712) Peace and Justice and Pontius Pilate (b)

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     (…continued)  I have been going to church conventions for over 30 years, and have heard many debates on resolutions in which well-meaning Lutherans have supported various causes in the name of peace and justice.  Some have wanted to support unjust regimes because at least they kept the peace, and some have wanted to support violent revolutions to bring about justice.  South Africa, Iran, Iraq, Kuwait, Nicaragua, Panama, Rwanda, Somalia, Syria, Lybia, Bosnia, Sudan, Cuba, and more; in every one of those situations, it was of little help to just be in favor of peace and justice.  It often has to be one or the other for a while, and hard choices must be made.  Those not responsible for the choice can make signs or write newspaper columns, and criticize.  If the peace is being maintained, they can complain about the absence of justice.  If force is used to attain justice they can complain about no peace.

     Sometimes, those on the conservative end of the spectrum will try to keep the peace, even when that means allowing great injustices.  Sometimes, those on the liberal end of the spectrum will advocate violence in the pursuit of a more just society.  And sometimes, it is the other way around.  It is a messy world, and good, faithful, Bible-believing Christians can honestly disagree on what messy methods should be used to achieve greater peace and justice.  And mistakes are often made by well-meaning people.

     As a nation, it is sometimes necessary and helpful to enter into these conflicts, and sometimes it is not.  As individual citizens, Christians have a duty to be informed voters, and may even, as politicians, enter the debate and promote one course of action or another.  But it is usually best for the church to stay out of these things most of the time; perhaps not every time, but certainly most of the time.

     The church has something more important to be concerned about, and Jesus himself points this out in his words to Pilate in John 18.  “Are you the king of the Jews?” Pilate had asked, and Jesus said did not say that he wasn’t.  But he he did say, “My kingdom is not of this world; my kingdom is from another place.”  Jesus did not align himself with the establishment which was trying to keep the peace, nor did he align himself with the revolutionary zealots who by violence wanted to create a more just society.  He had more important matters, eternal matters, on his mind.  In getting too closely aligned with the kingdoms of this world, the church stands to lose focus, credibility, and clear purpose. 

     Then Jesus told Pilate exactly what he is here for, and therefore, what the church should also be about.  Jesus said, “I am here to testify to the truth, and everyone who listens to me is on the side of the truth.”  What Jesus meant by truth was much bigger than political truth, much bigger than peace and justice issues.  He had already said that his kingdom was not of this world, and throughout his ministry he was always pointing to his heavenly Father, to that eternal kingdom, and to himself as the one who can offer the forgiveness of sins and eternal life.  Jesus was always calling on us to believe in him, and to believe that what he said was true.  “I am here,” he said, “to testify to the truth.”

     This is what we must remember about Jesus.  Believing in Jesus is, most of all, a matter of truth.  Faith is not a matter of what works, what is good for society, or what most effectively brings peace and justice.  The test of faith is not if it guarantees happiness, fulfillment, peace, prosperity, or whatever else, no matter how desirable.  Those are all agendas of our own that we place on Jesus.  And while some of those things might come along as a part of what it means to believe Jesus, believing in Jesus is primarily a matter of truth.

     Jesus was always concerned about truth, but he was not always concerned about peace.  One time, in fact, he made it clear that he came not to bring peace, but division (Luke 12:51).  And the message of Jesus was not so much about justice as it was about grace.  Remember the parable of the wage-earners?  Those that started at the end of the day got paid the same as those who started first thing in the morning.  That wasn’t ‘justice.’  That was grace.  Some received even more than what was just (Matthew 20:1-16).  It is by grace that we are saved, not by getting what we justly deserve.  And we can all be grateful for that.

     Questions of whether or not Christianity works will get one into all kinds of side issues, from the problem of suffering, to the errors and shortcomings and divisions of the church, to the negative witness of so many Christians, to the divisive debates at church conventions about what political course to follow, to debates on science and Christianity and what should be taught in schools, and on and on.  All of these things raise important questions and need to be discussed.

     But as we do so, we must always stayed focused on the main point, and that is the truth of who Jesus was and still is.   The truth of Christianity all depends on Jesus, and we must remember that Christianity, if false, is of no importance, and if it is true, it is of infinite, eternal importance.  That is regardless of whether it seems to be working or not working in any given situation or individual.

     There are many in this world who despise Jesus, but who seem to do very well.  There are others who believe in Jesus and are persecuted to the point of being tortured and even losing their lives.  To some, it might look like believing in Jesus doesn’t work.  But we don’t believe in Jesus because it works for us in this brief moment of time here on earth.  We believe in Jesus because in Him is the truth, the truth and the life that lasts for all eternity.

     “My Kingdom,“ Jesus told Pilate, “is not of this world.”

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John 18:36  —   Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world.  If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jewish leaders.  But now my kingdom is from another place.”

John 18:37b  —  (Jesus said), “The reason I was born and came into the world is to testify to the truth.  Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.”

John 18:38a  —  “What is truth?” retorted Pilate.

John 14:6  —   Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life.  No one comes to the Father except through me.”

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Lord Jesus, give us the grace to follow you, the Way, to learn from you, the Truth, and to live in you, the Life.  

