‘You are a king then’, said Pilate
There is a grey Massey Ferguson tractor at Richard Hill’s garage in Greystones. It is at least 50 years old, but shines as if it were new. Were I rich, I would offer its owner whatever price he cared to name in order to have it.
I know nothing whatsoever about tractors, in fact I know nothing whatsoever about anything mechanical, but the little grey ‘Fergie’ brings back so many memories, that engineering ignorance wouldn’t even be a consideration.
The Fergie represents childhood days. It represents home and my granddad’s farm; and tea at my Nan’s table; and the laughter of my uncles, and men standing in the barton; and the smell from the byre; and the feel of the mud pulling off your boots as you tried to fetch cows in the wintertime; and the taste of the cold well water on summer days; and the touch of cold metal as you climbed up to stand alongside whoever was driving the tractor; and seeing my cousins who came to stay each summer, their fashionable clothes making my old jersey and trousers look rustic and silly. The Fergie represents my granddad, quiet and softly spoken in a cloth cap and an old jacket, in a world that is lost.
The Fergie reminded me of the home and family I had left behind to follow this Jesus whom we remember as king today. Why follow this man? Why believe that this man should make a difference to our lives?
‘You are a king then’? says Pilate. What a strange sort of king Jesus is. He stands before Pilate. He stands before the man who represents the Roman Empire; he stands before the man who can call on the power of the greatest empire in history; he stands there as king. Pilate has no worldly reason to fear this man, but Pilate is terrified. Pilate wants nothing to do with this case against Jesus. Read on through Saint John and there is rising fear and panic in Pilate’s voice. Pilate tries to humiliate Jesus, the crown of thorns and the purple robe, and Jesus is even greater.
Do we believe in this Jesus? What would we be prepared to leave behind?
Pilate tries to bargain with the crowd, he is desperate. It is Pilate who becomes powerless. He has not the courage to stand for what is right and true against what is wrong and lies. ‘Shall I crucify your king?’ Pilate knows what a monstrous deed this is.
Jesus is brought to Golgotha, the place of the skull, the legendary burial place of Adam. The people understood the meaning of the place, they understood how humanity had fallen from God’s purposes into death and destruction. Adam the first, Jesus the last, the Omega, the one who comes at the end of time as judge of the heavens and the earth?
Do we believe in this Jesus? What would we be prepared to do for this man?
Jesus is brought to the place of the skull and here he is crucified. Pilate prepares a notice and has it fastened to the cross, ‘Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews’. The sign is in Aramaic, Latin and Greek. This is a king for all the people. Aramaic was a popular form of Hebrew, it was the language of God’s own people. Latin was the language of the Empire, the language of the rulers and those in high office. Greek was the language of everyday life and trade around the Mediterranean. Jesus is a king for all the people; for the Jews and the foreigners; for the great and the good; for the common and the ordinary.
Do we believe in this Jesus? Where would we be prepared to go for this man?
The soldiers divide Jesus’ clothes between them. A common enough thing to do, a scant reward for a gruesome task. The linen tunic is woven in one piece and they don’t want to tear it. Such a garment was worn by the Jewish high priest. The high priest went into the Temple on the most solemn day of the Jewish year, Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, to offer a sacrifice for the sins of the people. Jesus offers himself on the Cross as an offering for the sins of the people, one and for all time.
Do we believe in this Jesus? What would we be prepared to say for this man?
To the end Jesus is the master of the situation. He is concerned for his mother and asks John to take care of her. Fulfilling Scripture he receives a drink before crying out, ‘It is finished’. Saint Matthew includes an account of events that we usually leave out: the curtain in the Temple is torn in two; there is an earthquake; and many holy people are raised to life. I suspect most of us, including myself, would be uncomfortable with the description of such events, they don’t sit easily in our modern rational minds.
The readings for today are a test of faith. Do we believe in this new man, this Jesus, who comes to succeed where the old man, Adam, failed? Do we believe in this high priest who offers a final and complete sacrifice, offering us a place in heaven through what he has done? Do we believe in this king, this king for every sort and condition of person?
Do we believe in this Jesus?
Believing means letting go of things we love, to become the people that God wants. Believing, for me, means letting go of my land of little grey Massey Fergusons to follow God’s call, wherever that should lead. What does believing mean for you?
What would you do? Where would you go? What would you say?