Thursday, March 24, 2016


The same day  – maybe the same hour --
         that Jesus rode into Jerusalem through the Eastern gate,
          Pilate arrived from the West.
That was not a coincidence.
Jesus was making a point.
The two parades represented starkly differing ways of being in the world.

Jesus and Pilate were both there for Passover, but with different agendas.
Passover was Jewish Independence Day,
         commemorating their deliverance from bondage in Egypt,
It was a celebration of freedom.
 But in 30 A D, Judah lived with the Roman boot on its neck
         and a they didn’t like it.
Militants were stewing for a revolution.
There were terrorists and assassins around every corner.
Passover was prime time for trouble.

Pilate’s home and office were up north on the coast
         in Caeasarea Maritima.
The capital had been moved there from Jerusalem in 6 AD.
But during Passover. Pilate brought his soldiers down to Jerusalem
         in case of trouble,
         but mostly to display the intimidating might of Rome.

You can imagine his parade.
Trumpets. Drums. Flags and banners.
Pilate on a powerful war horse.
Armed soldiers marching behind him.
The crowd cheering  -- not out of love but fear.
It was gunboat diplomacy,
 a display of military, economic, and political power,
         top down, dominating, coercive power.

Jesus came from the opposite direction,
         on a skittery borrowed colt.
No trumpets, drums, flags, or banners.
No armed soldiers. Just rag tag out-of-work disciples.
His humble unimpressive show was a spoof of Pilate’s grandiosity.
But nonetheless, a multitude greeted him,
         not out of fear, but in genuine hospitality.
They called out, “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord.”
“Peace in heaven,” they shouted.
And why? Luke answers, “Because of the deeds of power they had seen.”//

“Deeds of power?”
No army. No spears. No chariots. What “deeds of power (had) they seen”?

If we look back in Luke,
         we hear Jesus telling teaching about
the power of faith and prayer.
We see him healing the blind and lepers, forgiving sinners,
and befriending outcasts.
We do not see an iota of economic, political, or military power.
It’s power of an entirely different kind.
In the past three chapters,
         Jesus has reprimanded the Pharisees for their attachment to money,
         directed a rich would-be disciple to give away his wealth first,
         and told the story of the rich man who sinned
by neglecting poor Lazarus.

Jesus’ and Pilate’s parades express opposite versions of power.
The question is: which parade do we want to join?
Which of these two ways of being in the world do we choose?

This is all about being. How shall we go about being in this world?
Plato said “being” consists of two things: the power to influence others
         and our capacity to be influenced by them.
It is the power to touch someone and to feel their touch.
Plato says is it takes both to prove we are alive.

So let’s look at Pilate power.
Dominating, top down, power over others
         is what the world recognizes.
We can use money or position to get our way.
There are also subtler forms of domination, like being smarter,
more impressive, more aggressive, or more shrewdly manipulative.
Theologian Bernard Loomer calls it “linear” or “unilateral”
because it’s one-directional
         the power of Person A to impose his will on person B.

Pilate power is the way of the world.
We praise it, admire it, hunger for it.
Every movie, tv show, and political campaign
         holds it up as the thing to have as much of as possible.

But look at the limits of dominating power.
It can’t compel love.
It cannot bestow health.
It can’t form a relationship of mutuality and delight.
It can force people to dance to our tune,
         but it can’t make them laugh or care or love.
We can dominate our children up to a point to make them act right,
         but we cannot dominate them into becoming
         the whole and happy people we want them to be.

The basic problem with dominating power, on Plato’s terms,
         is that it contains a damning contradiction.
Remember “being” consists of two things – the power to influence others
         and the capacity to be influenced by them, to touch and be touched.

The more dominating power we’ve got,
the less capacity we have to be influenced by others.
We are immune, above it. We become untouchable.
In most societies, being untouchable isn’t a good thing.
Dominating power makes us untouchable, and so shrinks our being.
We are more of a power but less of a person.

Bernard Loomer says dominating power is a zero sum game,
so the more of it Person A has, the less of it person B has.
Person B is obviously a loser, but – and here’s the Platonic kicker --
both are really losers.
As we gain power to compel others,
 we lose our capacity to be influenced by them.
Person A, the dominator, is diminished even more than Person B.
Dominating power is a soul shrinking game because it cuts us off
         from each other.
That’s why the saying goes, “It’s lonely at the top.”
Remember the old Barbara Streisand song,
         “People who need people are the luckiest people in the world.”
Dominating power is about not needing people.
Lord Acton said, “Power corrupts.”
Loomer explains,
         “The exercise of power . . . alienate(s) the possessor
           of the power. . . (and) deadens our sensitivity to the fact
          that we are deeply dependent on each other . . . .”
That’s the downside of Pilate power.

Jesus power is bigger than that.
It influences others alright, but in a human, caring, respectful way.
Remember the forgiving, the befriending of outcasts, the sharing of meals.

But Jesus could be influenced too.
Remember when unexpected people broke through to him
and changed his mind:
the Syro-Phonecian woman and the Roman centurion
         who taught him that pagans can have faith –
         and the rich young ruler he started to dismiss,
         but when he saw the man’s hunger for righteousness,
 Jesus was converted and loved him.

Looomer says, “This (kind of power) is relationship
         of mutually influencing and being influenced.”
It’s the power to be open, to be vulnerable enough
         to share what’s in our hearts
         and hear what is in the heart of another person.

That’s risky business. It take a lot more courage than dominating power,
         which is actually a badge of fear, not courage.

There is a long list of virtues and practices that comprise
Jesus relational power -- power with, not power over.
But the one at the top of the list is listening.
The very first word in the Great Commandment,
         “Shemai Israel” is listen up.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer said,
         “The first service one owes to others . . . (is) listening to them.
          Just as our love of God begins with listening to God’s word,
         the beginning  of our love for other(s) is . . . listen(ing) to them.”

That’s Jesus’ way of being in the world.
It’s a risky way. We’ll see it lead to the cross this week.
We’ll see it cost him his blood.
But centuries later we’ll still be singing,
         “there’s power in the blood, power, power, wonder-working power 
         in the precious blood of the Lamb.”