A clash of powers and views of power

I don’t know if this occurs to you at times,
but every now and then I get into a conversation with someone
where we are clearly not seeing eye to eye on something
and yet the conversation or the argument isn’t really making sense.
It is as if we are in the same conversation but in different worlds.

You may well have heard my efforts when that is going on
to try and work out why the other person and I are on different places
I sometimes use the phrase – “let’s go up a step”

In John’s gospel, in the trial of Jesus before Pilate
Pilate goes “up a step” when he and Jesus are arguing in different worlds.
Jesus says that Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice
Pilate responds “What is truth”

In Jesus Christ Superstar it is unpacked a little more
“But what is truth? Is truth unchanging laws?
We both have truths – are mine the same as yours?”

Ultimately there is a clash of 2 different worlds that goes on here
And which causes the events of the first part of Easter.

Borg and Crossan – whose reflections we are working with this Lent –
talk about an “axis” to help understand this a bit more

They talk about the way that people with power of some form or another
seek to exercise their power,
And they put it on the scale from non-violent to violent.

Obviously “violence’ doesn’t always mean physical.
In fact one of the more challenging things to do at times
is to reflect on the ways that we use the power that we have in relation to others
and to consider the ‘violence’ that can come out in a range of different ways.

The other thing that Borg and Crossan do is they think about forms of justice
and the way that people see that justice is brought about.
For these purposes, they talk about the scale between “distributive” and “retributive”

Distributive Justice is about how things can be made more fair
by seeing how different resources are distributed
As an example, we have in some forms,
a “distributive” justice system with our taxation.

We say that things are made more “fair”, more “just”
when people who have greater resources are taxed at a higher rate
and greater support is given for those with less resources.

Retributive Justice says in brief summary
that when things go wrong, you find the person who has caused the wrong
and you punish them for it.
It’s not – when done properly – the same as revenge
but it does have a deliberate sense of punishment as a cure
“let the punishment fit the crime” is a phrase

When Borg and Crossan do their reading of the gospels
and try to work out where Jesus fit into this way of thinking,
where do you think they put him?   Non-violent, distributive.
It is a very Jewish way of thinking.   It is not unique to Jesus.

And when Borg and Crossan do their reading of the gospels and of ancient texts
and try to work out where Pilate as the local leader of the Roman Empire fit.
where do you think they put him?     Violent, retributive.

Power and justice

What we have is a clash of cultures, a butting of heads.
A total mismatch.
When Jesus talks with Pilate he is talking as if from another planet.
When Pilate sees the actions of Jesus, it feels as if he is looking at an alien.
But the trouble for Pilate, the trouble for Rome, the trouble for Empire
is that talking and acting from another planet isn’t just a humorous clash of culture

Crossan says
What’s at issue here is not rule as place — this little region — but rule as style
The proper translation of ‘kingdom of God, would be ‘the ruling style of God

And there is the problem.

Pilate knew that when Jesus said ‘the kingdom of God,’ he was talking against Rome
Hitler knew that when Bonhoeffer talked of the kingdom of God, he talked against Nazism
The El Salvadoran junta knew that when Romero talked of obeying the way of God
       he talked against the military Govt of the day

So – the political explanation of Holy Week?
There was a clash over world views and power uses.
And by the end of the Friday, Rome wins

We’ll get to the theological views later.

But before we do, as our last week of Lent
we get to stop and prepare ourselves for Easter
and not just leave it as some abstract political system question.

For this week –
Do you recognize the power you have?
Where is it?   In relation to whom?
How do you use it?   Violently or non-violently?

What are the marks of the justice that you seek?
How will the world around you be different if you had your way?
Would you be seeking to be distributive? Or retributive?

May God’s grace be with us all

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