Daily Scripture and Prayer May 2021
Safe Harbor Presbyterian Church
This month, even while we continue to bask in resurrection light, we look back at the final hours of Jesus’ life on earth. It can be a sobering reflection. And it should be. There is more here, however, than an annual opportunity to feel guilty in the hope of deepening devotion. Looking at these verses after the resurrection, invites us to move beyond the concrete and literal. It even invites us to look beyond the transactional, and quite literal, reality of Jesus dying for our sins. This month, I invite you to consider these verses in an additional way. Imagine that Jesus’ life and his passion in particular, is not just a recounting of facts intended to engender conformity through either fear or love, but rather a sacrament, an event that releases power that produces transformation in a way that nothing else can. Jesus’ passion both shows us how AND enables us to, make two crucial passages in our own lives that mirror his. His passion shows us how and, empowers us to, die to ego and rise to the True self. And it shows us how, and enables us to, prepare for and move through our own deaths and arise to wholeness. That is what the Bible refers to as salvation. Jesus is not interested in us looking at these verses to trigger guilt. He is interested in our looking at them in order to usher in transcendence. We each must pass through the eye of the needle as Jesus said to the rich man and do the one thing necessary in order to enter into the kingdom. That one thing is to become who we most deeply and truly are, a complete human person, living in joyful and profound relationship with God, just as God does within the Trinity. So, this month, I invite you to change the lens through which you read these verses. This is an addition to and not a replacement for traditional readings. This view does not ask you to abandon or replace previous understandings. It just asks you to expand. So, enter in!
May 1 – John 18:22 – When he had said this, one of the police standing nearby struck Jesus on the face, saying, “Is that how you answer the high priest?” Jesus has been arrested in the garden and taken to the palace of the high priest for a middle of the night trial. Annas, the high priest, questions him about his teaching. They have had a testy exchange during which Jesus refuses to rise to the bait. In this verse, you can almost feel their impotence in Jesus’ presence. That kind of impotence, in service to power, always results in violence and insults as it does here. Slapping a man in the face was one of the gravest insults in Jesus’ day. They still think that force and shame can bring him into line! (Can you identify times when your ego, habits or expectations, lashed out when presented with a new truth that felt like a threat?)
Prayer: Dear God, when we look at Jesus in front of Annas, we cannot help but wonder if we can stand against the wiles of power, either external or internal, with a centered non retaliatory presence like Jesus did. Help us, dear God to stand clear eyed in all the challenges of our lives, and our souls’ journey, so that we may not fail you or ourselves. In Jesus’ holy name we pray. Amen.
May 2 – John 18:23-24 Jesus answered, “If I have spoken wrongly, testify to the wrong. But if I have spoken rightly, why do you strike me?” 24Then Annas sent him
bound to Caiaphas the high priest. The word ‘wrongly’ is one of two words for evil in Greek, kakos. It refers to moral wrong that is not necessarily malicious. ‘Rightly’, kalos, means morally good, lovely, winsomely good and right. ‘Strike’ is the word for to beat. Jesus is asking them to think clearly, to identify what is good and true and what is bad or evil. They are not interested in doing this interior work. They are interested in shoring up their power and keeping their ego structures and habits in place. They want to rid themselves of this pesky rabbi so they can go back to normal. (How do you identify good and evil? Do you ever resist the good because it will cost you something you don’t want to pay? Are there ways that you try to ‘bind’ Jesus and his teaching and send them away?)
Prayer: Dear God, sometimes your model of true life is too hard for us to enter into. We want to rest in what we have built, and so we, too, look away, or worse yet, cast you away, because we don’t want to change. We tell ourselves it is too late or we are too tired but we are really just scared or feeling self-righteous. Help us, Lord, to never to send you away. Give us courage to stand up to your truthful gaze. In Jesus’ holy name we pray. Amen.
May 3 – John 18:25-27 - Now Simon Peter was standing and warming himself. They asked him, “You are not also one of his disciples, are you?” He denied it and said, “I am not.” 26One of the slaves of the high priest, a relative of the man whose ear Peter had cut off, asked, “Did I not see you in the garden with him?” 27Again Peter denied it, and at that moment the cock crowed. The scene shifts back to the courtyard of denial. While Jesus is being bound over for formal trial, his close friend Peter is trying to save his own skin. Peter’s denial is in a Greek form that denotes force. His denial is not timid. It is forceful and certain, always a sure fire disguise for cowardice. Thinking about John as a whole, remember that Jesus frequently uses I AM phrases to introduce insight into his character and divine nature. He is I AM, Being itself. Here, Peter is the I AM NOT, non being. That is where cowardice, compromise and acquiescence to personal protection lead: to not being who we are intended to be. (Can you think of a time when you, or maybe the church, denied the new thing Christ was bringing to you? Can you think of times you turned your back and denied Christ because you were afraid?)
