So anyone snag some sweet Black Friday deals? I did keep an eye on what was on sale, and of course the stuff I wanted to get wasn’t. Oh well, there’s still Cyber Monday tomorrow, which I actually prefer because it’s all online. I know that Black Friday isn’t as crazy in Canada as it is in the States, but I usually avoid physically going to the malls anyway on Black Friday, just in case. I just don’t want to deal with the possible madness when I can just shop from the comfort of home… where there is definite madness.
But what is it about Black Friday that made people go crazy? The deals? The thrill of fighting for that last TV? The pressure of just getting their Christmas shopping done?
Many people would just say that the riots and madness at the malls comes from the strong materialistic consumer mentality that we all have. We can’t do without our stuff and lot of it so we amass more and more and more. But I think there is more to it than that. Yes, we do like and want our stuff. We do find joy in things and getting new ones. We do get a rush when we get a deal for 40% or more off regular retail. And there is nothing wrong with those things at all… at least I hope not because that all describes me to a tee. But I think there is a problem when our lives become so engrained in this materialistic consumer society that us getting our things isn’t really about just getting things anymore, but it is about competing with others of who has the most things, or the best things, or got those things at the sweetest deals.
Because doesn’t it seem like the more we look at our society and the world, the more it seems like life has become just one big competition? From birth it seems like we are taught to always be better, to always stand out, to always beat those around us so we can succeed, excel, and… be happy. Again, I’m not saying there is anything wrong with shopping on Black Friday, but some of the crazy things you see among shoppers on that day or maybe on any day stems out of this competition mentality of who can be happier than everyone else.
But has it really made us happier? It seems to me like all this competition, this giant rat race to see who can gain the most stuff, this battle to the top of who will be better, more respected, and more popular hasn’t made us any happier at all but it has made us more paranoid, more suspicious of others, and regarding others as our enemy by default.
And this isn’t just about what kind of stuff we have, but about how we do at work, what kind of grades we get, even our high scores in video games. It seems like every area of our lives have become this competition to the point where we would spend hours in front of a mirror to look a couple years younger, exaggerate on social media about how great our lives are, and do whatever we can to appear stronger, meaner, and more intimidating to the competition.
It sounds like Pilate is doing just that when they brought Jesus before him. This scene takes place soon before Jesus is crucified, so *spoiler alert* guess how this ends up. I really like this back and forth that Jesus and Pilate have, as to me, it really shows Pilate’s competitive nature in trying to put Jesus in his place.
See, Pilate has been put in charge of Judea by their oppressing conquerors, the Romans, just to make sure that this backwater province stays in check. The government doesn’t actually care what they do, as long as they pay their taxes and know who’s really in charge. Not that long before this time, the Judeans revolted and tried to overthrow the Romans and regain control of Judea but they failed… hard. As an example, the Romans crucified some 2000 Jews to remind everyone who really was in power. Still, the Roman government wanted to make sure that these Israelites remained deflated and that all insurrectionists or revolutionaries be put in their place, knowing that they cannot and will not succeed against the Roman Empire. (Putting it that way it almost sounds like the plot of Star Wars)
It was all about power. It was about who is the greatest empire in all the world. It was about who was in control, who was the strongest, who was just winning at life.
So in this scene here Pilate doesn’t really care about Jesus. He’s probably heard of him and some of the things it’s said that he can do, but as long as they keep it on the down low and not raise too many eyebrows around the empire, then he’s good. But when word out there is that this Jesus guy is a king? Well then Pilate better make sure he gets knocked down a notch. And so the back and forth begins… “are you a king?” “What do you think?” “I don’t know… are you?” “If I were, you’d know about it.” “So… you are.” “If you say so.” If Pilate had any hair, I’m sure he’d be pulling it out right about now.
But do you see the competition that Pilate is feeling here? He’s the one in power, he tries to push that power and intimidate Jesus, he’s trying to look strong and macho but at the same time… aloof.
And don’t we do that often? Don’t we feel like we’re in competition too with how much we get paid, how many square footage our homes are, what kinds of grades we get and what schools we get into, or even how many likes we get on our pictures and comments? Don’t we feel like we’re in competition with who is the best looking, who has the nicest clothes, who keeps up with the latest trends and fashions? Don’t we feel like we’re in competition with who can scoop who with current events, pop culture references, and obscure internet memes?
If I can be honest with you, I have started to really feel like that in the past few years. Or, I should say, that I’ve just been noticing in the past few years how much I’ve always been treating life like a competition. I always compared myself with others. I always wanted to have the fastest car, the fanciest watch, the coolest stories to tell. I always wanted to have the most friends, know the most inane facts, have the most stuff. I always wanted to be the smartest, the strongest, the best. Because only then would I feel like I were winning. Otherwise, I’d just be losing.
So that was Pilate’s goal. Show Jesus how Pilate is the winner here. No matter who Jesus claims to be or even believes he can do, he won’t be better or stronger or more powerful than Pilate. Because if you aren’t the winner, you’re the loser. And if you’re losing, you’re not winning. So Pilate had to prove it to Jesus that Jesus was losing.
Man, how childish can you get, am I right?
But it is in all of us to do that, I think. We all have that almost child-like insecurity within us to feel the need to prove ourselves, even if it is to ourselves, so that we don’t feel like losers all the time. This is why we see this rising spike in depression among teens as all they see is how much happier their friends and peers are on social media compared to their own real and up-and-down-filled lives. This is why we see a rise in substance abuse in our society as people are looking for a way to escape from their feelings of constant losing. This is why people go crazy on days like Black Friday, when they want to fill what emptiness they might feel with material possessions.
But in the midst of this competition, Jesus doesn’t give in. He doesn’t feed into the competition mentality. He doesn’t try to one up Pilate in the rally back and forth. Rather, Jesus removes himself from the competition. He keeps saying that Pilate is calling him king, the people call him king, but that they don’t understand what it means that Jesus is King. In our competition-minded language we see king as the ruler, the sovereign, the one with the most power and command, the one who is winning the most. But Jesus debunks those assumptions when he says if he were that kind of king, he would be caught up in this competition. But he isn’t.
Instead, he testifies the truth. He humbles himself. He gives himself up for love.
The truth is that we aren’t in competition with each other, regardless what the world tells us. He humbles himself in that he doesn’t use his divine power to free himself or make himself known to the world through supernatural means. He gives himself up to show us that regardless if we feel like we’re winning or losing, we are loved, cherished, and set free from all that burdens us from enjoying life to the fullest.
See, life isn’t a competition, because we are all already welcomed into God’s gracious kingdom. Life isn’t about winning or losing, as God’s love and favour extends to us all. Life isn’t about being better than the next person as God sees us all as God’s own equally beloved children.
Today is a day that we remember and call Christ the King. But Jesus is not a king of this world, sitting in glorious riches high above everyone else. Jesus is not a king set out to conquer land and amass more wealth for himself and his kingdom. Jesus is not a king that is concerned with the competition between winning and losing, but instead comes to us with the truth of God’s love, rules with God’s grace and mercy, and frees us with the peace that surpasses all understanding.
This is why we call Jesus King. This is why we bear his name as Christians. This is why we gather week after week to worship and praise our loving and gracious God. For we have been freed from the vices of this world, the burden of keeping up with the Joneses, the oppression of constant competition, and are filled with the confidence of God’s welcome, the faith of God’s love, and the hope that God will reign with goodness and truth, now and forever.
As we transition from one church year to another, may we remember the lessons learned in this past year and look forward to the next, that we might look with hope at Christ the King who points constantly to the God of truth. Thanks be to God. Amen.