Bible Readings: John 19:1-16a
Free Resources: Surprising Straws (Kids 3rd-6th)
Lenten Theme 1 (March 11 – March 25): God’s Kingdom Revealed
This week’s reading comes right on the tail of last week’s. At the end of John 18, Pilate offers to release Jesus using a custom related to Passover. The “Jews” (i.e. the chief priests and their flunkies) demand the other prisoner instead. In their zeal and hatred against Jesus, they probably didn’t care who the other choice was, he was not-Jesus, and that’s what mattered. But, even in this hostile climate, the situation is upside down, not as it appears. Jesus appears to have no power and Pilate and the religious leaders appear to have all of it. But, John portrays Jesus as the one in control.
One of my favorite images of the kingdom of God is that of an upside-down kingdom. To me, this describes God’s kingdom as basically the opposite of how the darker portions of our society function. In one segment of society, the rich exercise power, and they often use this power to stay rich and powerful no matter the human cost. In another portion of our society, the primary goal is survival, getting by. At their darkest, both segments see other people as resources to be exploited.
However, God’s kingdom, a reality where God’s ways of love are the fabric of society, is completely upside-down from that. The honored are the servants, those who seek the welfare of others over themselves. Other people are individuals made in the image of God and recipients of God’s love. God’s peace and justice are the way of the kingdom.
I see love and altruism in society in addition to the darker side. We honor those who serve others and who try to make the world a better place, like the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. We see communities coming together after tragedy or disaster, neighbors helping neighbors, or even those they don’t know. This is the leading edge of God’s kingdom, proof to me of the image of God in humanity, no matter how fractured it might be. As disciples of Jesus, God calls us to be agents of the kingdom, spreading the transforming power of God’s love into this world.
Coming back to John 19, we see the upside-down world clashing with the upside-down kingdom. The true Messiah and King, by his very existence, threatens those in power who crave only self-preservation and maintaining that power. Both the chief priests and Pilate want to stay in office and stay alive. So, Jesus stands condemned.
Pilate, seeing that Jesus is innocent of the charge of treason, tries to appease the Jewish leaders by having Jesus beaten and publicly humiliated as a harmless fool. But, to the leaders, this is not enough. The true king must be labeled false and the innocent guilty. The Word who is life is sentenced to death. But, of course, we know the end of this story. Love is more powerful than hate, life more powerful than death. God’s kingdom prevails over the kingdom of this world.
The reality of things is not always what we can see. Our free resource this week demonstrates this with a simple science experiment. “Surprising Straws” comes from our Living the Word: Kids (3rd-6th) curriculum as a supplementary activity and can be adapted to many different settings and many different age groups.
-Gregory Rawn (Publisher)
2018-2019 (NL Year 1) faith formation materials are now available for purchase! Fall lessons can be downloaded right away!
For more great ideas on how to engage participants of all ages in the story of God’s love, check out our Living the Word series for elementary students, youth, adults, and intergenerational settings!
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