Politicians rarely answer questions and yet they are very good at asking them! Perhaps when we feel we have power over others we think we have the right to interrogate them.
As far as Pilate is concerned, Herod is the King of the Jewish People. If Jesus says He is a King, a rebellion can only be around the corner. Jesus is not a politician and He answers Pilates’ question as a Holy Man. People are drawn to Jesus by the breadth and depth of His capacity for Love. Is Pilate interested in this or is he focused somewhere else? If His own community have turned against Him and handed Him over to the despised Romans, Pilate wants to know why.
Jesus reassures Pilate that His eye is only on the Throne of God. Since time began, every social, political and religious institution have been built of violence and maintained by force. Jesus’ disciples are not fighting to keep him out of the clutches of these systems. And the reason for that is that the Kingdom in which Jesus is King cannot be found or grown through fighting. But Pilate misses the point and sticks with what he knows best. Is Jesus saying He is a King or not? But King is Pilates word. The Beloved Son of God receives the word ‘King’ from Pilate, breaks it open, shakes it till it is empty and then fills it with a new meaning. Jesus exercises His authority by witnessing to the truth. Those who are fixated on power and on territory cannot find the depths from which Jesus is speaking. But those who know God’s heart can. The truth they know will lead them to the truth about Jesus.
Choosing to become powerless is a huge decision. In the Garden of Gethsemane, Peter, not quite a Saint yet, strikes with violence and launches the ear of the High priests servant into the shrubbery. Jesus stops him and heals the man, restoring his ear. After all, Jesus has spent his whole ministry opening people’s ears. He knows, only too well, that violent words and actions spell the end of the dialogue. Ears have to be restored for dialogue to resume and for violence to end. The power of The Word is paramount for Jesus. The world He inhabits relies on Love as its only strategy and protection.
Jesus is, of course, THE revelation of God’s unconditional love. And He is also a mirror for the unknown territory of the human heart. People somehow get themselves when He is around and the poor find Him to be very attractive. Even the ‘other sheep’ who are not of this fold move towards Him with joy. But before the cruelty and might of his own leaders, and of Rome, He shows no muscle, no force and instead offers the magnet of revelation.
Becoming powerless also includes making no threats. The revelation of unconditional love is here. If we do not get it or, if we are honest, not really attracted to it, Jesus will not become a terrorist and scare you with the prospect of disaster either side of the grave. Finally, torture – in all its forms – and death can no longer be used as a way to win disciples. We might say that many of the strategies that His ‘disciples’ have used had already been rejected by the Holy One who simply offers the revelation once more.
Violence is replaced by dialogue. This is quite different from discussion, which has the same root as percussion and concussion. All of these suggest striking something in order to gain territory. Dialogue invites a free flow of meaning that becomes shared by all those involved. It looks as if this is Jesus’ preferred mode of influence. As a way of being it was completely lost on Pilate. What did he miss? Only this. Christ is King not because He can bend human will with all His might. He is King because out of love He embraces powerlessness and continues to talk.