Remixing the Empire

by Brian Walsh

A reflection on John 18:28-19:30
Wine Before Breakfast
Originally Delivered March 18, 2008

Prophet, Priest … and now King. Our Lenten journey at Wine Before Breakfast stayed in one place and at one time this year. We spent our Lent meditating on John 13 to 17, the “Upper Room” discourse on Thursday night of Holy Week.

And in the upper room with the disciples we have met Jesus the priestly prophet who demonstrates what kind of a community his disciples are called to be through the washing of their feet.

We have then sat at the feet of the one who teaches us not to fear because he knows where this story is going; who gives a new commandment that fulfills all the commandments; who retells Israel’s story of wine and vines so that it applies to the community he leaves behind. And then we listened in as Jesus exercised his priestly ministry in a prayer, a high priestly prayer, for his disciples … for us.

In that upper room we have met Jesus as Prophet and Priest.

On Good Friday we meet Jesus the King.

Pilate: ‘Are you the King of the Jews?’

Jesus: ‘Do you ask this on your own, or did others tell you about me?’

Not a king who will give a straight answer to what appears to be a straight and unambiguous question.

Jesus: ‘My kingdom is not from this world. If my kingdom were from this world, my followers would be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Jews. But as it is, my kingdom is not from here.’

Pilate: ‘So you are a king?’

Jesus: ‘You say that 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.’

Pilate: ‘What is truth?’

Israel wanted a king like the nations, and Pilate knew just what a king like the nations should look like.

But Jesus was not going to be a king by any such terms.

Pilate knew where imperial authority resides, he knew where it came from.

But Jesus says, that’s not the kind of kingdom that I bring.

It’s not from this world.

It is not dependent upon the political or military or economic machinations of this world.

Israel’s Torah said that if they were to have a king then his main task was to meditate upon Torah, to be a king who was so immersed in the truth of God’s word, that he would rule in such truth.

Jesus redefines kingship as a matter of testimony.

I testify to the truth.

Rome and Israel want kings who will rule by might and by force.

Jesus offers a kingdom rooted not in arms but in truth, embodied truth.

Pilate and the people of Jerusalem understand that kings exercise sovereignty and control over their people.

But Jesus says that if you belong to the truth, you will listen to him.

Pilate: Do you want me to release for you the King of the Jews?’

All: ‘Not this man, but Barabbas!’

Barabbas we can understand, Barabbas plays by the rules of violence that both Israel and Rome know.

‘Hail, King of the Jews!’ – slap

‘Hail, King of the Jews!’ – whip

‘Hail, King of the Jews!’ – punch

Pilate: ‘Where are you from?’

But Jesus gave him no answer.

Pilate: ‘Do you refuse to speak to me? Do you not know that I have power to release you, and power to crucify you?’

Open your eyes, Jesus, take a look at your situation.

You may talk about truth, but power is truth.

Jesus: ‘You would have no power over me unless it had been given you from above’

Your power, Pilate, like all power of all empire, is parasitic.

Your power has been given to you by the one who has sent me, not the one who has sent you.

From then on Pilate tried to release him, but the Jews cried out,

All: ‘If you release this man, you are no friend of the emperor. Everyone who claims to be a king sets himself against Caeser.’

Pilate hung up and trapped by the very imperial ideology he has come to uphold

Pilate: ‘Here is your King!’

All: ‘Away with him! Away with him! Crucify him!’

Pilate: ‘Shall I crucify your King?’

All: ‘We have no king but Caeser.’

We have no king but Caeser.

No more devastating words had ever been uttered by children of the covenant.

Then he handed Jesus over to be crucified.

Pilate also had an inscription written and put on the cross. It read, ‘Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews.’

Then the chief priests of the Jews said to Pilate,

All: ‘Do not write, “The King of the Jews”, but, “This man said, I am King of the Jews.” ’

Pilate: ‘What I have written I have written.’

What is written, is written.

What is done, is done.

On the cross we meet the king of the Jews.

On the cross we meet truth embodied and bloodied.

On the cross we meet kingship redefined.

On the cross Jesus remixes the empire.

Brian Walsh
Brian is an activist theologian, a retired CRC campus minister, the founder of the Wine Before Breakfast community, and farms with Sylvia Keesmaat at Russet House Farm.He engages issues of theology and culture, and has written a couple of books you might want to check out. His most recent offering is cowritten with Sylvia Keesmaat and entitled Romans Disarmed: Resisting Empire, Demanding Justice.

2 Responses to “Remixing the Empire”

  1. Ericka

    To shout, “We have no king but Caesar” was…I can’t think of an appropriate word. Terrifying? Devastating? Either way, it took me way back…I felt myself in that crowd, shouting at my Saviour, and telling Him he wasn’t ENOUGH…but that Caesar was.

    I couldn’t help but wonder what hurt more. The flogging? The beating? The suffocating? …Or your children – the one’s You came to save – denying your wholenss, your power, your glory…even your Kingship.


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