Lent IV - Narrative Lectionary
Gospel of John 18:28-40
"Jesus is bound and led to the place of his trial..."
These haunting words come to us from Our Gospel reading, which tells us of Jesus's trial before Pilate. Of course the word “trial,” according to our modern understanding, can barely be used. In truth, it is a puppet demonstration by the religious rulers of the time. Controlling religious men of power who wish to the make their ideals and beliefs known not only in their own religious circles but to all the people in the land. They want it to be known that their theological concerns should be the matter of state rule and enforceable for all, period. No longer will they stand for a man who dares to be true to himself and the calling he has entered into. No longer will they tolerate the religious freedom and progressive ideals which Jesus offers to his listeners. No longer will they allow God to be made manifest in God's own way. The only way the religious authorities, in our story, want God to be known is according to their own narrow dogmas and they will stop at little to see their plan become a success.
And so Jesus is taken by the religious leaders to Pilate who is the secular ruler of the land. Pilate is asked to find Jesus guilty and punishable by death. Pilate, being a smart man, is well aware that this is truly not his mess. However, once it is placed before him and threats are made against his ability to maintain the status quo in the land, he has no option but to join in the theatrics. The Gospel reading plays out like a court room gone made. The religious authorities present Jesus already found guilty. They demand the death penalty before Pilate can even ask a single question of the man bound standing before him. When Pilate does ask questions it becomes quite clear to him that Jesus is not worthy of death. Pilate realizes that even if Jesus does claim to be a king it isn't of an earthly kingdom found in this world.
Ultimately, Pilate decrees, "I have found no case against him." However, Pilate fears the wrath of the zealous religious crowd who has gathered seeking blood in the name of God. So in a moment of political shrewdness he asks the crowd to choose who will die, Jesus or a common criminal, Barabbas. The crown screams for Barabbas. After all, the idea of freedom is scary and unsettling. Jesus represented a new freedom found in God and a liberated spiritual life that was unthinkable to many. Something is tragically comforting about the ways we have always known and experienced, even if they are negative and, perhaps, dangerous. The same can be said for us today. We fear newness in life, we fear finding God in revelatory places and possibilities. We often fear personal freedom, science and knowledge because they seem to take us in a different direction then we once traveled.
The one we call the Christ, the anointed one, took people in a new direction some 2,000 years ago and its impact is still being felt today. Sadly, some of his very own followers have forgotten the liberating message of the Gospel and the Divine call for a life lived abundantly. Now, these followers try and use Jesus' very own words, and the words of his immediate followers, to control, manipulate and even force the hand of public law. Indeed, Jesus is still on trial for his daring ways and religious authorities are still seeking his life and blood. Today, Jesus is bound and led to his trial in the faces of men and women who are being denied the freedom to live their lives fully and honestly. These men and women are being bound and mentally, if not physically, crucified by none other than the controlling religious leaders of our time. These religious leaders are found in the men and women who are the pastors, presidents and CEO's of organizations believing their doctrines are worthy of forced mandate on their employees, parishioners and even the world.
This week alone we have watched Jesus being bound and led to trial by the fundamentalist Christian ran company, Hobby Lobby. Whether meaning to do so or not, Hobby Lobby has tied the hands of thousands of women and is seeking to remove from them their personal freedom of choice and reproductive control. They are seeking not only to control their own employees but to force their beliefs upon the federal government, as they do all in their power to destroy the first promise of universal healthcare this nation has ever seen. Their minds do not turn to the children and adults who have lived for years without proper medical care, they ignore the individual with pre-existing conditions who finally has a glimmer of hope to receive the help they need. Instead, Hobby Lobby has obsessed itself with their belief women are incapable of making their own decisions when it comes to their very own bodies. It's a court room gone mad and in the name of God! How Jesus must weep. Over and over again in the Gospels, Jesus esteemed the value of women and their ability to receive the same respect and freedom as their male counterparts. However, today many so-called followers of Jesus believe women must be informed on how to live their lives.
