Let me warn you that this blog is political. But because the politics is two thousand years old, I guess its safe to think about as you prepare for Christ the King Sunday. In John 18:33-37, Pilate wants to know if Jesus is after the nation's crown. Pilate has seen hundreds of revolutionaries, or as they are called, "Zealots." These people want to put another king on the throne. One who isn't a member of the murderous family of Herod, or a puppet of Rome. "Give us our nation back," these Zealots are crying. In a literal sense, they are nationalists. Many of the Zealots of Jesus' day had in mind a particular ethnic and religious demographic when they thought of their country. They hated what was happening to their country since the Sadducees took over the priesthood, and the Herodians the throne, and the Romans everything else. So, if you want to picture the Zealots of Jesus' day, think of them like the men carrying Tiki torches in Charlottesville, or the man who came into the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh. They are hateful thugs. So are all nationalists -- the history of the twentieth century is blood-drenched with examples.
Pilate asks Jesus, "Are you king of the Jews?" He isn't asking Jesus if he is the ruler of the Jewish people living in and around Jerusalem, because Pilate knows that he, himself, wears that crown. He isn't asking Jesus if he is the king of Jewish people who are living near the Sea of Galilee, because Herod Antipas is ruler there. Pilate is asking if Jesus is a nationalist. He says, "Are you one of those 'messiah-type' kings that the Zealots are rallying around?" Pilate knows that these nationalists are dividing the country. He can't govern with these people running amok.
Listen now to Jesus' answer:
"My kingdom is not from this world. If my kingdom were from this world, my followers would be fighting [doing violent things]... For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth..."
Real kingdoms require three things: 1) A legitimate process for selecting the ruler, 2) a commitment to Truth, and 3) the authority to bring about Justice. Zealot nationalists will never have a real king. Not because they choose the wrong people -- many of them backed Jesus and one was even allowed to be a disciple -- but because they choose violence over legitimate political process (voting), choose slogans and conspiracy theories over reasoned discussion, and are not willing to back Justice for all.
Jesus' Kingdom of God is real. 1) God has chosen a process that involves our participation. For now, we have to choose Jesus to be the king of our lives. Where Jesus is loved, he is king. 2) Transparency and truthfulness are core values in the Christian gospel. 3) The justice of God's kingdom involves embracing even those who believe differently, are of a different ethnicity or national origin, or choose their life-partners differently than we do.
Pilate is confused by this. He asks, "What is truth?" because he can see no difference between Jesus and the Zealot, nationalist, bandit, Barabbas that he has in a holding cell awaiting execution. Still today, we struggle to tell people that our king Jesus is different from what they see in the news. Jesus weeps, as we do, for the lies and violence that still walks our world.