innate wisdom and personal power of Jesus. He may be fearful of the authenticity of Jesus so unbearably close to his own inauthenticity and duplicity. Though drawn toward the authority emanating from Jesus, Pilate’s heart is ruled by a commitment to keep the peace, Pax Romana, at all costs; to weigh his decisions on the scales of his own political career.
Without condemning one another or ourselves (God does not condemn) we must confess that in our yearly journey with Jesus we have often chosen to live with Pilate in the “kingdom of this world.” In the beauty and possibility of “my kingdom [that is] not from here” (v. 36)—which Jesus said is right next to us, right now—we don’t get it! We have detached retinas or cataracts of the Spirit, and cannot see the reign of justice and joy that surrounds us.
We judge worth and value in many ways Jesus asked us not to. We narrow the definition of neighbor. We prioritize by what is practical and politically expedient. We place first things first. We’re for “onward and upward” and “more, better, faster.” We place our money on and emulate “kings” but dismiss or overlook servant heroes disguised as people who are wounded, flawed, or just like us.
All the while Jesus keeps saying and doing the Truth right in front of us. “It’s right here. Look, just turn the image upside down. See the change? Switch this last-place person to first, pop that daily priority from the bottom of the list to the top, listen to the persistent whisper below all those prominent voices until you hear it more and more clearly. Now, can you see and hear?”
Here’s the Truth on which to end the Christian year: You and I and all creation belong to the Truth. Like Pilate, we negotiate our lives inside a “kingdom of this world” that is often a lie—at best, a flat, fuzzy image of the rich depths of God’s kingdom. It’s false. It’s not real. The Truth is this: the reign of God is as close as our breath and as real as the world outside our windows. But, we’ve got to change our perspectives to see it. Turn the Mercator map upside down. Put the servant on a pedestal. Switch the 10 to 1,000 in the offering plate and watch it multiply. Now, start preparing to be uncovered and discovered by the Truth once more. Don’t look where you normally look. Seek out your nasty neighbor. Step through the door at the local laundromat, hangout, or social service center. Welcome the Messiah in some modern-day manger in the alley behind the no-vacancy sign.