Justice and Compassion on Trial John 18.33, 36-38 Rev Dr Robert Griffin Karl Barth, a 20th century Swiss theologian, once said: “We must hold the Bible in one hand and the newspaper in the other.” Barth made the Bible/newspaper connection frequently throughout his career. In an interview from 1966, he stated: “The Pastor and the […]
Justice and Compassion on Trial
John 18.33, 36-38
Rev Dr Robert Griffin
Karl Barth, a 20th century Swiss theologian, once said: “We must hold the Bible in one hand and the newspaper in the other.”
Barth made the Bible/newspaper connection frequently throughout his career. In an interview from 1966, he stated: “The Pastor and the Faithful should not deceive themselves into thinking that they are a religious society, which has to do with certain themes; they live in the world. We still need – according to my old formulation – the Bible and the Newspaper.” Barth, in a Time magazine article published 1963, advised: “take your Bible and take your newspaper, and read both. But interpret newspapers from your Bible.’”
So, let’s interpret this morning’s gospel reading from the standpoint of Justice and Compassion on Trial. Let’s begin by setting the stage. In the church calendar, and some in religious traditions, today is recognized as Reign of Christ Sunday.
But today, in scripture we hear Jesus declaring, while on trial, that his Realm, his non-kingdom, or kin-dom is not of this world. In the context of Jesus in front of Pilate and the Roman Empire, it is huge for Jesus to admit that he represents a way of being in the world that is very different than the way the world is ruled by Rome. But critiquing Rome is not a way to keep Rome from executing you.
So, let’s hear the reading of the trial transcript again:
Pilate: ‘Are you the King of the Jewish people?’
Jesus: ‘My domain is not from this world. If my realm were from this world, my followers would be fighting to keep me from being handed over…But as it is, my realm is not from here.’
Pilate: ‘So you are a king?’
Jesus’ ‘You say that I am a king. I’m just here to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to what I have to say.’
Pilate: ‘What is truth?’ ‘I find no case against him.’”
What is truth? That is the question that Pilate placed on the courtroom floor and it’s a question we still wrestle with today. I believe, as you read the story, Pilate was attempting to get to the truth. At another point in John’s gospel, Jesus says “I am truth…” showing us that it is possible to live with honesty and integrity that we actually identify as truth itself. By living our truth, by affirming our sacred value and knowing ourselves to be loved unconditionally by God, we actually manifest the truth of God’s all-inclusive love.
Now, there are some interactions that are not that clear in today’s version of the story but in between Pilate questioning Jesus, Pilate is running out to address the crowd that has assembled outside the court room. And in between questioning Jesus and addressing the crowd outside, Pilate is also listening to those who are responsible for putting Jesus before him.
So, the first thing Pilate does is to ascertain if Jesus poses a security risk to him or the Roman Empire. In other words, what Pilate was doing was attempting to deescalate the situation by asking the right questions:
If you are a king, then what land are you the king over when Rome controls everything?
If you are a king, then is your army waiting outside my gates ready to storm the city?
If you are such a great person of influence that has caused this much concern, then is anyone in my ranks loyal to you instead of to me and the Empire?
Pilate was about getting answers to his questions rather than jumping to conclusions, relying on bad Intel or even just listening to those few religious leaders who called themselves representing the entire religious population.
And let’s not forget the gathered assembly that was willing to do and say anything that they felt would bring them favor, privilege, and less hardship from Rome.
This story quickly gets us to the point that Justice and Compassion are on Trial.
Jesus, who stands before Pilate represents Justice because:
- up until this point, he had been focused on including those who had been excluded.
- up until this point, he had been focused on challenging the status quo.
- up until his point, he had been focused on challenging the powerful.
- up until this point, he had been focused on advocating for the oppressed.
Jesus, who stands before Pilate also represents Compassion because:
- he touched and healed those he met along way.
- he fed those who were not only physically hungry but also spiritually hungry for good news
- he touched those who were not clean to touch.
- he taught his followers to forgive those who would do them harm.
- he told the story of reaching out to a neighbor in need in the parable of the good Samaritan.
So as Jesus stands before Pilate, wrapped in Justice and Compassion; we must understand that not just Jesus is on trial, but a whole movement is on trial.
