Ya Gotta Serve Somebody


John 18:28-40 – March 11, 2017     Lent 4

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. 29 So Pilate went out to them and said, “What accusation do you bring against this man?” 30 They answered, “If this man were not a criminal, we would not have handed him over to you.” 31 Pilate 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.) 33 Then Pilate entered the headquarters again, summoned Jesus, and asked him, “Are you the King of the Jews?” 34 Jesus answered, “Do you ask this on your own, or did others tell you about me?” 35 Pilate 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?” 36 Jesus 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.” 37 Pilate 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.” 38 Pilate asked him, “What is truth?” After he had said this, he went out to the Jews again and told them, “I find no case against him. 39 But 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?” 40 They shouted in reply, “Not this man, but Barabbas!” Now Barabbas was a bandit.


I got in a Bob Dylan kind of mood this past week when I was temporarily snowed in at home. One of my favorite Dylan tunes is ‘You Ain’t Going Nowhere’ which then got me down a youtube rabbit hole and I found myself listening to “Gotta Serve Somebody.”  The chorus is:

But you’re gonna have to serve somebody, yes indeed

You’re gonna have to serve somebody,

It may be the devil or it may be the Lord

But you’re gonna have to serve somebody.

The verses of the song don’t leave anybody out – from ambassadors and heavyweight champions to state troopers and construction workers, the blind and lame, the rock stars, the preachers: you’re gonna have to serve somebody.

Pilate is caught in this song too and is in a dance with who he will serve. He’s dancing with the religious authorities who want Jesus killed but can’t do it themselves so are looking to Rome to do it for them. Will he serve the religious authorities? And he’s dancing with his own power as a 2-term governor of Judea, appointed by the emperor of Rome. Pilate is in charge of the military, the finances, the court system. And he is known for being ruthless and barbaric. Will he serve the government? Who will he serve? Where do his loyalties lie?

This dance with power has brought him to Jerusalem because all the Jewish folks are streaming into the city to celebrate a previous overthrow of power – Passover. They are remembering their ancient story, their truth, of God helping Moses to lead the people out of slavery, overthrow Pharoah, and lead them into freedom. So Pilate is in town to keep the peace and to, you know, be visible to the people as a reminder of who holds the power in their lives. He wants to remind them—you gotta serve somebody.

Meanwhile Jesus has got everyone freaked out. The Jewish people are in town to celebrate what God had done for them. Yet God is doing a new thing through the person of Jesus Christ. By feeding people. By healing people. By befriending enemies. By turning our notions of power upside down. It is a truth the world doesn’t recognize. And so Jesus is arrested for how God is revealing truth – the truest of the true – to the world.

So it’s perfectly ironic that Pilate asks Jesus, “what is truth?” He just can’t see that it isn’t about what is truth, it’s about who is truth. And the way, the truth, and the life is standing right in front of him.

It is a truth the world does not recognize.

The truth as the faithful Jewish people see it? God freed us long ago. Let us give praise and glory to God, let us celebrate what God did at the Passover. And let’s be ever mindful of the power of the state, the power of Rome as we do it.

The truth as the Jewish religious leaders see it? Power is demonstrated through keeping God right where they know God to be –in the depths of the temple, accessible through ritual sacrifice. Accessible through their rules. The system to God was firmly in place and Jesus was a threat to that, that was their truth.

The truth as Pilate sees it? Power is control: financial, military, and judicial. And, Pilate knows how important religion is to the functioning of society. Why else would he be in town? Why else would he be negotiating with the religious leaders? And we get a glimmer that Pilate can see the truth – that perhaps he thinks Jesus isn’t guilty of anything worth killing him over.

The truth as Jesus sees it? 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.

It’s as if Jesus is saying, “If we were playing by your rules, we’d be at war. My followers would be armed to the teeth, ready to defend my life and teaching. It would look familiar to you. But that’s not how my kingdom works. That’s not my truth. I’m not that kind of king.”

Jesus came into the world to testify to the truth – that the hungry are fed, the sick are healed, the ones ostracized are included, that peace comes through love, not violence. That a giving of ones life for the sake of another is not done through war but ultimate love.

The ultimate truth through Jesus Christ? Life. Not death.

And Pilate gets caught in the middle. Unsure of who he was gonna serve – life or death. It had Pilate talking out of both sides of his mouth. And it has us wondering how to live in this world as Christians, doesn’t it?

Who are you gonna serve? Cuz we’re all serving somebody in our daily lives, aren’t we?

Who are we supposed to be, what are we supposed to do in the face of consistent and persistent gun violence in the United States? Who do our actions serve? Who does our silence serve? It’s hard to know what to do, isn’t it? We can empathize with Pilate, can’t we, at his hemming and hawing, the weighing of the options.

The truth is, Jesus serves us — and by doing so relinquishes ultimate power as we know it. There is no full-throated defense of himself. There is no taking up arms to kill the religious leaders or the government officials.  And this truth is love — and Jesus demonstrates it for you and for me. For our enemies, for strangers, for our dear friends.

Want to see what truth looks like? What the ultimate power of God looks like?

It looks like Christ crucified.

It looks like laying down your weapons.

It looks like leading with love and not violence.

It’s the hardest thing to do.

It’s the truth of Jesus.

Who do you serve? It is like Bob Dylan says…

But you’re gonna have to serve somebody, yes indeed

You’re gonna have to serve somebody,

It may be the devil or it may be the Lord

But you’re gonna have to serve somebody.

Jesus shows us. It ain’t easy. But things that aren’t of this world never are. But we don’t serve by ourselves… for Jesus  ain’t going nowhere.