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The triumph of the defeated

At the dawn of the eve of the Passover, the Jews took Jesus and accused him of being a criminal.

The question formulated from the very first interrogation that the prosecutor puts to Jesus is the most delicate, “Are you the King of the Jews?”

The Jews had a gut hatred towards the foreign rule of the Romans, who had been ruling over Israel for years. There were unsuccessful attempts to overthrow them.

The dialogue on kingship
that elapsed between Jesus and Pilate is placed in this historical context.

“Are you the king of the Jews?” aims to point out the charge and reveals the perplexity of Pilate who finds himself in front of a man, unarmed, with no soldiers to defend him, abandoned by his own friends and slapped by a servant Annas.

He does not seem the kind that can endanger the power of Rome.

 Jesus responds with a counter question, to force the prosecutor to take responsibility, “Does this word come from you, or did you hear it from others?” That is, do you have any reason to call me seditious, or are you paying attention to gossips? 

Was not my reaction to the attempt of a disciple who drew his sword not referred to you (John 18:10-11)?

 Pilate’s reply is almost resentful: “Am I a Jew?” That is: I am a Roman official and I administer justice in an autonomous way.

He continues: “Your own nation and the chief priests have handed you over to me; what have you done?” (v.35).

It is at this point that the theme of the kingship of Christ comes alive.

Jesus tries to help the procurator to understand: “My kingship does not come from this world” (v.36).

 Pilate knows only the kingdoms of this world. He has in mind the well-defined characteristics of the kingdoms of this world.

They are carried out by men moved by ambition. They base themselves on the use of force and money, are defended by force of arms.

 That of Jesus has nothing in common with these realms. For Jesus force and money are signs of weakness and defeat. For him, great is he who serves.

 Pilate does not understand what Jesus is talking about. He only manages to make him a generic question: “So you are a king?” (v.37). 

Jesus has always reacted harshly to those who had tried to make him adhere to a royalty of this world. 

However, now that he is defeated, his hours counted and  no longer with any possibility of misunderstanding, before the  pagan world, he solemnly proclaims: “Yes, I am king.”

At the end of the trial and punishment, on the scaffold, Pilate put an inscription in three languages: Hebrew, Latin and Greek, to be read and understood by all: “Jesus the Nazorean, the King of the Jews” (John 19:19).

Without realising it, the representative of the most powerful kingdom of this world officially recognised the kingship of Jesus. 

When the chief priests protested and asked him to have it rectified, he said that the statement was irreversible: “What I have written, I have written” (John 19:22). He, the depositary of the authority of the emperor, could not change it.

The victory of the vanquished had begun with their king lifted up on the cross. No kingdom of this world was now more able to halt the advance.

This was the big surprise of God.

Father Fernando Armellini CMF