Prayer: Dear God, help us today to rest in your divine Being, in your presence and strength. Help us to soak Love up deeply so that, if difficulty comes, we may have courage to be the ones you created us to be. In Jesus’ holy name we pray. Amen.
May 4 – John 18:28 - Then they took Jesus from Caiaphas to Pilate’s headquarters. It was early in the morning. They themselves did not enter the headquarters, so as to avoid ritual defilement and to be able to eat the Passover. Now the scene changes. The Jewish authorities want Jesus dead but do not have that power. Only Rome can legally execute, so they take Jesus for trial before the Roman governor, Pilate. Pilate is portrayed in many ways in history and tradition. Sometimes he is seen as the personification of the evil, and of empire at its worst. Sometimes he is seen as a
leader who was trying to keep the peace and find a way not to execute a man who he thought was innocent. The ‘they’ in this verse refers to the highest Jewish authorities. Caiaphas is also portrayed in many ways in the tradition. Here he is a frightened leader who is afraid of what Jesus will unleash and so he decides he will do whatever necessary to rid himself of that threat. ‘Did not enter the headquarters’ highlights the teaching that Jews would be made ritually unclean by entering a Gentile house. They don’t want to not be able to celebrate Passover as a result of entering. (Can you identify times when you were afraid and tried to rope someone else into fighting the battle on your behalf?)
Prayer: Dear God, sometimes we get scared and blame the people that scare us too. Sometimes we want someone else to do the dirty work of our fear, and, somehow then, let us off the hook. We know these ancestors very well in our own hearts. Help us today, Lord, to recognize these tendencies in ourselves and then to choose love instead. In Jesus’ holy name we pray. Amen.
May 5 – John 18:29 - So Pilate went out to them and said, “What accusation do you bring against this man?” ‘Went out’ is a high energy verb of motion. Pilate urgently wants to get this under control. ‘What accusation do you bring’ indicates that Pilate is trying to find out who will be held accountable for Jesus’ death. He is a little fuzzy on it and wants concrete charges that will hold up before he goes forward. (Can you think of a time when you have arrogantly assumed you could, or should, fix someone else’s issue for them? Have you ever worn your authority like a suit of clothes for all to see and for you to hide behind?)
Prayer: Dear God, sometimes we, too, want to deal with problems quickly and look for easy ways out, or someone who will carry our water for us. Helps us today to recognize this tendency in our hearts and to choose integrity instead. In Jesus’ holy name we pray. Amen.
May 6 – John 18:30 - They answered, “If this man were not a criminal, we would not have handed him over to you.” The word ‘criminal’ here could be translated wrong doer or evil doer. It indicates religious wrongdoing, like heresy, not civil law breaking. They want the government to enforce their religious understandings. (Can you think of a time when you or others tried to get the government to intervene to enforce a particular religious point of view? What were the consequences? Who was harmed?)
Prayer: Dear God, sometimes today, believers look to the state to enforce their points of view. It is as frightening now as it was in Jesus’ day. Just as our ancestors could not see the big picture that night, help us to humbly acknowledge that we don’t know what we don’t know either. Help us to move with humility and poise through this day, doing only what is ours to do. Nothing less and nothing more. In Jesus’ holy name we pray. Amen.
May 7 – John 18:31-32 - 31Pilate said to them, “Take him yourselves and judge him according to your law.” The Jews replied, “We are not permitted to put anyone to death.” 32(This was to fulfill what Jesus had said when he indicated the kind of death he was to die.) There is a lot of political maneuvering going on here. The Jewish authorities want Pilate to kill Jesus for them. Pilate doesn’t want to get into their internal dispute, especially when the charges are religious and not civil. In addition, he does not want to alienate either side in the dispute. The word ‘judge’ (krino) means to divide, separate, make a distinction, come to a decision or verdict. ‘Death’ (Thanatos) can refer to both physical and spiritual death. (In one way we can think of Pilate’s action as positive. He is trying to put the problem where it actually lies. On the other hand he could just be trying not to be bothered. Do you ever see those tendencies in yourself?)
