Fellow Passengers: This week’s Primary Passage* (John 19:12-30) transports me to the period of European history in the 15th and 16th century when the House of Stewarts provided the monarchs for Scotland, and occasionally, for England. It was not a great time to be king, as the first five King James of the Stewart House discovered. With nobles continually seeking to usurp power and religious conflicts raging between the Catholics and Calvinists, it is not particularly shocking that disorder ensued for each of the first five Kings named James, and that they suffered tragic deaths. King James I was assassinated. James II was blown up by a canon during the siege of Roxburgh Castle. KJ III was thrown from his horse and murdered on the battlefield. Numero quatro was killed in the famous Battle of Flodden Fields. The fifth James died of a nervous breakdown after the defeat of Solway Moss, six days after his only child Mary was born. It is a wonder that Queen Mary’s son, King James the Sixth, accepted the crown, but he did, and he went on to unify the Sottish crown with England when QE I died. This King James miraculously died of old age; before dying he created a lasting legacy that would forever keep his name famous when he authorized a new translation of the Holy Bible, the 1611 King James Version. Given his heritage, it’s kind of fun to imagine hearing that original version read by someone with a thick Scottish brogue.
Given the Scots’ ambivalence toward their kings, it is particulary interesting to imagine such a Scottish accent in today’s passage from John, as Pilate tries unsuccessfully to negotiate with the Jewish leaders for Jesus to escape crucifixion. These leaders rebuffed Pilate, saying, If thou let this man goe, thou art not Cesar’s friend: whosoeuer maketh himselfe a king, speaketh against Cesar. When Pilate therefore heard that saying, he brought Iesus foorth, and sate downe in the iudgement seate, in a place that is called the pauement, but in the Hebrew, Gabbatha. And it was the preparation of the Passeouer, and about the sixt houre: and he saith vnto the Iewes, Beholde your King. But they cried out, Away with him, away with him, crucifie him. Pilate saith vnto them, Shall I crucifie your King? The chiefe Priests answered, Wee haue nae king but Cesar. What an interesting dynamic, something I had not noticed before, just how much political unrest around issues of monarchy and state authority is imbedded into this crucifixion story. Wee haue nae king but Cesar. So instead of a carpenter’s coup d’état, Jesus meets his Waterloo, marches to the place of execution, and is nailed between two thieves, with the community leaders still grumbling about issues of monarchy as Pilate orders a sign nailed to Jesus’ cross – King of the Jews.
The Scottish people eventually tired of royal claims on their lives, and the spirit of independence and resentment of monarchy that had always been at play among these mountainous folk won the day. I just re-read, or re-listened to, to be precise, a book on CD by Terry Pratchett, The Wee Free Men. In this fantasy world set somewhere in the rural north of Great Britain, a dairy maid named Tiffany Aching is the hag o’ the hills, aided in her magical adventures to maintain good order and confront forces of evil by a clan of tiny folk called the Wee Free Men, who, by their brogue and vocabulary, are Scotch highlanders through and through, of the fiercely independent variety. Anytime they are confronted by the prospects of someone pretending to a throne and claiming some kind of royal authority over them, a resounding chorus of battle cries thunders from their tiny frames – Nae king! Nae quin! Nae laird! Nae master! We willna’ be fooled again! I suspect that a good dose of wee free men Scottish independence is at work in our country, especially when it comes time to elect our President, touted to be the leader of the free world. No one could confuse our national leadership to be anything remotely close to a monarchy, subject as they are to public opinion and vote of confidence every four years. I’m not sure we have the capacity to fully understand what was in the hearts and minds of those Palestinian residents in the first century, as tried to negotiate their way through and around Roman occupation. Whatever threat Jesus represented to them, they voiced it in terms of a threat to King Cesar. Who knows what the crucifixion story would have looked like if those Roman leaders were called President instead of Cesar, and had to face an election every four years that gave their subjects a chance to put a different face on the head of state. We might not even have the religious language of Jesus as Lord or Jesus as King of Kings, but following the lead of people who cry out Nae king! Nae quin! Nae laird! Nae master! we would baptize people who professed Jesus as governor, or senator, or if we wanted to be British about it, Jesus as Prime Minister. That kind of has a nice ring to it.
How about you? Where does this Primary Passage take you on your journey of faith? Feel free to comment, and share with friends on Facebook, Google+, Twitter, email, etc.