Two thousand years ago, the Body of Christ was called to bear the burdens of both friend and enemy, speaking truth to power and grace to the humbled “other.”
Both Pilate’s power and Caiaphas’ religion were illusory. The embodied presence of Jesus, in perfect union with the Father, stood before both men and, as a result, before us all. We are Pilate’s brood, Caiaphas’ progeny. The history of human relations speaks to this fact. Like Pilate, we are often seduced by power, lured away by its promise of pleasure. Our religion helps little, for like Caiaphas, our religion is often hypocritical, useful for nothing more than selfish gain. In an act of worship, we are too easily infatuated with either Pilate’s grandiose power or Caiaphas’ pompous garb. And when the twain meet in the hearts and souls of people, lambs often get slaughtered. In fact, they do.
Behold the Lamb. Jesus was not crucified because he was nice, but because he was subversive, a non-violent threat to those who knew only the way of violence. Jesus’ love was a threat precisely because it was a truth that contradicted the ways of both Pilate and Caiaphas–ways still as seductive today as they were in the first century.
But the Jesus Way, though it be known as the fool’s way (see 1 Cor 1:18), is the way embraced by the Jesus people. We will cling to the old rugged cross – more than a song; it is a way of life. Admittedly, this is not the way to earthly power. And still, our attention is quickly attracted to Jesus’ Ways. There is something curious about him and his way of the cross, something mysteriously curious. Even Pilate finds him interesting enough to dialogue with for a time. Though initially captivated by Jesus, our lust for power and prestige soon tames our interest, drawing us to something more exciting, more secure. To people like me and you – to Pilate and Caiaphas – interest in the Jesus Way is “terrifically difficult to sustain” (E. Peterson).
But the way of Jesus is the way to future resurrection, if we want it. The cross-people are accused of being drunk on what Caiaphas and Pilate consider an untenable folly. “What is truth?” they ask.
Though the cross-people are put to open shame by both the worshippers of Rome and the admirers of the Temple, they press on unashamed in their proclamation of the Good News that Jesus – and he alone – is Lord. Pilate and Caiaphas have conspired that such confessions merit death: The Lamb will die. To the cross, they cling. Indeed. But soon: from the tomb they spring.
There is a temptation to separate one’s confession from one’s way of living. It is easy to be a Christian confessor while not being a Christian practitioner. “Easy” because it escapes death. But surely this is nonsense. The way of Christ cannot be so easily separated from the Christ-ian. The Body of Christ is a unified Body in both confession and practice. All who partake of the Body, then, should seek to be the hands and feet of the Body. We have a great cloud of witnesses cheering us on. Some of those cheering us on have heard for themselves the chorus of a loud Roman colosseum that sang harmony with the roar of a charging lion. In an act of Holy Communion, therefore, let us do more than learn from these Saints; let us participate (koinonia) with them in their witness to power’s religion and religion’s power: When persecuted by both, they prayed; they did not fight back.
And so today, the Body of Christ is called to bear the burdens of both friend and enemy, speaking truth to power and grace to the humbled “other.”
May God grant his church strength. Let us pray for one another. Amen.
-Written by a recovering Caiaphas/Pilate.