Wellspring of Scripture


Year B: 34th Sunday in Ordinary Time

The Gospel: John 18: 33-37

The choice of this Gospel - the encounter between Jesus and Pilate - may seem a strange one as we celebrate the feast of “Our Lord Jesus Christ, Universal King”.

True, there is an exchange about whether Jesus is the king of the Jews and Jesus’ statement that his kingdom is not of this world - but it could be hard to see this as an example of Jesus as universal king.

Take time to imagine the scene. Jesus is, to all intents and purposes, alone: any Jews who were willing to support him - Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathaea for example - would have waited outside so that they remained ritually pure for the Passover festival.

Any occupying force ensures that its headquarters are bastions of their supremacy. Banners, flags, well-armed soldiers would have made it quite clear to anyone - especially a prisoner - just where the power lay. Pilate would have ensured that in his dress and bearing that those brought before him would know that he had the power of life and death over them - and that there would be no appeal.

Into this setting is brought a Jew who has been arrested and subject to humiliation and beating during a night-long ordeal. Bruised, battered and alone, there is still something about him which causes Pilate to wonder whether he might indeed be a king. In the face of all the intimidating grandeur, Jesus refuses to be cowed or to treat the Roman with the obsequiousness he has come to feel he deserves. A small detail in French and Spanish versions of the Bible may be of interest. In them,  Jesus uses the familiar form for “you” instead of the more formal one reserved for politeness and respect. In effect, he is speaking to Pilate as an equal and not as his inferior.

We can imagine his confusion - especially if we translate the scene to contemporary totalitarian regimes. A lone man from a rural backwater far from the centre of power stand before the might of one of the most powerful empires the world has seen. Far from being overwhelmed, he speaks with calm assurance - and of matters beyond the comprehension of the governor. He does not act like a prisoner. He is a witness to truth and that truth has set him free - to take up a kingship which is not a kingship of banners and flags and armies - even of angels. His kingship will begin the cross - and continue in eternity - even beyond the end of the age.


What does it mean for me?

Waterlily How does today’s encounter between Jesus and Pilate deepen your understanding of the kingship of Jesus?

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