Luke 23:1-17 “Auto-Pilate”
When you all watched the movie “The Color Purple,” did you understand the title to the movie? I should mention that it is the same title as the book by Alice Walker. Maybe you read the book instead? In the movie and book, one of the characters “Shug” tells Miss Celie that she believes that God gets angry when people walk through a field with purple flowers and do not notice the color. Then, we all come to think about the fact that there really are not a lot of flowers that are purple. Most flowers are yellow, orange, and red. Here on Kauai we have plenty of Ruella and Bougainvillea that are purple. We even have a purple spider lily in front of the fellowship hall, which is a bit rare–most on the island are white.
I once took a course on African-American literature, and the professor of that course brought up the subject of “The Color Purple” while noting that some black folk are so black that when they are in sunlight their skin reflects back a purple hue. She believed that was a secondary thought to Alice Walker’s book. I was enthralled by that idea. Indeed, I had already seen that myself in a friend and neighbor growing up—his skin was just really beautiful in the sunlight.
In the Bible, the color purple is also very rare. It is mentioned in the old testament as the color of the cloth of the Tabernacle of God. And so, it is usually related back to something that is royal and godly at the same time. As is also noted in Mark and John, Herod puts a purple cloak on Jesus during this time of mocking (Mk 15:17). Luke uses the word “lambran” (in Greek) to describe this cloak, this is a reference to an intricate purple-colored cloak. They dress Jesus up as an earthly king.
I know that they are mocking him–and indeed the word here is “mocking” and not “blaspheming,” as it was last week–but I cannot help but think that this is really the only moment that these people see Jesus in any kind of splendor at all.
I realize that when one becomes a Chrsitian and accepts the faith in Jesus, the old way of looking at the world is lost to our vision. We forget what it is like to see the world through eyes that have no faith. It becomes difficult to even begin to relate to a world without faith. What if their putting this purple robe on Jesus is the only glory they will ever give the Son of God? It is like seeing the purple blossom and not really knowing how wonderful it is!
To be sure, Jesus never claims that he is an earthly king. The accusations that he told people that he was are blatantly false. The accusations that he instructed folks not to pay taxes are also nonsense. The only thing that might be accurate about Jesus’ behavior is that he has been “twisting up” the people’s minds. That is the literal translation of the Greek that is here in our text as “perverted.” The word “perverted” is way too negative and too strong. The idea is that he has been out twisting people’s understanding of things. That should not even be seen as a necessarily bad thing.
People can have “one track minds.” And, that track might be wrong. They may need a little twisting in order to get back onto a godly track again.
Yes, Jesus has said some really twisted things: Look at the Sermon on the Mount: “Blessed are the poor, for theirs is the Kingdom of God. Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth. . . .” Continue reading in Matthew 5, please. Then we have such commands from Jesus that are truly twisted: “Love your enemies. Bless those who seek to do you harm.” “Render unto Caesar.” This really twisted stuff here!
Now, this idea of “twisting up” the people is expressed in a positive light when we think about the idea of “reconciling with God.” This idea is expressed both in Greek and Hebrew as “turning to God.” Isn’t that the real complaint from the Saduccees and Pharisees? Jesus is causing the people to turn back to God. He is twisting them and us away from our simple earthly lives to focus on our spiritual, heavenly lives.
“Lord! Please twist me about!” When I saw those others put a purple cloak on you, I thought that was as far as you would ever go in this world, Jesus! Now I know better! You are the true King of the Universe.
What I find especially ironic is that in the Jewish tradition, twisting is a Godly thing to do. Today is a communion Sunday. But, I want you to pretend that this a Jewish shabbat and that the bread of the host, the “challah,’ is here in front of us right now. Do you know what you would see? That is right, a twisted bread! They take two long loaves and twist them together. They can braid up to twelve loaves together. It is really cool looking.
Again in the orthodox Jewish tradition the men twist up their hair on the side of their heads. They are not braided. The hair is twisted on both sides. This comes from Talmud and is a sign of piety. This was already the case in Jesus’ time of course. So, when the complaint is that Jesus is “twisting up” the people, we are left wondering if that is not a righteous and pious thing to do!
If anyone ever asks you why you go to church, you have my say-so to respond “Hey, church is a really twisted place.” The pastor is twisted. The people are twisted. Jesus has done a great job of twisting us up. It is our job now to go out and twist up the rest of the world for Jesus.
Recently a movie came to Waimea called the Jesus Revolution. So, I am reminded that the word “revolution” means to turn around. To revolt means to turn around and go in a new direction. So, if you do not like the idea of being twisted, then you are welcome to be revolting instead. That is literally what Jesus does. He turns us around and heads us off to be in the glorious Kingdom of Heaven.
Just as an aside, everytime you eat a twisted doughnut or twisted Cheetos, or even pretzels, I want you to think about this time when Jesus was being accused of “twisting up” the people. I want you to see that as a godly thing. Yes, a godly doughnut! Every time you see a lauhala ornament or basket, you notice all the leaves twisted into art, think of God. To twist these leaves is a godly act in Hawaiian tradition! Every time you hear the song by Chubby Checker “Do the Twist,” think about Jesus being accused of twisting up the people. Okay, now you know for sure how old I am!
Now, I want us to focus on just one more little aspect of this story that would have been really interesting to the original audience in Luke’s time, but probably the most of us would not recall. One of the people that Jesus twists up would seem to be Pilate himself. The later Roman historian Tertullian notes that Pilate actually later became a Christian. In fact, he went to Rome to try to convert the Roman Emperor at the time to believe in Jesus. Anybody remember which Emperor that was? Hey, it was Caligula. Yes, the most violent and obscene leader Rome had every known. Pilate himself was martyred. Caligula had him thrown over the palace wall into the Tiber river, where he was never heard from again. That was in 39 AD. Pilate did not last long at all after sending Jesus to his death on the Cross.
The early church to which Luke was writing this Gospel surely remembered what became of Pilate: How he first tried to let Jesus off with a little chastisement, then sent him off to Herod so that he would not have to fulfill the death that the Saduccees wanted, and that he later believed on Jesus and even died for his faith.
Then, we also see that Herod and Pilate had been at odds with one another until that time that Jesus had been before the both of them. The bible tells us that on that day. Pilate and Herod became buddy-buddies. That is a really strange thing to imagine. But, from that day forward, they did have something in common–the destiny of Jesus Christ, the crucifixion of the Son of God.
Actually that makes me wonder if Herod himself had also accepted the Lord in the end. We have no historical record of this at all, just that Herod was disappointed in Jesus because Jesus did not do any miracles for him. Most historians state that he was a mean and awful man, and died a mean and awful man. I think Herod continued to think that Jesus was just out twisting up the crowds.
Still Pilate and Herod have that moment together–like a shared trauma. Herod must have always wondered in the back of his mind somewhere about his role in sending the Son of God to the Cross.
“What if Jesus really is the Son of God?” When I talk to others about my faith, this is one of the things I put out there to non-believers. “Maybe you do not believe today, but what if Jesus really is the Son of God?” Somewhere in the back of the mind a little bell goes off. What if Jesus really was the Son of God?
No, we should not just automatically think of Pilate and Herod as the incarnations of the Devil. They are not all evil. They are just both men put into extremely difficult positions. So, turn of the auto-Pilate and question what would it take for us to get our secular rulers to believe fully in the power and grace of Jesus? How do we twist up their hearts as Jesus did at least to Pilate?
There will always be those who will refuse to believe. However, if Pontius Pilate can eventually believe in Christ, then there is hope for all. Herod must have at least listened to Pilate. AFter all, they became friends that day when they met Jesus.