–Erasmus

711) Peace and Justice and Pontius Pilate (a)

     Many Christians place a great emphasis on ‘Peace and Justice’ issues.  There are many churches in which you will hear more about peace and justice than about Jesus Christ.  To be concerned about these issues is certainly implied in the teachings of our Lord, who was called the ‘Prince of Peace,’ and who proclaimed the truth that all are people are equal in the eyes of God and deserving of justice.  But such concern about peace and justice has led many churches more and more into partisan politics, leaving less and less emphasis on the eternal salvation of souls.  A balance is needed.  But there is always the danger of that balance being lost, and the primary message of the church being ignored or distorted.

     Among those who demand for peace and justice, there are always those who forget the hard truth that sometimes in this wicked world you cannot have both.  For example, the American South in the pre-Civil War days was a peaceful place for wealthy plantation owners.  They lived a life of ease and comfort, and could build up incredible wealth without any labor on their part.  But there was no justice in the South in those days for the eight million Negroes by whose slave labor those plantation owners gained their wealth and their peace.  And there was no justice possible without a considerable disturbing of the peace for four long and bloody years.  Abraham Lincoln would have preferred to always maintain peace and justice, but in the very first days of his presidency, he was forced to make the choice to pursue one or the other.

     The Roman empire prided itself on the peace and justice it brought to its conquered nations. Of course, they had no qualms about making war in the first place to conquer the territory, and no qualms about using armies to enforce the peace. But when at its best, the Romans did try to rule with justice and, at the same time, keep the peace.

     That was what Pontius Pilate had hoped for in the ordeal of a Jewish wandering preacher that was brought before him one morning in the fourth year of his reign as governor in Palestine.  Peace and justice were always his goals, noble Roman that he was, and that would have been his agenda for dealing with Jesus.  He would ask him a few questions, determine his guilt or innocence, declare his verdict, and then either sentence him or set him free.  Pilate was not a soft-hearted man.  He did not care about these people.  But he was a proud Roman, and the Roman ideal was to be just and fair.

     However, Pilate that morning would be confronted with the same awful choice that Lincoln faced, that of having to choose one or the other, peace or justice.  It is not a simple world we live in.  It is easy to be for peace, and we are all in favor of justice and fairness for all.  But what do you do when you are forced to choose one or the other?

     Pilate at first seemed irritated with the chief priests for bothering him with this matter.  “Take him for yourselves and judge him by your own law,” Pilate told them.  “But we have no right to execute anyone,” they said.  So, reluctantly, Pilate began the cross-examination:  “Are you the king of the Jews?…  Do you refuse to speak to me?…  What is it you have done?…  Where did you come from?…  What is truth?”  Then, satisfied that Jesus was not a threat, Pilate said, “I find no basis for any charge against him.”  There is Roman justice at its best– a judgement in favor of the little guy.  Pilate has to deal with the religious authorities on a regular basis, and so he would have had a good reason to please them and just give in to their request.  But Pilate took a stand against them, and declared innocent a poor man who can do him no favors.

     But then came the threat to the peace.  First, the religious leaders put the pressure on.  “If you let this man go, you are no friend of Caesar, because anyone who claims to be king opposes Caesar.”  Jesus had told Pilate that his kingdom was not of this world, and Pilate was at first satisfied with that answer.  But the threat of trouble with Caesar was a frightening prospect, and so Pilate began to reconsider the verdict.  Then the crowd started shouting, “Crucify him, crucify him,” and there was the beginning of an uproar.  A riot would mean a bad report to Caesar, and that would not be good for Pilate.  That might be too much trouble to risk for the sake of some little religious fanatic.  So there’s the conflict between justice and peace.  Pilate knows what is just, and, he knows what it will take to keep the peace; and he decides to keep the peace.  But he does so with an uneasy conscience.  He has a wash-basin brought to him before the crowd and symbolically washes his hands of the whole thing, saying, “I am innocent of this man’s blood.”  Everybody wants peace and justice.  Pilate found out that you cannot always have both.  (continued…)

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Luke 23:13-15  —  Pilate called together the chief priests, the rulers and the people, and said to them, “You brought me this man as one who was inciting the people to rebellion.  I have examined him in your presence and have found no basis for your charges against him.  Neither has Herod, for he sent him back to us; as you can see, he has done nothing to deserve death.”

Luke 23:23-24  —  But with loud shouts they insistently demanded that he be crucified, and their shouts prevailed.  So Pilate decided to grant their demand.

Matthew 27:24  —  When Pilate saw that he was getting nowhere, but that instead an uproar was starting, he took water and washed his hands in front of the crowd.  “I am innocent of this man’s blood,” he said.  “It is your responsibility!”

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PRAYER FOR PEACE AND JUSTICE IN OUR COMMUNITIES:

Gracious God,
We pray for peace in our communities this day.
We commit to you all who work for peace and an end to tensions,
And those who work to uphold law and justice.
We pray for an end to fear,
For comfort and support to those who suffer.
For calm in our streets and cities,
That people may go about their lives in safety and peace.
In your mercy, hear our prayers, now and always. Amen.

—www.churchofengland.org