We see Jesus being bound and led to trial in the faces of queer women and men who were literally slapped and belittled in the name of God this week by the charitable organization World Vision. For those of you unaware, World Vision made a statement this week they would begin to hire married gay men and women in their company. However, within less than 48 hours, thousands of their donors retracted their sponsorship of children in need. Yes, you heard me right. Supposedly "loving, Bible-Believing" Christians took money money away from starving children because World Vision was open to the possibility of having someone like myself work in their building. World Vision bowed to the pressure of these religious manipulators and reversed their GLBT affirming decision. They quite literally apologized for daring to think that individuals in same sex marriages could be beneficial employees of their company. It is no doubt the very same ones who took their money from needy children, also seek to keep in place laws which allow for the discrimination of employees. Do you realize that in 2014 only 12 states protect gay, lesbian and transgender people from workplace discrimination. True followers of Jesus would seek the passing of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act that is currently before Congress. Instead we watch as Christians seek blood from those who are most marginalized and rejoice when employment is taken from them. I believe it goes without saying, but if you support a child through World Vision, keep doing so. Any less would be to buy into the same lack of critical thought and conditional love as those who initially retracted their gifts.
Jesus is bound and led to trial in the faces of children who are forced into silence on a daily basis by their religious leaders. Children who desire to explore the world of science, children who are questioning their gender, children who want to know God more honestly. Across this nation children are indoctrinated by well-meaning spiritual guides who believe they are sharing truth, but instead are sharing nothing but a personal prison of hatred and fear. In the news this past week many of us got to know Sunny Kahle, an eight year old female child in Virginia. Sunny likes to wear casual clothing and keep her hair short and for this reason her Christian school essentially expelled her saying, "her dress and behavior need to follow suit with her God-ordained identity." They ignored that Sunny’s hair is short because she donated it all too cancer charities, but frankly that is besides the point. Isn’t it funny that a school instructor seems to know the God-ordained identity of all the students? Perhaps, just perhaps, we should trust our children to grow into who they are meant to be with our support and affirmation, not blind, heavy-handed control.
We have religious leaders who believe they have the right not only to force their ideals upon their own children but are still seeking to reintroduce forced prayer into our schools. There are clergy and laity doing all in their power to make the so called "intelligent design" curriculum a mainstay in our schools. How small their faith must be to not find God in the wonder and awe of evolution. I remember the first time evolutionary theory became real to me. I was walking through the Watkins Glenn Gorge and decided to not let the ever famous "Noah's Ark theory" be the explanation for the beautiful erosion. If you aren't aware much of Evangelicalism has a simple answer for every scientific question proposed...it's because the Flood made it so. How powerful it was to witness and acknowledge the effect of millions of years of water chipping away at solid rock. It revealed to me just how uncontainable creation and God truly is.
Jesus is still on trial. His body is still being sacrificed over and over to feed the blood thirst of countless narcissistic short-sighted religious leaders. He is bleeding in the gays of Uganda who are beaten daily by their communities. He is weeping in the child who cries themselves to sleep each night because they are gay and fear the wrath of their parents and minister. He sweats tears of blood in the women who are filled with anxiety because they do not know when the axe will come down upon their God-given freedom.
As a progressive people of faith it is our calling to defend the constitutional rights of all individuals. It is our duty to stand with our government and be a voice of faith and religion that supports healthcare for all people. A prophetic voice that denies that anyone has the right to choose which benefits they give to an employee and which benefits they do not. As Christians, we must be resolute in our decision to affirm the dignity of LGBT people in our businesses, churches and organizations. To do any less is call for the crucifixion of Jesus. Will we allow fear to stop the new thing that God is is doing in this world? Will we allow the religious leaders of our time to silence the cries of so many, while they seek to maintain control not only of their own followers but of this entire nation? Equality is coming for all! Don't fear it and choose Barabbas, as the crowd did some 2,000 years ago. Choose a life lived fully for all! God is calling us to confess our sins against our brothers, our sisters and our children. Like Pope Francis, we all need to take a moment and confess the pain our faith has often inflicted on others; and then together let's end this trial on God's people once and for all!