The passion week scene of Jesus and Pilate has provoked many thoughts for me as I prepare for this year's Easter season. I mentioned in a previous post that we ought to identify with the readers of this story and listen closely as they would have to John's telling of this story, and in particular the scenes of Pilate and Jesus (in John 18-19). This scene was an answer to them, as it still remains an answer for us, this is how things change–this is God's way to change the world, destroy powers, and save humanity (our friends, family, and neighbors, even our enemies).
Looking to Ephesians for a moment: I am persuaded that the Gospel of John was written by John in the Ephesus area and its first audience was the gathered-churches throughout western Asia Minor (similar as Paul's Letters to Ephesians and Colossians). So, I start with Ephesians. Most take Paul’s Ephesians letter as an issue-less document (e.g., no real problem in the church) and crafted in such a way to address the church universal rather than the church local. Nonsense. Absolute nonsense. The Letter was written to the local churches—ye, household gathered-churches—throughout western Asia Minor . . . and given Ephesian's highly liturgical and hierophany-like nature, its temple-ish and sacred space framing . . . I take the issue to be: the gospel had so penetrated into the Gentile world that former pagan-temple worshippers entering into church fellowship needed to learn a new temple-life as church, something wholly different that there temple life in Roman, pagan culture and society. In this case, a gathered church that looked and felt more like a living room filled with unequal strangers, wives and husbands, children and slaves, and extended family . . . than a theater-like building with mostly equals sitting in pews . . .
What would this scene, Jesus before Pilate, mean to the young church of mostly former (and some, for sure, still) temple-worshipping Gentiles and a number of Greek-speaking diaspora Jews living in western Asia Minor?
We must acknowledge and grasp that there is no New Testament analogy for what we do on a Sunday morning. We’ve exchanged someone’s dining or upper room in the greater Ephesus or perhaps Laodicean region for a theater-like building that Caesar (now) sanctions. We have exchanged a meal, a diepnon or supper, with the broken break shared at the beginning of the meal to signify all those gathered at table were in Christ, a family, made one because of Jesus’ broken body on that criminal’s cross (cf. Eph 2:11-22) and where a cup would be raised after the meal (cf. Luke 22:20) to honor, not Caesar or a household deity, but the resurrected treasonous-traitor, Jesus, the real and only King of kings and Lord of lords, the One standing before Pilate–all exchanged for tokens and symbols rather than a gathered-church of unequals and strangers, poor and wealthy, beggars and doctors, the discarded and the elite, the temple prostitute and the patron, slaves and masters, orphans and male child-heirs, girls and children of slaves, women and men . . . this was the way to destroy the gods of the Greco-Roman empire and to topple a Caesar.
There was only one king in that judgment hall. The one wearing a crown of thorns, bloodied by a criminal's beating, fist marks on his cheeks, in a mock purple robe. You see, we hear the passion-week inquisition where Jesus stood before Pilate with strange ears to the story . . . but . . . hear again we must . . . again, differently . . . we must cry out, 'We have no king but Jesus!' and abandon all our idolatries and allegiances to the kings and powers of this world. As it was for those early gathered-churches in western Asia Minor, so still for us: this is how God destroys the powers and changes everything.
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Chip M. Anderson, advocate for biblical social action; pastor of an urban church plant in the Hill neighborhood of New Haven, CT; husband, father, author, former Greek & NT professor; and, 19 years involved with social action.