Prayer: Dear God, sometimes it seems like all our political jockeying for power or someone to blame is going to kill us too. Protect us today, Lord, from all that is death dealing to our bodies, our souls and our community. In Jesus’ holy name we pray. Amen.
May 8 – John 18:33 - 33Then Pilate entered the headquarters again, summoned Jesus, and asked him, “Are you the King of the Jews?” Pilate is trying to find his jurisdiction. If Jesus accepts the title King of the Jews, that would amount to sedition, a capital crime. Then he could feel justified to go forward with the execution. (Can you think of a time when you have tried to manipulate the facts to get what you want or to excuse your actions? Have you ever used your privilege to intimidate someone to get an outcome you think you know how to manage?)
Prayer: Dear God, how easy it is to look for justification to do what we want to do, or what we think is expedient! Help us today to careful examine our motives. Do we look for evidence to back up our desires, dragging justifications in through a knot hole? Where is the line between seeking righteous support and unrighteous cherry picking? Help us today to sit in your presence with these questions and await your light. In Jesus’ holy name we pray. Amen.
May 9 – John 18:34 - 34Jesus answered, “Do you ask this on your own, or did others tell you about me?” Jesus answers Pilate’s question with a question. In that clever move we see that it is not only Jesus who is on trial that night. Pilate is on trial too, along with the whole corrupt system. (Can you think of a time when you thought you were in control of a situation and in an instant the tables turned? How did you react?)
Prayer: Dear God, power is a wily thing. It can feel really good and be used for remarkable good. It can also turn on one in a flash and leave nothing behind but a mirror in which to see a wicked truth. Help us today to think about our power, small though it might be, and how we use it unworthily to our advantage. Give us the courage to rest in your grace as we gaze into the mirror of our hearts. In Jesus’ holy name we pray. Amen.
May 10 – John 18:35 - 35Pilate replied, “I am not a Jew, am I? Your own nation and the chief priests have handed you over to me. What have you done?” Pilate responds with utter disdain to Jesus calling him out. Even so, he seems to still be trying to get to the bottom of what Jesus has done to get his own people to turn on him in this way. (Can you think of a time when you or others have resorted to name calling and demeaning when being called out or put on the defensive?)
Prayer: Dear God, how like us to respond with disdain and put downs when we are seen in an unflattering light by others and called on our behavior! Ouch, how we hate that! Help us to notice that tendency in our hearts today and, once noticed, to choose compassion, empathy and humility instead. In Jesus’ holy name we pray. Amen.
May 11 – John 18:36 - 36Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not from this world. If my kingdom were from this world, my followers would be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Jews. But as it is, my kingdom is not from here.” Now Jesus wades into the deep end! Jesus’ kingdom, as we have learned, is not a physical realm. It is, rather, a state of being, a consciousness that is rooted in, made up of, and lives out of the great unity of Love. It functions on earth but is not limited to it. Living in it always aligns the subject to the values and nature of God. Pilate has no idea about a consciousness like that. He hears ‘kingdom’ and he hears control of a land and its peoples. He is beginning to smell sedition. Still, the mystical element is confusing him. The word ‘from’ refers to the origin of something not the location from which something comes. The word ‘world’ is ‘kosmos’. This word doesn’t refer only to the earth that we know. It refers to the sum total of the material universe that is ordered in space and time. He is saying that his kingdom is not something one can see as limited to a particular place. Jesus uses an interesting word for ‘followers.’ It is not the word for either disciple or servant. This word refers to a subordinate, an officer in an army. I would translate it in this context as ‘troops.’ The word for ‘fighting’ is the word for one who contends to victory in public games and came to mean to fight or to wrestle. So Jesus is using cosmic, military and sports language to try to explain the unexplainable to Pilate. (When you think of the kingdom, what are your first thoughts? When Jesus’ language broadens those thoughts, how do you react?)
Prayer: Dear God, sometimes we can only see you through the lens of our earthly experience and its rules, too. Help us today to expand our hearts and minds. Help us to turn both inward and outward and, in the turning itself, reveal your kingdom to us! In Jesus’ holy name we pray. Amen.
