The use of the colors black and white are often used in hard conversation about what the moral or true point is or is not. In better days in humanity there is some semblance of seeking after the highest good and using “black and white” as a measure. But with enough variables in life the next step in conversation may be that not all is black and white (absolute) but some things are grey and there may be a need to find a meeting point. This compromise between two points that are in conflict is presented as “the truth” though birthed out of a socially based dynamic.
While doing this, progressively cheaper compromises can be attained and the overrated peace by compromise becomes the norm until peace from compromise presented as truth fails to stand. But why stop there? In fact, there can be a codified standard from ruling authorities in politics and culture that will go with the path of least resistance unto the spirit of the age and impose a soft tyranny of moral relativism so hard questions about timeless truths that supersede today’s trend are not asked. It is especially the moral demands of Christianity that are always under attack by someone in power standing as the intellectual or other kind of elite. “We are moving toward a dictatorship of relativism which does not recognize anything as for certain and which has as its highest goal one’s own ego and one’s own desires” (Cardinal Josef Ratzinger, Vatican Conclave, 2005).
In the last legal procedure for Jesus before being crucified, authority looks down on Jesus with the State’s upper hand and implies that nothing is absolutely truth or good. Pilate is continuing both his cynicism against absolute truth and an argument for Rome’s authority as an end in itself to be recognized.
The Jews answered him, ‘We have a law, and according to that law he ought to die because he has claimed to be the Son of God. Now when Pilate heard this, he was more afraid than ever. He entered his headquarters again and asked Jesus, ‘Where are you from?’ But Jesus gave him no answer. Pilate therefore said to him, ‘Do you refuse to speak to me? Do you not know that I have power to release you, and power to crucify you?’ Jesus answered him, ‘You would have no power over me unless it had been given you from above; therefore the one who handed me over to you is guilty of a greater sin.’ From then on Pilate tried to release him, but the Jews cried out, ‘If you release this man, you are no friend of the emperor. Everyone who claims to be a king sets himself against the emperor.’ When Pilate heard these words, he brought Jesus outside and sat on the judge’s bench at a place called The Stone Pavement, or in Hebrew Gabbatha (John 19:1-13).
We have a law– – Besides seeing this as how the Old Testament is fulfilled in the New, one can take a step back in how the human condition works and the message: humanity likes norms. This tyranny could be described as the majority. Pilate has majority power in the sense that he belongs to the Roman Empire, but he knows here he is not in his element. His temptation is to fit in no matter what because his job is to keep the peace first and justice second.
But in a strict manner of speaking, Christ shows us that much of what we value as conventional peace is overrated. Thus it is no coincidence that the etymology of justice runs hand in hand with righteousness throughout the Bible and often comes before peace. Jesus calls Christians to seek God’s kingdom and righteousness first (Matthew 6:33) and Jesus says he came not with peace but a sword. Division is supposed to happen at times when the gospel is properly presented. Thus, the greater the conflict between the kingdoms of light and darkness the greater the contrast in mindsets.
Where are you from?– – Pilate knows the answer since he tried to pawn him off to Herod. But this speaks to the striving of those who are in opposition to the cross of Christ to pigeonhole Christians into conventional categories such as class, race, gender and other things. The silence of Jesus can serve to remind us of the gospel being for all people in the Church made up of all people. Christians of today should likewise not take the bait to exalt our fleshly labels above our identity in Christ.
Do you not know that I have power….? – – – The world may mix in seduction and fear. It can imply how reasonable it can be if we compromise. And again we see that the world in its materialistic approach sees itself as the rightful arbiter of what should happen. They do not see beyond whatever philosophy of the day. Jesus now elects to speak after his seemingly intangible silence.
You would have no power over me unless it had been given you from above- – – It cannot be overemphasized that Jesus is the Word become flesh (John 1:14), but Christians should proclaim what we pray in the “Our Father who is in heaven”. We can pray, teach, live and proclaim the gospel in the sense of an activated faith by grace that God the Father directs towards redemption and his redemptive atonement in Christ.