- Jesus, who had given sight to the blind;
- Jesus who had brought hope to the hopeless;
- Jesus who brought liberation to those who had been oppressed – this resistance to empire is actually on trial.
And what stands to tear it all apart, as so often has been the case, is a small group of extremists that do not represent the whole.
Samuel Proctor, a minister and civil rights activist wrote before he died, “The Recovery of Human Compassion” and in it he says that the title Recovery of Human Compassion implies that we once knew what compassion is, but we’re now seeing one of the worst contradictions in our nation’s history, a nation that boasts of having a society that rests upon the Judeo-Christian values while making loud noises in the name of Christ to deny compassion and justice to the hurting and oppressed of the world.
Proctor reminds us that compassion means to “suffer with.” But instead of standing with the suffering, suffering with them, doing all we can do to ease their burden, we often want to protect our comfort, our safety, and our privilege at all costs. We care more about our own comfort than we do about the suffering of others. We wish to protect ourselves from suffering rather than suffering with other children of God. If we are to be followers of Jesus, our Way Shower, we must recover the power of compassion.
From our gospel reading trial to the wisdom of Proctor, we are reminded that as we stand on the right side of Justice and Compassion we are following the example of Jesus and bringing healing light to a hurting world. As Christ followers, we are compelled to learn about and care about the suffering of others, even if to do so threatens our comfort or our privilege.
Until we know what it is like be in a boat for days without food and water, trying to make it to a land of promise, let us be mindful of those who do.
Until we know what it is like to be on the other side of a wall that separate countries from opportunity and families, let us be mindful of those who do.
Until we know what means as a veteran to serve and sacrifice so that other may enjoy freedom, let us be mindful of those who do.
Karl Barth, who I opened my sermon with today, died in 1968 and I am certain that if he were alive today he would advise people everywhere to take the Bible in your hand and take your iphone, ipad, iwatch, idevice in the other; and by the way, it is worth noting that the creator of those devices, Steve Jobs, was the son of a Syrian refugee. Thankful for the genius of a son of a refugee, let’s take our iphones and ipads, etc., connect to the New York Times, the Sun Sentinel, NPR, and other reputable news sources and our bibles (which can also be accessed on those idevices) and learn about the suffering of the world and then apply the compassion of Christ to that suffering. Let us, as Jesus did, suffer WITH the hurting world; how else could we relieve their pain?
That doesn’t sound like the thinking of many politicians, but Jesus’ Realm isn’t like the kingdoms and republics of the world. That’s what Reign of Christ Sunday reminds us.
What do we do in light of our gospel reading today, in a world that is filled by so much injustice, consumerism, militarism, racism, sexism, transphobia, homophobia, Islamaphobia, ableism, etc.?
Compassion and Justice are put on trial in the gospel today. Aren’t they still on trial in many ways and in many places? Isn’t human dignity on trial every time we judge, condemn, fear, or hate entire groups of people because of their skin color, gender identity, sexual orientation, nationality, or the way they worship?
Our task today is to make our world a better place for all and we cannot do that if we stay trapped in fear of the other. If there is any hope for us to be the beloved community that reflects the teaching of Jesus, then we must stand with and suffer with those who are hurting.
- We must stand with those who were hurt in Beirut, in Paris, in Mali.
- We must stand with those who don’t have enough to eat right here in Broward County.
- We must stand with the Transgender community that has experienced a record number of reported murders this year.
- We must stand with refugees who are fleeing their homes to find safety, instead of blaming them for the actions of the people they are running from.
- We must stand and live our faith out loud and proud as we, Sunshine Cathedral, continue to honor those who voted Sunshine Cathedral the Best Spiritual Center in Broward County. To be the best, or even to be just a little like Jesus, we must care for those who are hurting, and stand with them, and speak for them, and be the advocates of Justice and Compassion that continue to be on trial.
Finally, to make my point about the Reign of Christ, about being the Community of Christ, let me just end with these words attributed to Jesus’ most famous sermon:
Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.
Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kin-dom of heaven.
Let us live, and testify on trial to our act of Justice and Compassion until we hear, the charges have been dropped and case is dismissed, but until then:
Let us keep the faith and ride on!
Let us keep the faith and work on! Amen.
God is all compassion. I am compassionate.
God’s love is all-inclusive. I will work for justice for all people.
I am blessed. And I will be a blessing to others.