Today’s scripture passage relates the climactic moment in a trial motif that spans the Gospel of John. It begins in chapter 1:14-18 with God’s Word spoken into being as light in the world and the testimony of the first witness, John the baptizer. It then moves into the future with the Advocate, the Spirit of truth, inspiring Jesus’ followers as they also testify (16-17). The text for this week is dominated by the conversation between Jesus and Pilate at its center and the latter’s question “What is truth?” Today’s scripture passage relates the climactic moment in a trial motif that spans the Gospel of John.
We tend to have a favorable view of Pontius Pilate, who seems to be played by the Jewish authorities. But that’s far from the truth. Ancient Jewish historians, including Flavius Josephus tells us of how cruel and sneaky Pilate was. After arriving in Judea in 26ce he introduced under the cover of darkness at night, into the city, the busts of the emperor that were attached to the military standards. This was scandalous for Jewish law forbid the making of images and in particular their existence in the holy city.” Jewish Antiquities 18.55-59 His actions nearly provoked a massive uprising and would have required brutal military intervention to subdue the riot. Pilate didn’t want to lose face, and was commanded by his superiors to not provoke the people.
Here he is asked to judge Jesus, to find him guilty of treason and insurrection. For the Roman Empire already had a King – the emperor. Claiming to be the King of the Jews was committing treason: the penalty for which was death by crucifixion. John tells the story in a way that implies that Pilate is both blind and seeing. John uses the word bandit only twice – once here to describe Barabbas who is chosen for life in the place of Jesus and in John 10:1 to describe those who are opposed to the way of the Good Shepherd whose voice is heard and followed by the sheep. Here though neither the crowd, nor Pilate, recognize the good shepherd as the truth in their midst. Pilate talks philosophy. Jesus talks about truth as relationship. One of the tragedies of the text is Pilate seemingly so close to the truth, and simultaneously so blind to it.
Questions for the practice of Examen & Contemplation
- What shimmers for you in this story?• From the first chapter, John portrays the life of Jesus as a trial between the forces of truth and untruth, to which the Spirit of God is a witness – as are the disciples. How have you experienced the gospel as a light pointing towards, or witnessing to, the truth?
- In an age of fake news, how do you answer Pilate’s question: “What is truth?”
- The link to the teaching of the Good Shepherd insists upon hearing, recognizing the truth-full voice. How do you see that in this passage? How do you wrestle with that in your own life?; in our world?
Download the PDF Study Guide we use in our group discussion at @CAPCOakland HERE.
Some text was taken from an article written by Meda Stamper www.workingpreacher.org