I was once accused of wrong-doing at work. It was a serious accusation, too. There was a big meeting just to tell me about it, and then an investigation, and I had to stay at home for awhile. Lawyers and investigators were called in. I had to answer some questions and write a statement. It was a big deal. I was cleared and it all went away. A few years later I ran into my accuser at a convenience store. He told me he was sorry for accusing me and, as I filled my car with gas, he explained that he didn’t think a homosexual should have that particular job. He didn’t say what job he thought I should have, and I didn’t ask. I also didn’t mention that I’d been promoted and now trained people who did the job he didn’t think I should have. It didn’t seem like that would be very kind. I just thanked him for his apology, and drove away. Even though every thing turned out alright, and I never really doubted that it would, I still remember what I felt like to be accused. There’s something about that, you never forget it.
Accusation is at the heart of our gospel reading today, and it is at the heart of why Jesus — having come all this way to tell us the truth about God — had to die the way he did.
Jesus was accused of a lot of things in his short life: Early in his career he was accused of blasphemy. He was accused of picking grain and healing people on the Sabbath. He was accused of eating and drinking, and in particular with sinners. He was accused of being a false prophet. He was accused of saying that he was the son of God, and even that he was equal with God. They even said that he did the work of the devil and that he must be possessed! That’s considerably worse than what I was accused of.
In today’s reading, though, it is hard to tell what the accusation is. Pilate knows there has to be an accusation, a legal charge, otherwise Jesus wouldn’t have been brought to him, but he can’t get an answer about what the charge is. He asked the crowd and they weren’t specific. He tried to release Jesus to the Jewish courts, but they were emphatic that they wanted the death penalty which could only be imposed by Roman authorities. Still, Pilate didn’t understand the charge against Jesus, so he asked him directly: Are you a king?
Here is where the kingdom of the world and the kingdom of God come into stark relief. Jesus didn’t answer yes or no, not right away. Instead he began talking about kingdom and kingship. He said that the strength of his kingdom was not rooted in the world, explaining that the kingdoms of the world are based on power and its concomitant violence. “If my kingdom were of this world,” he said, “my followers would fight to prevent my arrest.” In other words, there would be trouble, there would be violence. Then Jesus admits that he is, in fact, a king. His kingdom is different, though; the nature of Jesus’s kingdom is that it tells the truth. In fact, that’s why he came. Jesus is the truth teller.
So, you see, it’s not that there is a violent kingdom and a non-violent kingdom. It’s that there is the kingdom of the world, with it’s accusations, it’s lies, and the resulting violence, and another kingdom which reminds us of the truth.
But, what truth? And why does Jesus have to die over it?
Oh, Jesus will die. He will die later on the same day as this reading. That’s how the story goes. The selected readings don’t take us that far. Next week we will move into Advent and prepare for Jesus’s birth; but this bit, these verses today, are about the run-up to Jesus’s death. So, what does it mean?
Well, the truth is that we are all accused. There is an accuser, and his name is Satan. You can call him The Devil, or Beelzebub, or Lucifer… He has a lot of names, and as a literary character he has changed with his names over the course of many centuries and at least as many religions. As a real-live force, though, he has been up to the same tired old trick all along: Accusation. Satan is the accuser. Jesus, in these last hours of his life, will take the place of the accused — Literally… he takes the place of Barabbas who is an accused rebel — and he will reveal an alternative truth.
The alternative truth is that Jesus already took every accusing lie of the devil and crucified it!
It’s not popular to talk about the devil these days. It’s not very sophisticated or intellectual; But we know that there is a force — call it whatever you want — and that old devil whispers in our ears telling us all kinds of lies. I don’t know what particular lie the devil will try on you, but I know this, it’s going to be something. There’s probably already a lie or two somewhere inside of you, maybe deep. They can live along with truth, in dark hearts, and saintly ones too. It doesn’t matter who you are, the devil is trying to convince you of some lie.
That old lie that you’re not good enough, that you didn’t do enough, that nobody likes you anyway… that kind of soul violence comes from the world kingdom. That’s the devil’s realm. You need to get over in the truth kingdom. There are no accusations against you. You are free from all that.
It’s not going to be enough, though, to just stop listening to the devil. The other thing Jesus says about his truth kingdom is that those who follow him also listen to him. We’ve got to get good at listening to the truth.
Have you ever tried to listen to two things at the same time? Ever since the internet started playing videos automatically I have frequently found myself listening to two things at the same time. Of course, I can’t hear either one of them. You can really only listen to one thing at a time. What we have to do then is make a way for the quiet, truth-telling kingdom of God to break in on the static lies of the devil. A lot of us are good at making opportunities for the kingdom of God to break in to the world, but we may not be so good at allowing that same thing to happen in our own hearts.
This year the season of Advent is coming at a time when the violence of the world kingdom is particularly loud. Before Advent gets here take some time to identify the ways the world tries to lie to you and remember that those things are not true. You belong to God’s kingdom, and the truth is that you there are no accusations against you.
Linda McMillan lives in Shanghai, China.
Image: Behold the Man! by Antonio Ciseri, 1871
Early in his career he was accused of blasphemy – Mark 5:31
Jesus was accused of picking grain to eat on the Sabbath – Mark.2:24 and Luke.6:2
Jesus was accused of healing on the Sabbath – Mark 3:2,6 and Luke 6:7; 13:14
Jesus was accused of eating and drinking, and in particular with sinners. – Luke 15:1ff
Jesus was accused of being a false prophet – Matthew 6:60ff and Luke 7:39
Jesus was accused of saying that he was the Son of God – Matthew 26:63ff
Jesus was accused of saying that he was equal to God – John 5:15ff
They even said that he did the work of the devil! – Mark 3:22 and Luke 11:15
They said that Jesus must be possessed – John 10:19ff