May 12 – John 18:37 - 37Pilate asked him, “So you are a king?” Jesus answered, “You say that 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.” Pilate responds in the emphatic voice. He wants to know if Jesus is claiming to be a king. Jesus does not directly affirm or deny this. Some translators add the word ‘correctly’ after ‘you say’ that I am, interpreting Jesus as affirming his kingship. The word does not appear in the
Greek. I think it is unlikely that Jesus was that direct or Pilate would have stopped the proceedings right there. What Jesus does instead, is give Pilate a summary of his, Jesus’, mission statement. It is to bear witness to the truth. The word ‘truth’ (Alethia)is one we have met before. It refers to the manifested essence of a matter. The heart of a thing. It refers to the essence and winsomeness of what actually is. It has a moral dimension and is sometimes used to refer to complete integrity. (As those who live in Christ, Jesus’ mission becomes our own. Can you think of times when embodying the truth was hard or dangerous for you? Can you think of times when you heard a statement and focused only on how you thought it threatened you in some way?)
Prayer: Dear God, how we long to belong to your truth and hear it clearly in every moment of our lives. Give us the grace today to recognize the essence of your Love all around, and open us to the power you offer so that we will live with integrity in all we do. In Jesus’ holy name we pray. Amen.
May 13 – John 18:38a 38Pilate asked him, “What is truth?” Was this a sincere question? Was Pilate expressing disdain again? Was he indicated that he didn’t think there was any such thing as the deep manifested essence of any matter? We don’t know. What we do know is that he quickly moves from the uncomfortable question back into the realm of political action. (How would you answer Pilate’s question? In what situations do you wonder with Pilate where the real truth lies?)
Prayer: Dear God, Pilate’s question has echoed across the centuries in all of our hearts. What is really true? What is the core principle at the heart of our lives? What is trustworthy? What is the bottom line? What is the truth at the heart of all truths? Are there competing truths? Help us today to sit in your presence and ponder this things in the glowing light of your Love and illuminating Spirit. Help us to face the truth about ourselves and our world, and then to live into the hope of wholeness and your new world. In Jesus’ holy name we pray. Amen.
May 14 – John 18:38b-39 - After he had said this, he went out to the Jews again and told them, “I find no case against him. 39But you have a custom that I release someone for you at the Passover. Do you want me to release for you the King of the Jews?” Jesus has offered Pilate a chance to see his truth. Here we see that he dismisses that opportunity. Rather, he goes about his plodding, arrogant duty, taunting both Jesus and the crowd by calling Jesus King of the Jews. He basically says, “I have no legal case against him, but if you want him to die, it’s on you. It will be your choice.” In Matthew’s Gospel, the interchange is lengthier. It includes Pilate’s wife trying to talk him down and Pilate then ‘washing his hands.’ Here, it is simple. He has decided to settle for a superficial peace in order to hang on to power. It is the easier road and he obviously thinks that Jesus is expendable. This text is streamlined to point out the choice that we all have to make. (Can you think of times when you, or the church or larger community, have settled for a superficial peace instead of standing for what is right? Who suffered for that choice?)
Prayer: Dear God, We too know what it feels like to compromise our integrity in order to take the easier road. We see it in ourselves. We see it in leaders. We even see it in churches. Help us today to take your hand and walk the road of truth with you, firm in our faith and strong in our relationship with you. In Jesus’ holy name we pray. Amen.
May 15 – John 18:40 - 40They shouted in reply, “Not this man, but Barabbas!” Now Barabbas was a bandit. The crowd of leaders and their henchmen have been whipped into a frenzy. Their team spirit is at a boil. They have been told what to think and so they think it. Truth is not a part of the bargain. How familiar this is! The word ‘bandit’ (lestes) refers to an insurrectionist, a political revolutionary, or what we would call a terrorist or freedom fighter, depending on your point of view. It was a word that Jesus used earlier to describe those who threaten his sheep. What a powerful portrait of human life! The crowd prefers lies to truth. They prefer a terrorist with whom they can never be safe, to the living light of Love who comes with his uncomfortable mirrors and calls to integrity. (Can you think of times when you or others preferred lies to truth and acted dangerously on that preference?)
Prayer: Dear God, oh how things never seem to change! Help us today to brave the truth, confident in your light and leading! In Jesus’ holy name we pray. Amen.
May 16 – John 19:1-3- Then Pilate took Jesus and had him flogged. 2And the soldiers wove a crown of thorns and put it on his head, and they dressed him in a purple robe. 3They kept coming up to him, saying, “Hail, King of the Jews!” and striking him on the face. In the synoptics the flogging is a part of the sentence. Here it precedes it. Does Pilate hope this brutality will satisfy them? For John, ever the poet, he sees the mockery of Jesus as his actual investiture as king with robe, scepter and crown. For the Biblical writers and the early community this was a pivotal moment, a teaching moment so sacramental that it changes every other moment. This is what is true. This is what is real: sacrificial service, even humiliation, unto death with human collective blindness on full display. From Jesus, there is no resistance. No violence. No condemnation. The others think the choice is theirs but really Jesus is the one that chooses. He chooses to drink to the bottom of the cup the full anguish of the human condition. (Can you identify hard times that became your crowning glory? Can you think of times when you responded to injustice as Jesus did? Do you often respond in a different way?)
