Lenten Day 35: Church and State Joined at the Hip.

Today’s Lectio Divina: Luke 23: 1-12 (MsgB)

Then they all took Jesus to Pilate and began to bring up charges against Him. They said, “We found this man undermining our law and order, forbidding taxes to be paid to Caesar, setting Himself up as Messiah-King.” Pilate asked Him, “Is this true that you’re ‘King of the Jews’?” “Those are your words, not Mine,” Jesus replied. Pilate told the high priests and the accompanying crowd, “I find nothing wrong here. He seems harmless enough to me.” But they were vehement. “He’s stirring up unrest among the people with His teaching, disturbing the peace everywhere, starting in Galilee and now all through Judea. He’s a dangerous man, endangering the peace.” When Pilate heard that, he asked, “So, He’s a Galilean?” Realizing that He properly came under Herod’s jurisdiction, he passed the buck to Herod, who just happened to be in Jerusalem for a few days. Herod was delighted when Jesus showed up. He had wanted for a long time to see Him, he’d heard so much about Him. He hoped to see Him do something spectacular. He peppered Him with questions. Jesus didn’t answer—not one word. But the high priests and religion scholars were right there, saying their piece, strident and shrill in their accusations. Mightily offended, Herod turned on Jesus. His soldiers joined in, taunting and jeering. Then they dressed Him up in an elaborate king costume and sent him back to Pilate. That day Herod and Pilate became thick as thieves. Always before they had kept their distance.

In 33 AD, God’s chosen people, the Jews, are living in a very tumultuous time. Life, for the average citizen of Israel, is on the edge.

At the time of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection, the political scene in Jerusalem is a hodge-podge of church and state joined together at the hip. On one hand, we have the Roman government firmly entrenched over the entire region. For several hundred years Rome has been expanding its powerful grip throughout the entire Middle East and beyond. Israel, though a small nation in terms of land, is an important piece of the power puzzle since it lies strategically in the middle between the continents of Europe and Africa.

Caesar, living and ruling comfortably in his governing city of Rome, has assigned handpicked men to govern over the multitude of conquered people of the Empire. The Roman system of government runs much like a ‘good ole boy’ network. If a man is assigned to oversee an area of land, such as Israel, the goal is to maintain order and promote the Roman way of life. Those who successfully handle these ‘outpost’ assignments are generally promoted to higher position back home in Rome.

The problem with Israel, however, is that God’s people are not content to live peacefully under the thumb of Roman rule. The job of the Roman prefect (assigned commander) is a difficult one indeed. Pontius Pilate is the fifth man to serve in this role, and he is under great pressure from Caesar to keep the peace at all costs.

One of the ways the Roman government attempts to keep things quiet in this Roman province of Judaea is to give the Jews something they are familiar with from their past. Since Israel has long had a king ruling over them prior to Roman rule, Caesar places a puppet king in power, assigning a man of his own choosing to serve as Israel’s ‘king’. Herod and his sons serve in this role during the years of Jesus’ life. As Luke’s gospel states clearly, the Roman prefect (Pilate) and King Herod are not on friendly terms. Both have power and authority given to them by Rome, but the real power, as it is in most political systems, is in military prowess. And since Pilate’s role is to command the Roman army in Judaea, that leaves Herod out in the cold much of the time.

The third arm of power, serving beneath Rome (Pilate) and Israel’s assigned king (Herod) belongs to the religious rulers of the Temple. At the time of Jesus’ life, this rabbinical system of government has become a mixed bag of Pharisees, Sadducees, and other assorted leaders who are given some degree of authority over the masses by Pilate and by Herod. While none of them are pleased with this system of church and state, they all know the only way to survive is to play the game of power set up by Rome.

The pawn in this game of politics and religion is the people of Israel. In order to succeed in life, the average person on the street needs to play the system in order to survive. Becoming a Roman citizen is the best way to get a foot up in this dog-eat-dog world. This usually means many compromises of your religious beliefs and certainly will mean a life of catering to the ‘good ole boy’ system of power.

It’s into this arena Jesus steps as His ministry is becoming more and more of a threat to the political and religious systems of the day. The people on the street are looking anxiously for Messiah, a true God-given king who will end the religious and political oppression and bring a new breath of life to God’s people. Many see Jesus as their best hope for a change in their way of life.

Until 33 AD, the Roman rule has very little awareness of Jesus. But now that the religious rulers in Jerusalem are bringing Jesus to Pilate’s attention, the Roman prefect has to respond. A convenient way to look involved but actually ignore the problem is to turn the matter of Jesus over to his archrival, King Herod. As we see in Luke’s passage, this move actually serves to bring Pilate and Herod together in ways they had not experienced before.

Now they both have a religious pawn to use in this power game and both want to play their cards correctly so the political network will work to their advantage.

And Jesus?

He just won’t play the game of church and state. Never did. Never will.

And so it is today. Jesus still is not interested in playing the games of politics and/or religion. Neither interests Him. Neither provides any real hope or peace. Neither can solve our problems. Neither can do what only God can do.

Only the Kingdom rule and reign of God has any importance to Jesus.

And as I see it, that’s not a bad attitude to have in a day where very little has changed.

My prayer: Lord, I see that while times have changed, the game is still pretty much the same. You took the high road above politics and religion, and for that, You were crucified. Holy Spirit, empower me today to take that same high Kingdom road, regardless of the cost to my personal life. For Your name’s sake. Amen.

My questions to ponder: How have I allowed politics and/or religion to seep into my Kingdom discipleship with Jesus? How can I live in this world system yet not be of it? What practical ways can I be involved with the everyday world yet not be caught up in the political and religious games people play?

So, what are you experiencing today as we are journeying through this Lenten Adventure?

Over a 48-day period (from Ash Wednesday through the Monday after Easter), you and I will be taking a deeper look at the stories surrounding the life and ministry of Jesus (especially the last week known as Holy Week) as recorded in the Gospel of Luke. In order to keep all the blog sessions organized, we suggest you bookmark our Our Lenten Journey home page for ease of use. 

If you like what you’re reading, might we suggest you share this page with others!

Click here to go onto the next Lenten session…

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.