All of the gospel writers note that Pontius Pilate, the military governor of the Roman province of Judea, posted a placard over Jesus’ head on his cross. This practice was quite normal and usual for a Roman execution. On that placard, called in Latin a titulus, the Romans would write out the crime for which the person was being executed. They saw that as a useful way of educating the population as to what would happen to you if you chose, like the crucified person, to break Roman law.
In the case of the titulus for Jesus, it seems Pilate may have done something a little out of the ordinary. Instead of a criminal charge, Pilate had the title “King of the Jews” inscribed on the placard. That isn’t strictly speaking a criminal charge. It’s a title. And the Jewish authorities pointed that out to the governor. But he didn’t care. He knew exactly what he was doing. Pilate, who was in no way a nice, kind, just, virtuous, or good man, decided to use this titulus as a way of slapping in the face the Jewish population and this “pathetic, peasant-tradesman king” for whom he had nothing but distain.
Visualize the scene, and that interpretation will become obvious. Here is a man stripped absolutely naked, a man who has been beaten almost to death with scraps of flesh hanging from his back, a man wearing a coil of heavy thorns on his head, and over his head is a sign that proclaims that this is the “king of the Jews.” Pointing to this wretched lump of flesh, Pilate is saying with a sneer on his face, “Here! Have a good look. This is what you ‘king’ looks like. Very impressive! This is how Rome and I honor this ‘king.’”
Feeling disturbed, offended by this picture? I am. I put the title “King” over Jesus in my life, but I mean it in a very different way from what Pilate meant by it. I really mean it. I take Jesus as King over every part of my life. You too? . . . And yet. If I look at my life really carefully, I begin to notice that there are a lot of other kings – little kings – all through my life. Little kings whom I set over Jesus. Other little kings whom I honor and obey instead of Jesus. I think I need to do some housecleaning in my life. Or else, I’m not so very different from Pilate. What about you?
Read: John 19:17-22
Listen: “Our King: An Ash Wednesday Sermon”
[This sermon was preached at the McDonald Presbyterian Church (ECO), McDonald, PA on Ash Wednesday 2016 as part of the McDonald Area Ministerial Association’s annual lenten worship series.]
©2016 Gary A. Chorpenning; all rights reserved.