Sermon Text: The Procurator and the Peasant
Some stories need to be told over and over again.
There is an old wisdom story I’ve told you before, but I believe it is more important than ever right now. We are in troubled times. It feels like our country is split in two. In fact, it feels like nations around the world are split in two. There is too much anger, too much fighting, too many hateful words.
The political climate in the United States is the most poisonous I’ve seen in my lifetime. And it is bleeding out into the wider culture. It’s got to stop. Not the political disagreement — that’s part of life. But the bitter, harsh, nasty speech has got to stop.
It’s more important than ever for people of faith to put that faith into practice and spread ripples of kindness and goodness and compassion. So I’ve told you this story before, but it’s more important than ever.
There was an elder, a teacher of wisdom. And the elder told a young person, “There are two dogs inside me. One dog is mean, and the other dog is good. The mean dog fights the good dog all the time.” The young person asked which dog wins. The elder said, “Whichever one I feed the most.”
Which dog are you going to feed? That question is more important than ever.
Today is the Last Sunday after Pentecost, and I have always thought that would be a great name for a rock band, or a tavern. It’s also called “the Feast of Christ the King.” We hear again the story of Jesus before Pilate.
Both Jesus and Pontius Pilate are named in the creed we say every week. They come together in today’s reading from the Gospel of John. And each of them represents a contrasting way, like the two dogs in the story.
Pilate’s way is the way of force and violence. Jesus is the way of suffering and love. Which is going to win? Which one will you feed? In the usual way of looking at things, it’s no contest. Pilate’s way wins every time. Force and violence win in the short term.
You know, we do have a couple of stories about Pilate from outside the New Testament. There was a Jewish historian named Josephus who lived a few years after Jesus. He recorded some of the history of Judea in that time, and left us a couple of stories about Pilate.
One year, Pilate brought his soldiers from Caesarea on the Mediterranean coast into Jerusalem for winter quarters. Instead of flags and colors, the Roman army carried standards with medallions of the emperor. Pilate was aware that the Jews regarded these medallions as idols. These medallions were forbidden under Jewish law. Previous governors had not brought them into Jerusalem, because they were willing to respect Jewish sensitivities.
Not Pilate. He had his soldiers bring them in during the night. So the next day, they were seen in the city. The people of Jerusalem protested. For five days and nights they did something like a sit-down strike.
Pilate sent his troops out among these protesters and then threatened them all with death if they did not disperse. The crowd immediately offered their bared necks to the swords of the soldiers. They were willing to die rather than betray their God. Pilate had to give in rather than start a massacre.
That’s the first story. The second comes a few years later, and shows that Pilate learned a lesson. Pilate grabbed money from the Temple treasury and used it to fund an aqueduct. He knew there would be more protests, but he was ready. This time, he had his soldiers mingle in the crowds dressed as civilians, and without swords. But they had clubs and sticks. On Pilate’s signal, his soldiers in disguise started to beat the crowds savagely...but not kill them. He made the people submit, but without a massacre.
Pilate’s way was that of force and violence. We have seen this way in every period of human history, as much now as at any time. Pilate’s way is not the way of Jesus. So which do we choose? The procurator or the peasant?
In the usual way of looking at things, it’s no contest. Pilate’s way wins every time. Force and violence win in the short term.
But for the long term, my money is on the Jesus way. The first Easter Day was the first hint of what wins in the long term. It turns out that in God’s ultimate plan, suffering and love will defeat force and violence.
Which one will win, Pilate or Jesus? Which dog inside you will you feed, the mean one or the good one? Which way will it be?
Pilate’s way is easier. It’s easier to force enemies than make friends of them. It’s easier to yell at others with whom we disagree rather than listen to them. It’s easier to deploy an army than to die on a cross.
Who’s going to win, Pilate or Jesus? Which way will it be? Which dog inside you will you feed? I can’t answer for you. But I know how I will answer. Kindness, compassion, and love are as important now as ever in history.
Let’s bet on the long-term victory of the Jesus way. Jesus went to the cross, but then came Easter. And that’s our hint and our hope.
Let’s bet on the long-term victory of the Jesus way. In God’s ultimate plan, suffering and love will defeat force and violence.
So I know which dog I will feed.