Friday, April 22, 2011

Who is this King?

Even when he was sitting astride the donkey, Jesus knew what the others did not- where the road would go after the parade. From excitement in the air, and people craning to see, asking,"Who is this?" To the same question asked over and over again, by the Jewish leaders, by Pilate, by soldiers, in the events of that week in Jerusalem.

Who is this "King of the Jews" anyway?

As the final drama begins to unfold, Matthew’s story inverts the notion of who this King is and how we treat him, leading to the cross on the outskirts of town.
After the betrayal has occurred, and the trial is over. After the onlookers and disciples are gone. We find ourselves, if we dare to stop here, in the moments after the sentencing and before the crucifixion. The Passion of our Lord.

“Passion” in this sense is “the condition of being acted upon”- of letting others do to you; and also the “endurance of suffering.” Any of these speak to what Jesus knew would and must come, even as He regally sat astride the donkey. And as he now stands seemingly at the mercy of the soldiers. This is a King? Hardly a figure of power!

Maybe the soldiers acted on orders, or maybe they got carried away. After all, what's a little excessive force when national security is involved? “They say this guy is the ‘King of the Jews’ – that militant on the list.”Everyone stands poised to play their roles as the players take the stage.

“Then the soldiers of the governor took Jesus into the governor’s headquarters”- the curtain comes up on Jesus truly living out this “passion.” He apparently says nothing, and if he cries out it hasn't been recorded in what happens at the governor’s headquarters, located just beyond the temple wall, in the shadow of the Holy of holies.

From his birth, called the King of the Jews, by those who hope that he is not. His mere existence threatens the prescribed power struture. “You want to be a King? We have a way of dealing with Kings here.” And we need to because it's the Passover, and we need to keep an eye on this would-be king. Who does he think he is?

Can we imagine watching the spectacle unfold? This deadly dance exposed in the courtyard, not tucked away in some dark dungeon. Publicly, in the shadow of the sacred and holy spaces of the Temple. Mere feet away, yet we want to turn a blind eye and erect a wall of silence.

“They gathered all of the cohort over him.” Not a few men like we might imagine, but an entire military unit of as many as 600 men there to quell any potential uprising. As many as 600 men--- and one of Jesus. Can we picture that? Will we dare?

Tom Wright suggests many of the men may have seen buddies killed by these rebels. Tired of being away from home, and longer than they thought. Maybe a few begin, at first, but the number swells as people want to see what will happen with this potentially dangerous militant.

Once the energy emerges, group frenzy takes over. They're not just around Jesus, but over him, both physically and psychologically. The just-flogged Jesus perhaps crumpled and lying in a heap, dragged from one place to another...maybe on his knees before them.. powerless.

But, they say he is “dangerous.”
The next thing you know, they are “Stripping him.” This perverse and demented drama includes a costume change. Did they immediately put that cloak on him, or was it a part of the sport of it all and the humiliation of nakedness?

The king deserving a royal robe, ironically forced to wear a military robe in a battle where he's been drafted into service.

The king, forced to endure the taunts and jeers he knew there would be.
“Where’s your power now, King?”

“After twisting some thorns into a crown they put it on his head.” Anguishing mental cruelty carried out in a slow, protracted hell that seems to have no end in sight.

“And they placed a reed in his right hand.” Not a stick, or a sword, or even an object of substance. A flimsy, breakable reed, which will be bent to inflict the ultimate insult in Jesus’ day- slapping his face. What a great way to settle scores by those resentful of the hordes of the occupied who have shown disdain for the soldiers.

Well, who's in charge now?

"Kneeling before him they mocked him”, the one to whom kings once traveled, who was worshipped with gold, now reviled and ridiculed in this reversal of how it all began so long ago. Gifts of honor twisted by sick humor as soldiers pay a warped homage to their victim.
How long did it take to get the reed, and the crown of thorns?
How long as one by one each added his own tribute to the king?
“Hail! King of the Jews” A juvenile and cruel take on the honor shown to Caesar. Maybe they even forced him to process and receive their accolades.

This mockery, repeated mass mockery that one writer has suggested,offers us a commentary about words as instrument of torture. Maybe they threatened and taunted Jesus, about his appearance, his people, his religion, his family. Threats, lies. Warfare designed to make a man break, to finish the destruction of his soul.

Not one person, or one comment, but a swarm of angry, bullying men, each taking turns in this pageantry of destruction.
Hail!“Long live the King"- the one we are about to kill.

How long does it go on? Does Jesus begin praying for sweet death to just come?

They begin “ spitting upon him.” Once baptized and anointed, now passed from one person to another each inflicting pain, until he begins to be unrecognizable.

But now this drama is closing – the gifts are taken back-“They took the reed and struck his head."
“And when they have finished, they strip him of the cloak.
This performance will soon be done.

“They put his own clothes back on him.” He is led away to die.

Who is this King of the Jews? Rejected by those who insist “he is not our king!”
Refused by those who claim- “you cannot be king!”

Who can we see as the curtain falls in this sad and sordid drama?
So horrific yet we did not intervene. Watching the group, knowing it's wrong, but captivated anyway.

Have you ever seen someone being mistreated but decided it was none of your business, and turned away?
Walking away quickly, head averted?

We'd like to believe this kind of wicked brutality was limited to this story.
But whose face is it we see in the bullied, the misunderstood, the tortured, and the ridiculed in our world?
Who is this King of the Jews?
Do we see him today?

While those in charge will conveniently have no recollection of the events, will we remember?

"Who was the guilty? Who brought this upon Thee?
Alas, my treason, Jesus, hath undone Thee.
’Twas I, Lord, Jesus, I it was denied Thee!
I crucified Thee."

Thanks be to God it's not the final chapter

But, still we ask- Who is this King?

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