Tuesday, November 20, 2012

John 18:33-37, "Who's On First: The Tale of Two Jesus's"

One of comedy's most well known and well liked sketches is Abbott and Costello's Vaudeville act, "Who's On First." The big joke was that the ball players’ last names were “Who” (first base), “What” (second base), “I Don’t Know” (third base), “Why” (left field), “Tomorrow” (pitcher) “Today” (catcher), etc. Any conversation about “Who was on first?” was a question that involved both identity and physical position. But for the person “in the know,” those who knew “Who” was the name of the first baseman, it was simply the affirmation of a fact. “Who” WAS, in fact, on first base. Sounds a bit confusing and annoying, but that was what was so funny about it. In our passage this week, this last week before advent, Jesus purposes a sort of, "Who's on first" question for his temporary captor, Pontus Pilot.

The issue at hand was simply was Jesus a king? And if he was a king, where was his kingdom? Pilot did not care for ideology, other than Roman, neither did he concern himself with the semantics of Jewish religious language and lore. What Pilot wanted to know and what he wanted to make sure of was that Jesus was not planning some sort of political uprising or violent revolt and so he asked Jesus pointedly, "Are you a king?" Of course Pilot meant are you a political subversive? Here is where Jesus asks a sort of pious question that is similar to the question asked of Adam and Eve in the garden by the serpent, "Is that really what you think?", "Do you really believe I am a king, or did some else tell you that?" Jesus goes on to confirm that yes he is indeed a king, but that there is no worry on Pilots part because it's not a kingdom of this world. Unimpressed with Jesus and rightfully concerned with the Jewish mob forming at his front door, he offers the crowd a sort of peace offering. You see 1st century Jews were to Romans what 21st century Muslims are to Americans. They were perceived as a terrorist threat, an unruly and waring people who where always trying to bring the world around them into submission to the ways of YHWH. They attacked Roman consolents, Roman outposts and Roman Civil Buildings. They where fearless, often subjecting themselves to suicidal missions all for the glory of YHWH, all for the Kingdom of God! Now, it's true, some were this way, but like Muslims of today, not all of them were violent, in fact only small sect of them embraced this kind of faith interpretation, but irregardless Pilot offered them Jesus Bar David or Jesus Bar Abba in an attempt to "settle them down."

What we have here is the tale of two Kingdoms, the tale of two leaders, the tale of two Jesus' ; Jesus Bar Abba, and Jesus Bar David. Bar Abba represents the very thing Pilot feared most, a political leader, filled with religious zeal and piety, one willing to die to see Roman over thrown. Bar Abba was a terrorist, a murder, and a warrior. He wanted to establish a Kingdom of God that had physical borders, that had a political and economic capital as well as a politico-religous center (Jerusalem). Bar Abba was the one the Jews chose to be their king and it was his idea of a political kingdom that they embraced. Jesus Bar David represents a world where the poor are blessed, where the meek rulers, where the mournful are comforted and where the hungry are full. Jesus Bar David's kingdom was not of this world. Not because it was just for some latter time to come, but because the people of this world; like the Romans, like the followers of Jesus Bar Abba, could not understand it. It was a Kingdom that Jesus died for, but never shed any blood for...it was truly not of this world and only his disciples, only his followers did and can understand what that means.

Eric Geiger, Michael Kelley and Philip Nation have just published a book called Transformational Discipleship (2012). They point out how Judas should have been the poster boy for discipleship. Interestingly enough Judas would have sided with Jesus Bar Abba. Judas was called to discipleship from the Zealot movement, which was the Al-Quida of his day and would have himself advocated for the violent overthrowing of Rome and the establishment of the "Worldly kingdom of God". He was waiting for Jesus Bar David to finally see it his way, when we turned him over to Caiaphas. Either way he was a good disciple, he heard every sermon, he counted every coin, he watched every hearing. Yet at the Last Supper, the other disciples, when challenged with Jesus’ warning “One of you will betray me” replied, “Not I, Lord.” But Judas said something different. Have you ever noticed the difference before. I had missed it before this book. The other disciples objected with the words “Not I, Lord (MarYah)” but Judas, only Judas, pushed back with these words: “Not I, Teacher (Rabboni).” There is a world of difference between “Not I, Lord” and “Not I, Teacher.” For Eleven of the Twelve, Jesus had become King. For one, Judas, he had never made that heart transplant from teacher to King. For so many of us we live our lives with Jesus the teacher, only sort of allowing his words to lead our path. What we must do is chose Jesus as King, as LORD and follow him whole heartedly. What Jesus will you follow?

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