Lent Course 2008: Christ on Trial

John: Home and Away

See John 18:13-14; 18:19-24; 18:28-40; 19:1-16.

Just as with Matthew, we have to go behind our disgust of the text that generated anti Semitism to the deeper truth of John: "John's theme is that those who consciously identify themselves as the ones who really believe or really know are also those who cannot bear the light that comes from Christ; and those who identify themselves as Abraham's children, ... prove unable to live in the trust Abraham showed. The fundamental issue ... is the challenge to the 'insider'."

John's treatment of the Jewish trial is cursory, amounting to Jesus' response: you should know who I am by now. (incidentally the Jews in John's account are not a crowd but a small number of the priestly caste; the treatment of Pilate verges on ridiculing him for declaring Jesus innocent but handing him over to death.) Pilate asks if he is a king; yes, but not your sort of king; my kingship is in embodying truth. Living in truth means living where Jesus lives. In his kingdom there is no competition for space (a recurring theme), it means being at home everywhere and nowhere.

Christianity, where truth will set us free, is a unique kind of freedom; but what does it mean? Truth is associated with the Spirit, the advocate; living in truth is a consecration. "Truth and death are brought together with alarming closeness: truthful living is the full acceptance of the real and concrete danger of pursuing faithfulness in this world; it is an acceptance of risk and mortality. It is also a letting go of what denies such mortality ...", a theme much on John's mind as contemporary Christians were being persecuted. "There is a more positive dimension, however, in the promise of being able to share Jesus' vision of the Father and his relation to the Father." Desire for the truth will not spare us frustration and even suffering but we always have to question the use of suffering; how much is it a perverse kind of indulgence? A part of the frustration (another recurring theme) is that language has to try to stretch beyond itself.

"the hardest thing in the world is to be where we are." This is why, even in the news broadcasts, we are always trying to get away to something else. "... the torture of trying to push away and overcome what we currently are or have been, the bitter self-contempt of knowing what we lack, the postponement of joy and peace because we cannot love ourselves now - these are not the building blocks of effective change. We constantly try to start from somewhere other than where we are. Truthful living involves being at home with ourselves, not complacently but patiently, recognizing that what we are today ... is sufficiently loved and valued by God ...".

In John's language the world is what is foreign to the truth; the world as a thing in itself is built on fear and defensiveness, hostile to the otherness of god. God loves the world because that is God's nature; Christian unworldliness is a way of affirming the world by denying its distorted account of itself. "To be in the truth of Jesus, to belong to his kingdom, is to be on the road to seeing the world whole, seeing the world with the eyes of God."

All four accounts of the trial charge us with wanting to be somewhere other than where Christ is: for Mark we must stand in the lonely moment of useless witness; for Matthew we must break from religiosity which makes us strangers to God's surprises; for Luke we must find a voice for the excluded; for John we must decide for the world of God not the world which sets itself against God.

Starting Points for Discussion (The Self):

  1. What do we mean by freedom?
  2. How can there be freedom in Christ?
  3. Do we have to choose between god and the world?
  4. How do we balance living for the moment and understanding continuity?
  5. Is there a self without God?
  6. What does John's account of the trail say about us?
  7. Try to reconcile the four imperatives in the last paragraph
Williams, Rowan Christ on Trial (Zondervan, December 2000)