When Push Comes to Shove…

John 19:1-16a

1 Then Pilate took Jesus and had him flogged. 2 And the soldiers wove a crown of thorns and put it on his head, and they dressed him in a purple robe. 3 They kept coming up to him, saying, “Hail, King of the Jews!” and striking him on the face. 4 Pilate 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.” 5 So Jesus came out, wearing the crown of thorns and the purple robe. Pilate said to them, “Here is the man!” 6 When 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.” 7 The 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.” 8 Now when Pilate heard this, he was more afraid than ever. 9 He entered his headquarters again and asked Jesus, “Where are you from?” But Jesus gave him no answer. 10 Pilate 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?” 11 Jesus 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.” 12 From 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.” 13 When 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. 14 Now it was the day of Preparation for the Passover; and it was about noon. He said to the Jews, “Here is your King!” 15 They 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.” 16 Then he handed him over to them to be crucified.


Wylie Greer was one of 3 students to walk out of his school in Greenbrier Arkansas last Wednesday to peacefully protest gun violence. Wylie, a senior, said,

Walking out of class at ten on Monday morning was not an easy thing. Many students were vocally insulting and degrading to the idea of the walk-out and anyone who would participate. At 10:00, I walked out of my classroom to a few gaped mouths and more than a few scowls. I exited the building, sat on the bench, and was alone for a few seconds. I was more than a little concerned that I would be the only one to walk out. I was joined by two others eventually, two of the smartest students at the school. We sat outside the front of the building and were approached first by the principal, who asked us “if he could help us” and “if we understood that there would be consequences.” After we answered affirmatively, he went back inside. A few minutes passed and the dean-of-students approached us. He asked “what we were doing,” we told him that we were protesting gun violence. He told us to go inside. We refused.

After the 17 minutes had passed, we re-entered the building and went to our classes. Over the next two hours, all three of us were called individually to talk with the dean-of-students. He offered us two choices of punishment, both of which had to be approved by our parents. We would either suffer two ‘swats’ from a paddle or two days of in-school suspension. All three of us chose the paddling, with the support of our parents.

I received my punishment during 6th period. The dean-of-students carried it out while the assistant principal witnessed. The punishment was not dealt with malice or cruelty, in fact, I have the utmost respect for all the adults involved. They were merely doing their job as the school board and school policy dictated. The ‘swats’ were not painful or injuring. It was nothing more than a temporary sting on my thighs. The dean-of-students did stress however that not all punishments like this ended this way.

I believe that corporal punishment has no place in schools, even if it wasn’t painful to me. The idea that violence should be used against someone who was protesting violence as a means to discipline them is appalling. I hope that this is changed, in Greenbrier, and across the country.[1]

We’re on our 3rd Sunday of Jesus’ trial. And today the rubber meets the road. Jesus has been beaten and dressed up by the soldiers as a play king, complete with a crown of thorns. They are mocking him, hitting him. And Pilate maintains that he can’t see why Jesus should be crucified.

But then a couple of things happen in the midst of this chaotic “trial” that pushes Pilate past his breaking point.  Whatever convictions Pilate had, he laid them down today. He was just doing his job.

6 When 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.” 7 The 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.” 8 Now when Pilate heard this, he was more afraid than ever. 9 He entered his headquarters again and asked Jesus, “Where are you from?”

He was more afraid than ever. Perhaps it occurred to him that the man in custody, being beaten and mocked, was actually God?  “Where are you from?” he asks Jesus. I mean, who wants to be known for being the one to crucify God?

He reminds Jesus that he has the power to save his life. And Jesus reminds Pilate that they are talking about different kinds of power and authority and truth.

And then, as if to illustrate this conversation, Pilate responds out of fear. Fear for his job. Fear of the people rioting against Rome. After all, the religious leaders shouted out their loyalty to the king – “we have no king but the emperor.” Well then, if the religious leaders were bowing to the government, why shouldn’t Pilate, an employee of the government? Appointed by Caesar himself.

When push comes to shove, Pilate shoves. Pilate hits back. He caves under pressure. He caves when he can see the consequences of his actions – of saving the life of Jesus – will hurt him.

Everyone who meets Jesus in the gospel of John also meets their own truth. Their encounter with Jesus always exposes who they are.

Today, we see Pilate’s encounter with Jesus expose his love of power and popularity. His encounter with Jesus exposes his fear. Pilate chooses to reject Jesus.

When Jesus meets the man born blind? It is revealed quickly that the blind man has faith and is willing to speak up, speak out, claim Jesus as the Messiah. All the other folks are exposed as fearful. They reject who Jesus is, what Jesus does.

When Jesus meets the woman at the well? Her life as a person on the fringes is exposed and she responds in faith and trust and is thrust back into her community as a witness, as a person people are now listening to. She responds in faith.

When Jesus meets Nicodemus, this religious leader is exposed for his lack of faith.

If you think Good Friday is about a hill far away and a nostalgic old rugged cross, think again.  Good Friday is about the powers of the world. It’s not about an angry, vengeful God killing Jesus. It’s about us killing him because we’re afraid, we’re exposed for who we are and who we are not. We resort to violence without a 2nd thought. We reject Jesus.

Jesus is crucified because the kingdom he speaks about and teaches about at every turn is always about radical hospitality that includes everyone, that is a kingdom of peace and not violence, gun or otherwise. It is a kingdom built on the foundation of sacrificial love.

We all sit with Jesus on that judgment bench Pilate sits him on today. We join Wylie Greer on the bench outside his school. Our encounter with Jesus exposes us, judges us.

We are guilty of putting our needs before the needs of others. We are guilty of letting fear run amuck in our lives. We are guilty of listening to the chaos around us and putting our heads down, afraid of our own reputations being hurt, afraid of the consequences, afraid of losing something.  Afraid of the world God loves.

And yet. We are not left on the judgment bench. Ironically, Jesus is led from the bench and to the cross so that we are not left twisting in the wind, sitting alone on the bench. Even though we, like Pilate, shrug our shoulders and walk away, Jesus does not give up on us.

[1] https://www.thedailybeast.com/teens-face-corporal-punishment-in-rural-arkansas-for-participating-in-student-walkout?ref=scroll