When we read or hear the gospels, it’s easy to picture the scenes in our head—like a motion picture. This Sunday’s readings lend themselves to that exercise, as dramatic as they are. In John’s gospel, for example, we have a tense courtroom confrontation between a prosecutor and the accused. The prosecutor is Pontius Pilate and the accused is Jesus Christ. In the movies, the most interesting courtroom dramas are when the accused turns the tables on the accuser. If you’re familiar with the movie, “A Few Good Men,” the most famous scene is when Jack Nicholson, playing a Marine Colonel whose men are accused of killing a fellow Marine, is being badgered to tell the truth about his role in the event. “I want the truth,” Lawyer Tom Cruise shouts.
“YOU CAN’T HANDLE THE TRUTH,” Jack retorts.
He then proceeds with a riveting justification for issuing the illegal Code Red on that victim. As guilty as this colonel is, his eloquence almost gets you to join his side. The only problem is, this guy is SELF righteous. In this Sunday’s gospel reading, Jesus has both the truth and God’s righteousness on his side—not to mention a kingdom to save.
“Then you are a king?” Pilate pounces.
“You say I am a king. For this I was born and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.”
His evidence is well documented, and our chief witness this Sunday, from our first reading, is the prophet Daniel:
“When he reached the Ancient One and was presented before him, the one like a Son of man received dominion, glory, and kingship,” the prophet states. “All peoples, nations, and languages serve him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that shall not be taken away, his kingship shall not be destroyed.”
Our second reading is a revelation from the Book of Revelations, exposing the scope of Christ’s Kingdom:
“To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood, who has made us into a kingdom, priests for his God and Father, to him be glory and power forever and ever. Amen. Behold, he is coming amid the clouds, and every eye will see him, even those who pierced him. All the peoples of the earth will lament him.”
This takes us back to that courtroom scene between Jesus and the one who would cause him to be pierced. If I were directing this scene for Hollywood, Jesus would have a Jack Nicholson moment when Pilate asks him where his kingdom is. He would point right between Pilate’s eyes and say “It will be THERE soon, and you will be a witness!”
But for truth and dramatic impact, no one can beat John, the author of this particular gospel who, in the next chapter quotes Jesus as if he were piercing Pilate right between the eyes with this rejoinder to Pilate’s self-important “Do you not know that I have power to release you and I have power to crucify you?”
“You would have no power over me if it had not been given to you from above,” Jesus responds. “For this reason the one who handed me over to you has the greater sin.”
Pilate couldn’t overrule that truth and if it weren’t for the ending demanded by the Book of Revelation, this scene might have had a different outcome—with Jesus released. As it turns out, though, we will all play a part in Christ’s ultimate revelation when he calls us to the witness stand to account for how we’ve stewarded his Kingdom. Pray for the power to handle the truth.