Prayer: Dear God, words fail us when we look at this picture and see what you were willing to experience on our behalf. The beauty is that we now know that there is nothing that is beyond redemption. There is no experience of horror or degradation that you do not hallow with your presence. There is no free fall we can take from which you will not catch us from beneath. Your solidarity is breathtaking. Help us to breathe in a Love this deep and pour it out on your behalf, as you have always done on ours. In Jesus’ holy name we pray. Amen.
May 17 – John 19:4 - 4Pilate went out again and said to them, “Look, I am bringing him out to you to let you know that I find no case against him.” Again Pilate tells them that is up to them what happens to Jesus. He takes no responsibility. The word ‘find’ means to discover by inquiry. (Can you think of times when you were just fed up and wanted to wash your hands of a no win situation? What did you do?)
Prayer: Dear God, maybe Pilate was exhausted by the whole spectacle. Maybe he was exhausted from the soul burden of too much compromised integrity for too long. Maybe he was exhausted from a life of trying to stay one step ahead of opponents. Maybe he hated the Jews too. Maybe he thought Jesus was a weirdo. We don’t know. But we do know how to make poor self-serving choices when we are exasperated, prejudiced, soul weary or scared. Help us today to notice our tendency to do that. Short circuit that habit in us with a wild dose of your grace! In Jesus’ holy name we pray. Amen.
May 18 – John 19:5 - 5So Jesus came out, wearing the crown of thorns and the purple robe. Pilate said to them, “Here is the man!” Jesus comes out still in royal garb. The word ‘wear’ has an interesting history. It comes from the root for ‘to have a burden.’ It came to mean to wear as a constant accompaniment, or to bear a burden. Clearly here, wear in the ordinary sense is meant. However, it is interesting to think of Jesus’ royal garb as both a constant accompaniment and a kind of willingly worn burden. The phrase “Here is the man” has spiritual meaning as well. The term “Ho anthropos, was a term used of the eschatological judge who always saw the truth of human hearts and rendered judgment accordingly in the last days. Did Pilate know this association? We don’t know. (Can you identify a time when you willing wore a burden for someone because you loved them? What are the threads of Jesus’ robe that your life has woven in? Think of the dark threads as well as the golden.)
Dear God, we know that Jesus ‘came out’ from the divine palace wearing the garb of royalty in the world as his constant accompaniment. We know the burden he also bore in being the perfect embodiment of divine love. Help us today to put on garb like his, the garb of serving Love, even if it can feel like a bit of a burden. In Jesus’ holy name we pray. Amen.
May 19 – John 19:6 - 6When the chief priests and the police saw him, they shouted, “Crucify him! Crucify him!” Pilate said to them, “Take him yourselves and crucify him; I find no case against him.” There is swift and violent reaction to seeing Jesus in purple and hearing Pilate’s words. Last straws have broken. The Jewish leadership and their police force are ready for blood. Crucifixion was a brutal, painful, agonizing shameful way to die. Most crosses were close to roadways and low to the ground. The condemned person’s feet were often just inches from the ground. It could take days for someone to drown in his own blood. Sometimes bones were broken to speed up the process. People came to gawk at the dying to add to their shame and torture, often spitting or hitting the dying men. Sometimes the streets were lined with dying men. Some were left on their crosses or stakes for the birds to feast upon. This is what the
authorities of his own people wanted for Jesus. And it is what they got. They could not face truth, in Jesus or in themselves. It was really the False Self, so completely stuck in its lies and fears, that crucified Jesus in the end. (How can you tell if, and who, you are willing to sacrifice in order to not have to change your mind? Can you see examples of this dynamic in your family, church or our politics?)
Prayer: Dear God, we know that we, too, fall in love with partial truths and resist growing in awareness. We, too, prefer the status quo, and what measure of power we have amassed, to change or even transformation. We, too, lash out at those who threaten us. We’ve all thought “I wish he or she were dead” at one time or another. Help us to release that brokenness into the light of your grace so that we may not wound you anew with our blindness. In Jesus’ holy name we pray. Amen.
