During Lent, ESN writer and InterVarsity graduate/faculty staff member Jamie Noyd shares her reflections. She invites us to meditate with her on six of the stations of the cross on which Christians have reflected over the centuries. See the post for the first Sunday of Lent here and the Second Sunday of Lent here. You can explore Jamie’s other work for ESN, on the book of Ruth and the idea of pilgrimage, here.
Mark 15:1-5, 15 (RSV)
Very early in the morning the leading priests, the elders, and the teachers of religious law—the entire high council—met to discuss their next step. They bound Jesus, led him away, and took him to Pilate, the Roman governor. Pilate asked Jesus, “Are you the king of the Jews?” Jesus replied, “You have said it.” Then the leading priests kept accusing him of many crimes, and Pilate asked him, “Aren’t you going to answer them? What about all these charges they are bringing against you?” But Jesus said nothing, much to Pilate’s surprise.
. . .
So to pacify the crowd, Pilate released Barabbas to them. He ordered Jesus flogged with a lead-tipped whip, then turned him over to the Roman soldiers to be crucified.
Friends, religious authorities, and now politicians are part of the community that abandons Jesus. Along the path we are now out of the garden and in front of the Roman governor’s residence, a structure whose architecture conveys great power and wealth. Watching from the outside, we wonder if we should even be here.
Within the majesty of these surroundings, Pilate listens to Jesus’ testimony along with that of his accusers. Though the religious leaders have much to say, Jesus’ words are sparse. Surprised by Christ’s non-defensive responses and silence, Pilate recognizes something different in this man. Nevertheless he decides to play it safe and remain within the tenuous power structures that he knows. He gives in to the crowd and orders execution.
At this station two earthly powers tangle—the religious establishment in the form of the leading priests and elders, and the governing state, in this instance the colonizing Roman empire. They wield their power to show control. Yet, in the midst of this tension Jesus holds his power loosely. He is the Creator of the universe and the One who gives authority to the nations. At any moment he could demolish either group, but he chooses not to. He doesn’t allow either of these earthly powers to derail the workings of God.
Returning to the 21st century, let’s take a moment to consider our own relationship to systems of power. For those of us in the academy, government wields influence in the form of legislation, research grants, and financial aid. Industry holds power as a growing source of funding and jobs.
With such external control, can academics be independent in their research and teaching? Academic freedom seems to be under attack from both the left and the right. While the major funding organizations want results that help their bottom lines—whether that is winning elections or more money for shareholders—they also influence curriculum and research.
As individuals in this system it is tempting to work to retain our power within the status quo. The narratives in our departments are deeply held, and even though research may have us question such narratives outside of the campus, we hold on to them for safety. Recently an article in the Chronicle of Higher Education showed how such narratives serve to continue the structures in many humanities departments that are creating ever worsening conditions for graduate students and adjuncts (http://www.chronicle.com/article/The-Great-Shame-of-Our/239148).
Through his silence and his words before Pilate, Jesus explicitly upended power structures. He tore up the expected narrative of defense. He rested in power that was outside of the world, so that the power in the world can be redeemed.
What could this mean for us today? Some of us may be called to look more closely at the use and abuse of power in our communities and address it directly. Whether we do this loudly or quietly, we can hold onto Jesus as a hope, resting in his authority.
How would you describe the power narrative in your department? What words need to be spoken? What restraint needs to quietly take place to redeem any harmful power structures?
Jesus, help us walk in your steps.
|Ge, N. N. (Nikolaĭ Nikolaevich), 1831-1894. “What is truth?” Christ and Pilate, from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN.http://diglib.library.vanderbilt.edu/act-imagelink.pl?RC=55296 [retrieved March 17, 2017]. Original source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:What_is_truth.jpg.|