The texts for the Last Sunday after Pentecost can be found by following this link: (I invite you to give them a read…)
Welcome back. And, now… this.
(Oh, and if you really have the time, catch this discussion of the New Reformation and a take on the whole concept of kingship from the perspective of the anthropology of kings and sacrifice.
OK, where were we?
Daniel 7:9-10, 13-14
A fascinating journey into Daniel’s ‘night visions.’ Whether you focus on the image of God as the Ancient One – well, the most ancient one since there are other thrones set up in the court – with hair like the most pure wool and dazzling white robes (and lots of fire around the throne, and wheels – what’s up with that?); or, you focus on the one like a human being who is presented to the Ancient One and is given a kingdom that will have no end, this is some vision.
What does it all mean? Context is everything. The book of Daniel is written in the second century B.C.E. While Daniel’s ordeals are set during the Babylonian Exile of the 6th century, the underlying message is that just as God delivered Daniel and his friends from the oppressor Nebuchadnezzar, so God will deliver Israel from the oppression they experience in their current crisis. The visions of chapters 7 – 12 reflect that crisis, which took place in Judea in 167 – 164 B.C.E. when the Greek king of the Seleucid Empire – Antiochus IV Epiphanes - threatened to destroy traditional Jewish worship in Jerusalem. Egypt and Rome also figure into the story at some point. (There’s a lot of crisis) Setting up today’s text is the vision in Chapter 7, where Daniel sees the four beasts rising from the sea, the four great empires that have dictated Israel’s fate: Babylon, Persia, Greece and, finally, Rome.
The Son of Man – better read as ‘human being’ – and, in spite of the evidence on the ground, is God’s final word on history. The kingdom will be re-established in Israel and will not perish from the face of the earth. To be clear – this is not ‘end of the world’ thinking, but end of the age of oppression and the beginning of the new age, what Jesus will describe as the kingdom of God. And, to be clearer, this is not some escape into a blissful realm at the end of the current space-time universe. This is about the restoration of Israel.
Adapted by the emerging Christian movement, the use of the term ‘Son of Man’ to describe Jesus, occurs 81 times in the Gospels and the identification with Daniel is meant to revive a spirit of hope and liberation, and I rather like Brian McLaren’s observation in Everything Must Change: “…son means next generation or new generation, and man means humanity. So, son of man would mean new generation of humanity, or perhaps even new kind of humanity or new stage in the development of humanity. The term would resonate with Paul’s terms Second Adam and new humanity…”
The writer of Revelation – writing around the year 90 – alludes to the Daniel vision in his/her introduction to this work: “Look! He is coming with the clouds; every eye will see him…”
And, as with Daniel, the book of Revelation can be misunderstood as enshrining the ‘end of the world’ way of thinking as opposed to a mindset and heartset that looks forward to the ending of the old age and the coming of the new. (Which is why this Sunday sets us up so well for Advent). The grand climax of the book completes the vision of Daniel as the new Jerusalem comes down – restored, whole, brilliant – to its rightful resting place…on earth. (The kingdom is here…not sure where everyone else is popping off to) And, there is a twist. Our lessons last week spoke to the destruction of two Temples – the one built by Solomon and the new Temple that was modified and made into one of the wonders of world by Herod. The grand finale of Revelation claims that there is no Temple in the new Jerusalem – not one that can be knocked down – for the temple is God, who will dwell with God’s people.
John 18: 33 - 37
Jesus and Pilate meet. Truth and Kingdom.
First the truth. Jesus says to Pilate: “For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth.” Thanks to the lectionary, we do not get the next verse which contains Pilate’s retort: “What is truth?”
N.T. Wright begins to answer that in his book, How God Became King: “The point about truth, and about Jesus and his followers bearing witness to it, is that truth is what happens when humans use words to reflect God’s wise ordering of the world and so shine light into its dark corners, bringing judgment and mercy where it is badly needed. Empires can’t cope with this. They make their own “truth,” creating “facts on the ground” in the depressingly normal way of violence and injustice.” (pp. 144-45)
To my mind, Jesus’ testifying to truth, then, is speaking truth to power. As I have built the case in past weeks – and as Jesus declares in Chapter 8 of John’s gospel - we all have “murder and lies as our father;” we serve a system built on the power of death and destruction. We are all guilty. And, we have failed to reflect God’s image to the world. Jesus brings us a way out – not by believing this or that doctrine – but by embracing a way of living that pushes back against the old father in favor of a paternity born of love and compassion.
Kingdom: This is why Jesus’ says his kingdom is not FROM this world, from capturing the meaning intended by John. How can his kingdom be from the foundation of darkness and death? It has no legitimacy to make him a king (It is all a lie). (Again, we want to avoid the end-of-the-world way of understanding this, or that the kingdom lies in another future time and space, not of this world). And, the contrast between Pilate – representative of the empire of terror and the most efficient violence the world has ever seen – and Jesus – nonviolent, man of peace – could not be more visible in this conversation.
Even Pilate recognizes this - he sees the difference between Jesus and Barabbas, lover and killer – and des what he can to save the former.