May 20 – John 19:7 - 7The Jews answered him, “We have a law, and according to that law he ought to die because he has claimed to be the Son of God.” The leaders have decided that he is guilty of blasphemy. You can see where they would get that. Blasphemy is saying something untrue, harmful or demeaning about God. For these radical monotheists, Jesus talk of being the Son of God was claiming a status and equality with God that they could not abide. The penalty for blasphemy under Jewish law was death by stoning. Roman occupation took that prerogative away from them. Although they have already been so agitated and offended by Jesus that they have tried to stone him twice. As governor, Pilate was obligated under Roman law to honor local customs as much as possible. When the leaders tell him Jesus claims to be the Son of God, that was bound to frighten Pilate, too. Only Caesar got that designation in the Roman Empire. (Can you see the tendency to lash out to destroy what threatens you theology in yourself or others?)
Dear God, why do love and service frighten us so? Why do we fear change so? Why do we choose legalism as a means to keep our fears at bay? Help us today to notice those tendencies in ourselves and recommit our lives to peace and contentment rather than fear and blame. In Jesus’ holy name we pray. Amen.
May 21 – John 19:8-9 - 8Now when Pilate heard this, he was more afraid than ever. 9He entered his headquarters again and asked Jesus, “Where are you from?” But Jesus gave him no answer. These two verses in Greek are one long sentence. Every bit of it drips with fear. Fear is now Pilates motivation. ‘Afraid’ (phobeo) means stark terror, fight or flight terror, fear for one’s life terror. Was Pilate afraid he was dealing with some kind of god? Some kind of lunatic? Some kind of revolutionary? We don’t know. All we know is that his tone has changed. Gone is the arrogant disdain. Now Pilate is pure fear. If Jesus had answered him with the truth, that he was from God, Pilate would surely have come unglued! Jesus’ response is not obstinate or only to fulfill prophecy. I think it is pastoral. (Can you think of a time when you were completely terrified? What were the circumstances? Who cared for you?)
Prayer: Dear God, we know what it is like to feel fear and to make decisions we later regret out of our need to run away. Help us today to put on the full armor of Christ so that we do not run from our lives but rather meet what comes with your power as our protection. In Jesus’ holy name we pray. Amen.
May 22 – John 19:10 - 10Pilate therefore said to him, “Do you refuse to speak to me? Do you not know that I have power to release you, and power to crucify you?” There are several words for ‘power’ in Greek. The word here is exousia. It means authority, right, capacity, permission, liberty or power. It means all of that at once. It is probably the loss of that kind of power that is at the root of Pilate’s fear. The tension in this scene is exquisite. Pilate has authority and, in the ways that really matter, he is impotent. (Can you think of a time, maybe as a parent or at work, when you had authority but were also totally impotent to change the course of events? What was that like?)
Prayer: Dear God, power clings to power. This we know. And frightened power is capable of anything. Help us today to ponder the true nature of power. Is it a man with the authority over life and death? Or is it a God/man who has authority over eternal life and exercises that power from a place of love and sacrifice? Help us, as well, to examine our hearts for our own misplaced allegiances and get them straightened up before we use our own power in ways that harm. In Jesus’ holy name we pray. Amen.
May 23 – John 19:11 – (Pentecost) 11Jesus answered him, “You would have no power over me unless it had been given you from above; therefore the one who handed me over to you is guilty of a greater sin.” Jesus uses the word exousia here to try to help Pilate see what his true source of authority is. The word ‘sin’, as used in John, means blindness or lack of insight into the new consciousness that Jesus calls the kingdom, and for which he is the Light. This is an absolution of sorts for Pilate. The word ‘from above’ is a mystical word that means from another realm or time. As always in John, Jesus is in control of his own destiny. (Can you think of times when Jesus power in your life has come into conflict with other human power structures or relationships? What did you do?)
Prayer: Dear God, help us to remember that you alone are our source and authority. Forgive us when we become confused about this. Help us today to notice when we tend to give authority where it is not due. Turn us in right directions. In Jesus holy name we pray. Amen.
