They were fearful and angry, a condition that always threatens to lead us down regrettable paths. As religious leaders, they determined Jesus needed to be removed from the picture. It was, to their reasoning, in the best interest of everyone. He had consistently undermined their authority, challenged their perceptions of what it means to be God’s people, and most of all, had the growing support of commoners who whispered of a new king. Such rumblings threatened the peace and security of the nation, not to mention their own personal position and privilege.
In an ironic twist, they turn to Pilate as the enforcer of their agenda. He represented the empire, that massive machine of economy and power that brought about its own kind of peace through oppression and the threat of violence. The religious leaders hated Pilate, but his kind of power was what they needed in this hour to ensure their own security. Pilate was no fan of theirs, but he was in no mood for an uprising in this volatile moment, recognizing that his own position could be at stake. This is the creation of fear and anger, an unholy alliance of parties acting in their own interest while pretending to serve the interest of others.
We can easily distance ourselves from that Good Friday scene, certain that we stand on the right side, free of compromising alliances; but honesty brings about an uncomfortable sense of familiarity. The church is not immune to fear and anger, a swirl of emotion arising from a shifting culture that seemingly threatens our position of security and privilege. The possibility of what could be lost compels us to seek a protector, one who can wield the kind of power we think we need for this moment. Our fears whisper that there is refuge in the world’s system of power – it can enforce our agenda, our values, and our purposes; those who walk the halls of influence and sit at the tables of authority can protect us and serve our interests. As long as we serve their interests, that is.
The pressing whispers of fear can produce a spiritual amnesia, causing us to forget far too easily the kingdom to which we belong and the nature of the One we follow. Standing before the power of the empire, Jesus simply said, “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jewish leaders. But now my kingdom is from another place.” The purposes of this kingdom cannot, and will not, be accomplished through the broken, corrupted structures of worldly power. The followers of this King do not fight the way that others fight, nor do they seek their own security and position above all. This King and His kingdom are unlike any other.
In a world of conflict and change, the church can feel the tempting pull toward those systems of power that seemingly give us the security we desire and the promised pursuit of our agenda. But the contrasting picture of power presented on Good Friday calls us to something far better. We do not grasp for earthly power to impose our way or to protect ourselves, but we invitingly reveal Jesus to the world through the subversive power of sacrificial love and grace. This is the way of Jesus, whose kingdom is not of this world. This is the way of those who follow Him, living in the firm conviction that the power of Caesar’s sword always pales in the light of cruciform love.