Thursday, December 16, 2010

Who Do You See? (Part 2 of 3)

In an attempt to answer the questions I posed yesterday, I’d like to begin by telling you a story from the Scriptures. It’s imperative that you understand the story so that you can answer the larger question posed in the blog title. Only after you’ve been able to answer this larger question, will you be in a position to answer all the others.

The gospel of Luke chapter 23 opens with the narrative of Jesus being arraigned before Pontius Pilate, the Roman Prefect or Procurator of the region of Judaea (Today he’d be called Governor). While I don’t want to lose you in the tedium of detail, it’s important that I explain this role for the benefit of backdrop. Rome was the ruling civilization on the earth during this time of AD 26 – 36 while Pilate served as Procurator. He was Caesar’s representative from Rome to the region. The amalgamation of Samaria, Judaea, and Idumea formed a small, far-flung outpost of Rome that provided very little by way of taxes, to support the largesse of the Roman lifestyle. Nobody worth their political salt really wanted to serve in Judaea, and it was clearly recognized as a stepping stone to a more significant posting… but only if you served effectively and maintained the Pax Romana (Roman Peace)!

Pilate had done fairly well for himself up to this point in time, and the region provided very little distraction other than the typical uprising of false prophets and seditious elements seeking to overthrow Rome’s oppressive government, but even these were easily quelled by the Temple Guards and often didn’t require the involvement of the Roman Army. Let’s pick up the story straight from the NCV Bible:

1 Then the whole group stood up and led Jesus to Pilate. 2 They began to accuse Jesus, saying, "We caught this man telling things that mislead our people. He says that we should not pay taxes to Caesar, and he calls himself the Christ, a king." 3 Pilate asked Jesus, "Are you the king of the Jews?" Jesus answered, "Those are your words." 4 Pilate said to the leading priests and the people, "I find nothing against this man." 5 They were insisting, saying, "But Jesus makes trouble with the people, teaching all around Judea. He began in Galilee, and now he is here." 6 Pilate heard this and asked if Jesus was from Galilee. 7 Since Jesus was under Herod's authority, Pilate sent Jesus to Herod, who was in Jerusalem at that time…. 13 Pilate called the people together with the leading priests and the Jewish leaders. 14 He said to them, "You brought this man to me, saying he makes trouble among the people. But I have questioned him before you all, and I have not found him guilty of what you say. 15 Also, Herod found nothing wrong with him; he sent him back to us. Look, he has done nothing for which he should die. 16 So, after I punish him, I will let him go free." 17 18 But the people shouted together, "Take this man away! Let Barabbas go free!" 19 (Barabbas was a man who was in prison for his part in a riot in the city and for murder.) 20 Pilate wanted to let Jesus go free and told this to the crowd. 21 But they shouted again, "Crucify him! Crucify him!" 22 A third time Pilate said to them, "Why? What wrong has he done? I can find no reason to kill him. So I will have him punished and set him free." 23 But they continued to shout, demanding that Jesus be crucified. Their yelling became so loud that 24 Pilate decided to give them what they wanted. 25 He set free the man who was in jail for rioting and murder, and he handed Jesus over to them to do with him as they wished.

When you read the above narrative, what catches your eye? If you had to answer the question, “When Pilate saw Jesus, whom did he see?” how would you answer it? Don’t worry if you’re not up on your Bible knowledge, I’m going to answer the question for you.

When Pilate saw Jesus, he saw a potential impediment to his political progress. Up until now, there had been relative peace in the region and the locals had handled all of their own religious and political disputes. Now they were demanding that Pilate take action against Jesus, whom, they “suggested” was out to destabilize the Pax Romana by telling people not to pay taxes to Caesar. They had “conveniently” forgotten that, in times past, this same Jesus had removed a coin from a fish’s belly and given it to Peter to go and pay taxes for both of them. They’d “conveniently” forgotten that He’d told them to render unto Caesar what belonged to Caesar and to God what belonged to God. But they had a plan. They knew that if Jesus was convicted of inciting a rebellion against Rome, then Pilate would be forced to respond and who knows what kind of uprising might result, potentially leading to a conclusion by Caesar that Pilate was not fit to hold any political office talk less of a promotion.

When Pilate saw Jesus, he saw a thorn in his side, potentially stirring up an unwanted distraction in the form of a religious and cultural rebellion. Because he didn’t want to get involved in the politics and religion of the region, he had allowed the people to largely govern themselves as long as it didn’t infringe on his ability to collect taxes and maintain the peace.

When Pilate saw Jesus, he saw a decision that he didn’t want to have to make if he could avoid it. As soon as he found out that Jesus actually hailed from Galilee, he carted Him off to Herod Antipas for judgment. Herod, a Jew, was the Tetrarch of Galilee (a largely figure-head political ruler over the region) and essentially saw himself as the true governor of the people as opposed to Pilate.

Having interviewed Him extensively, Pilate sent Jesus to Herod. Let’s pick up the story in verse 8:

8 When Herod saw Jesus, he was very glad, because he had heard about Jesus and had wanted to meet him for a long time. He was hoping to see Jesus work a miracle. 9 Herod asked Jesus many questions, but Jesus said nothing. 10 The leading priests and teachers of the law were standing there, strongly accusing Jesus. 11 After Herod and his soldiers had made fun of Jesus, they dressed him in a kingly robe and sent him back to Pilate. 12 In the past, Pilate and Herod had always been enemies, but on that day they became friends.

So, here’s the next question: When Herod saw Jesus, whom did he see?

When Herod saw Jesus, he saw a temporary distraction from the emptiness of his maudlin life. Herod was a figure-head ruler. The High Priest was the de-facto religious and political ruler of the people. In addition, Pilate had usurped all of Herod’s authority since he was officially Rome’s and Caesar’s representative to the region. There was very little left for Herod Antipas to do and his life needed some form of entertaining distraction. Pilate’s inclusion of him in Jesus’ judgment gave Herod a sense of worth.

When Herod saw Jesus, he saw an entertainer. He’d heard of the many miracles Jesus had performed, and his desire to meet Jesus did not stem from any altruistic motive, but purely from the perspective of whatever “entertainment” value He could bring. Herod “was hoping to see Jesus work a miracle.” Herod viewed Jesus in much the same way our generation views David Blaine or Chris Angel… as a performer or magician.

When Herod saw Jesus, he saw an opportunity to display his misguided and misinformed sense of strength and power (he ridiculed and mocked Jesus, then dressed him up as a pseudo king), which in actual fact was really weakness. Oskar Schindler, in Schindler’s List, pointed out that, “Real power is having the ability to punish someone yet choosing to forgive them.” Remarkably reminiscent of how God continually chooses to deal with His creation.

Tomorrow we’ll answer the question, “When God saw Jesus, whom did He see?” Following that, we’ll ask and answer the question that will tie this entire series of posts together and hopefully answer all of the questions posed in part 1.