May 24 – John 19:12 - 12From then on Pilate tried to release him, but the Jews cried out, “If you release this man, you are no friend of the emperor. Everyone who claims to be a king sets himself against the emperor.” Here the drama takes a dramatic turn. Now it is Pilate himself that the Jewish leadership has placed in the crosshairs. Their accusation, if it reached his superiors, could cost him everything, even his own life. The title ‘friend of the emperor’ was an official title given for loyalty and service. Pilate knows he does not have a legitimate case against Jesus under Roman law. He further
suspects that he is dealing with a person like none he has dealt with before. Notice that the Jewish leadership, in their desperation to be rid of this troublesome rabbi, has decided to co-opt political power to accomplish their religious will. We see this in our day, too. I was and is deadly and deceiving. (Can you think of examples in public life where religious people zealously try to get the government to impose their beliefs on all? What is the danger in this?)
Prayer: Dear God, we all have the capacity to use any means at hand to try to protect ourselves when we feel threatened, just like our powerful ancestors did. When a family member or friend confronts us, we throw insults and turn the tables with threats. We also know how to collapse morally when the threat seems too great, like Pilate did. Help us today to notice both the tendency to threaten and blame, and the tendency to collapse morally when faced with hard choices. Help us to notice, not with shame, but bathed in grace so that we do not resist you as you lead us to reform. In Jesus’ holy name we pray. Amen.
May 25 – John 19:13-14 - 13When Pilate heard these words, he brought Jesus outside and sat on the judge’s bench at a place called The Stone Pavement, or in Hebrew Gabbatha. 14Now it was the day of Preparation for the Passover; and it was about noon. He said to the Jews, “Here is your King!” Pilate has capitulated and now it is time for formal verdict and sentencing. He takes the bench to enter the proceedings into the official court record. Passover, perhaps the greatest feast of Jewish life, celebrates the night that the people were instructed to put blood of a spotless lamb on their doorposts so that they would be spared the coming judgement on the unfaithfulness of the Pharoah. John saw Jesus as the new Passover lamb who would ensure safety and release for all people. Passover is called the Feast of Freedom. It is the feast Jesus celebrates with his disciples on the night of betrayal. Pilate’s words, intended as a taunt, actually tell the truth, a deeper truth than he can comprehend. (Do you ever find yourself on the judgment seat? When does this most often happen?)
Prayer: Dear God, there is so much in these short verses that speaks to our deep souls. We see in Pilate our own self-serving tendencies, often wrapped in the language of duty. And we see in the Passover timing reminders that your will is always to protect and set us free. Turn our shallow misunderstandings into the deepest of truths today, O Lord. In Jesus’ holy name we pray. Amen.
May 26 – John 19:15 - 15They cried out, “Away with him! Away with him! Crucify him!” Pilate asked them, “Shall I crucify your King?” The chief priests answered, “We have no king but the emperor.” This verse is pathos on steroids. In their zeal to be rid of Jesus and the threat to their power and point of view that he represents, they have been totally coopted by the empire. They have even given up their messianic hope. So captured are they by worldly power that they have now decided that their hope rests with Caesar. In so doing, without their even knowing, they have made him their god, always in service to their own deeply held convictions and unconscious prejudices. Right at Passover, they decide that God is no longer their King. If God is going to come
in an unseemly package that holds a mirror in front of their faces, they would rather throw their allegiance to the government. Wow. (Read this verse over a few times. What thoughts or feelings arise in you?)
Prayer: Dear God, we know from your scriptures that human governments have a role and that, when exercised humbly and with integrity, it can indeed be a good and useful role. We see in this verse the deadly danger of confusing our allegiances and deciding that only government can save us, thereby losing sight of where true hope lies. Help us today to notice that tendency in ourselves and return our hearts to you. In Jesus’ holy name we pray. Amen.
May 27 – John 19:16-17 - 16Then he handed him over to them to be crucified. So they took Jesus;17and carrying the cross by himself, he went out to what is called The Place of the Skull, which in Hebrew is called Golgotha. ‘They’ in the second sentence refers to the Roman soldiers. It is out of the Jewish leadership’s hands now. ‘Carrying his own cross’ was very significant to the early community out of which John wrote. They saw this, as do I, as Jesus consenting to his own crucifixion. In so doing, the ancients saw this as Jesus taking upon himself the whole reality of the human condition, pain, disgrace, injustice. They believed, as do I, that his making that choice transformed both him and suffering itself. The cross became a mystical symbol of the transformation accomplished by God’s love alone. They saw crosses everywhere, in birds in flight, in the masts of ships, in stars. They saw Jesus with arms outstretched on the cross as a symbol of God’s embrace of the whole world. The fact that the cross was rooted in the ground said to them that we ourselves are the ground where transformation is planted. The salvation of the cross is rooted and takes up residence in the midst of our souls with all our experiences of joy and sorrow. This is why they saw the cross as Jesus’ glory. (Look around you right now. Where do you see crosses declaring God’s love for you and your personal transformation?)
