John 19:14b-16a

He said to the Jews, “Here is your King!” They cried out, “Away with him! Away with him! Crucify him!” Pilate asked them, “Shall I crucify your King?” The chief priests answered, “We have no king but the emperor.” Then he handed him over to them to be crucified.

We have touched before on the matter of John’s literary aim of encouraging his community of Jewish Christians in the face of conflict with their local synagogue, so we need not say too much more at this point except to acknowledge again John’s favor of Pilate over the religious leaders in his depictions.

That is to say that while history shows Pilate to be a merciless, even cruel governor who likely would not have thought twice about executing a rebellious rabbi like Jesus, John takes great pains to demonstrate Pilate’s interest in releasing Jesus in order to put the full weight of responsibility for Jesus’ death on the religious authorities. This culminates with what would have been a blasphemous and, quite frankly, nearly unimaginable declaration from the Jewish religious authorities, “We have no king but the Emperor.”

But rather than asking whether it is likely that the Jewish religious authorities would have made such a statement, we might ask instead how often we say pretty much the same thing. Oh, we don’t claim Caesar as our Emperor and king. But I wonder… I wonder if by our actions, if not our words, how often we say, “Money is our king.” Or, “A robust retirement account is our king.” Or perhaps, “Our children and our wish for them to have every opportunity is our king.”

How often, that is, do we pledge the allegiance of our time, energy, and finances to some perhaps worthy goal that, whether intentionally or not, functions not as one among many priorities as the center of gravity of our being. Martin Luther liked to say that we humans are very good idol makers. He defined a “god,” you see, as whatever it is that we look to for all of our good.

We might say very much the same about emperors and kings. While we may not swear allegiance to any human potentate with our lips, how often do our actions make kings and gods of things that, while perhaps good in and of themselves, can simply not bear the weight of meaning we need and do not deserve our ultimate allegiance?

Prayer: Dear God, call us back to trust you in all things that we may look to you for our every need. In Jesus’ name, Amen.