Gospel for November, 22nd, 2015: “The Trial Before Pilate”
John 18: 33b-37
Pilate said to Jesus, “Are you the King of the Jews?” Jesus answered, “Do you say this on your own or have others told you about me?” Pilate answered, “I am not a Jew, am I? Your own nation and the chief priests handed you over to me. What have you done?” Jesus answered, “My kingdom does not belong to this world. If my kingdom did belong to this world, my attendants [would] be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Jews. But as it is, my kingdom is not here.” So Pilate said to him, “Then you are a king?” Jesus answered, “You say I am a king. For this I was born and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.”
“Do you say this on your own or have others told you about me?” (34).
Jesus answers Pilate’s question about who He is with this question of His own. I have always found this dialogue puzzling in Jesus’s apparent evasiveness. I almost feel for Pilate; it would be nice to get a straight answer.
In my current reading of this passage, however, Jesus’s question strikes me as underscoring Pilate’s free will to recognize Him for whom He is. His question dares Pilate to reach his own conclusion about Jesus’s identity, not to determine guilt or innocence of the blasphemy for which He is accused; but simply because free will is a necessary disposition for opening one’s heart and recognizing the presence of Jesus. Pilate, as we all are when confronted with the presence of Christ in our lives, must consciously choose to acknowledge and surrender to Jesus’s divinity.
But Pilate, in the presence of the Lord, uncomfortably gives a worldly answer, “I am not a Jew, am I?” (35). In other words, how could I be expected to know who you are? I am not one of your people! This is the response of one with a closed heart.
Contrast this to Peter’s answer to Jesus when engaged in a similar conversation about whom Jesus is: “You are the Messiah, the Son of the Living God” (Matthew 16: 16). With an open heart, he recognizes who Jesus is and accepts Him as his savior.
If our hearts are open, the presence of Jesus the Christ is unmistakable in our lives. He does not need to reveal Himself intellectually, His love communes with our hearts and spirits. We will know Him. However, we have free will to choose whether we will keep our hearts open with love of God and neighbor or closed in the divisiveness of sin, throwing our loyalty to the world. In a sense our choice is between being Pilate or Peter. History makes the wise choice pretty clear.