Prayer: Dear God, we thank you that you chose and choose to take our burdens upon yourself. We thank you that you plant your Love, that is the means of all salvation, deeply in the soil of our hearts and experiences. Give us grace today to see reminders of this grace and transformation everywhere we look. In Jesus’ holy name we pray. Amen.
May 28 – John 19:18 - 18There they crucified him, and with him two others, one on either side, with Jesus between them. In ancient manuscripts the crucifixion is often called ‘the lifting up.’ As he was lifted up upon the cross, love, and the kingdom consciousness that it reveals, were lifted up for all to see. John does not make much of the two who died with Jesus. Luke helps us most with understanding them. In them we see ourselves. They were probably insurrectionists. One remains defiant to the end. The other sees, in the midst of his own dying, the deeper reality Jesus reveals. He asks Jesus to remember and include him in that new reality. One of the significant aspects of this to me is the plea to be remembered. He has, under the worst circumstances possible, experienced a bond with Jesus that he longs to extend even
into the realm to which they are headed. Jesus response, “Truly this day you are with me in Paradise tells the man that they have together already entered into the new realm of glory where they will experience that personal bond forever. John’s nod to this tradition of bonding is the simple phrase, with Jesus between them. (Take a moment to think about your personal and eternal bond with Christ and give thanks.)
Prayer: Dear God, today, like our one ancestor, help us to turn to you in our deepest need. Help us to see beyond our circumstances to your Love that exists within our circumstances and simultaneously takes us beyond them. Remind us if we struggle today that, as we turn to you, we are indeed already in Paradise. In Jesus’ holy name we pray. Amen.
May 29 – John 19:19 - 19Pilate also had an inscription written and put on the cross. It read, “Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews.” Why did Pilate do this? If was customary for a condemned person to have his charges placed on the cross for all to see, thereby furthering his shame. But why this charge? Why not simply say sedition? Some suggest this was Pilate’s way of insulting the Jewish leaders who had manipulated him. We don’t really know. What we do know is that the early Christians saw the crucifixion as Jesus enthronement as cosmic king. They created art and images of Jesus on the cross to remind them of what real power looks like: love poured out even to the death. They saw in the crucifixion a model for their own lives and an image by which to evaluate all human power. Their king took to the cross to rule. (What are the qualities that you associate with power and kingship? Does Jesus’ crucifixion as enthronement add to or take away from the qualities that came to your mind?)
Prayer: Dear God, it is easy to become milk drunk like a baby by the power of the world with all its threats and money. Help us, rather, to turn to the Mother’s milk of the faith instead. Help us to look humbly at where love leads and what it does. Give us courage to follow where you lead today, even if our habits, our egos and our privilege has to die for us to truly live. In Jesus’ holy name we pray. Amen.
May 30 – John 19:20-21 - 20Many of the Jews read this inscription, because the place where Jesus was crucified was near the city; and it was written in Hebrew, in Latin, and in Greek. 21Then the chief priests of the Jews said to Pilate, “Do not write, ‘The King of the Jews,’ but, ‘This man said, I am King of the Jews.’” The fact that the title was written in three languages shows that indeed Jesus is king for the whole world. The affrontery of this was not lost of the Jewish leadership that had wanted his blood so desperately. But they no longer have any power. They have given it all to Rome. (What does it mean to you to think that Jesus is King of the cosmos? How is his rule experienced? How has it been demeaned?)
Prayer: Dear God, we know that your rule and your embrace is for the whole world. Help us to live in such a way that when we make the claims of Love people will not be scandalized but filled with hope and a new vision for the human family. In Jesus’ holy name we pray. Amen.
May 31 – John 19:22 - 22Pilate answered, “What I have written I have written.” These are Pilate’s last words in the scripture. He asserts his control with a final humiliation. Here he says, “This is what Rome thinks of you and your kingdom where religion sells out to political power thinking it is saving itself or furthering its ends. This is where it always ends: in disdain and the blood of the innocent.” (What do you want the last words of your life story to be?)
Prayer: Dear God, all we can do today is sit with this last word from Empire. It tells us a truth hard to hear. Still, give us ears to hear and open hearts to receive the truth so that we may see these tendencies in ourselves and our communities. In seeing, we ask for courage and healing. In Jesus’ holy name we pray. Amen.