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December 2, 2000
Column #1005

A DIALOGUE ON THE SUBJECT OF POWER

     Last Sunday was the Feast of Christ the King, the last Sunday of the liturgical year, we were told by Rev. Billy Shand, Rector of St. Francis Episcopal Church, Potomac, Md..

     ''It is supremely ironic to me that the Church should be celebrating this day at this same time our nation is in a time of weary anxiety, even as we hope for a fair, honest and just resolution. The irony lies in the fact that when it is all said and done, we are still talking about something that is only a four year term. Against the measure of the eternal kingship of Christ, what is that?'' he asked.

     Months earlier, the pastor had selected John 18:33-37 to read, when he could not have imagined the situation that the nation now finds itself. Nor could he have imagined a more appropriate Gospel for us to hear, ''a dialogue between two men on the subject of power.''

     ''Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor, was one who understood power, who dispensed power, and who lived by power. He was the embodiment of the greatest power of his day, the might of imperial Rome. He held the power of life and death, and encounters Jesus who represents no power at all,'' said Rev. Shand.

     The ancient words of the Gospel do have a new relevance in the midst of America's struggle for power.

     ''Pilate then went back inside the palace, summoned Jesus and asked him, ''Are you the king of the Jews?'' It is a question that appears in all four Gospels.

     Pilate asks, ''What is it that you have done?''

     Jesus replied enigmatically, ''My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jews. But now my kingdom is from another place.''

     ''You are a king, then!'' said Pilate.

     Jesus answered, ''You are right in saying I am a king. In fact, for this reason I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.''

     ''What is truth?'' Pilate asked.

     ''Does not Pilate not speak for many of us?''Rev. Shand asked. ''Week after week, we gather in this church in search of truth, truth to give meaning in a world where so much seems up for grabs. The sad theme of the intellectual classes these days would have us believe that there are no great truths.''

     The quandary of this election is not unique. There were disputed elections for President in 1800, 1824 and 1876, and the Republic survived. Yet in the quiet recesses of our minds, some of us feel ''our society may have lost something'' in the sad struggle over this bitterly close election.

     ''What are we to do? Think again of Pilate. Power was his stock in trade, and yet when he confronted Jesus, his power did nothing to lead him into truth. Have you ever stopped to think that of all the noble Romans, the name of Pontius Pilate is the only one you say week after week'' in the Apostle's Creed. Why?

     At one level, it roots the events of our Lord's crucifixion in a particular historical moment, when Pilate was in power. A fundamental Christian belief is that God acts in human history.

     A more subtle and important reason to remember Pilate, Shand said, is that ''In a world which believes it can act on power alone, in the midst of struggles for power and longing for truth, there stands before us the figure of the Eternal Word, the one who is Lord of hosts and King of kings. Pilate met him face to face, but washed his hands when he left him, and went away wondering, ''What is truth?''

     ''Pilate stands as a lesson from history's pages of what we must not do or become.

     ''Rather the path of the Christian is to look to Jesus and to his eternal truth to help mold our ways of thinking, to help us see things in a perspective that extends beyond just four or eight years. We do not have to repeat Pilate's mistake, to look Truth in the eye and yet go away empty.

     ''We live in the sure and certain hope that God is working his purpose out, even in the midst of the confusion that prevails in our own time. I am asking for trust - faith - that this is so.''

     For weeks I been transfixed by the struggle for the White House, squandering hours on cable TV watching every development and commentary. The nation is bitterly divided.

     Yet the truth that really matters can be found on neither side, but above.

Copyright 2000 Michael J. McManus. 

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