Strange Bedfellows

The Rev. Jimmy Abbott
Palm Sunday
April 14, 2019

Luke 22:14-Luke 23:56

The fault lines ran deep. Two men in power, both vested with incredible authority, were pitted against each other. They disagreed on everything, they came from different places. Divided by culture, by blood, by past wars, by religious differences, the fault lines ran deep.

Pontius Pilate represented the power and the might of the Roman Empire, jack booted thug that he was. A pagan of pagans, we can assume that he had pledged his allegiance, his loyalty, his worship to Caesar. On the other side of the fault line was Herod, King Herod. Or, as he styled himself, King of the Jews. Though he was not an especially righteous man, known for marrying his brother’s wife, he represented the Jews of Palestine. The very ones oppressed and under the unflinching thumb of Pontius Pilate and the Roman Empire.

Pilate and Herod. Oppressor and oppressed. Colonizer and colonized. Or as the Gospel of Luke puts it so simply, they were “enemies.” 

Enemies. Not an insignificant word. When you’ve got an enemy you’ve got someone to hate. You have a foil. You have someone to define yourself against. Someone to blame all your problems on. Pilate can blame Herod for all the trouble the Romans are having when Jews start killing Roman soldiers. Herod can blame Pilate for all the trouble the Jews are having when the Romans are crucifying Jewish bandits. Pilate and Herod are enemies.

The history of our country is the history of a rotating cast of enemies. First it was England, then England again, then it was Mexico, and then it was each other. After that it was Spain, then Germany, then Germany, Italy, and Japan. Soviet Russia, communists, terrorists, immigrants, enemies. The fault lines run deep. It’s no different in our lives. That other kid in your class, the rival high school football team, that other college, your co-worker, your boss, your neighbor across the street who plays that loud music, your family member who you can’t stand. Enemies. The fault lines run deep.

Until, that is, Jesus walks in. After his betrayal and arrest, Jesus is taken back and forth between Pilate and Herod. Both of their soldiers mock Jesus. Both spite him. Both leaders are perfectly content with abusing Jesus for their own purposes. 

In other words, Pilate and Herod become strange bedfellows. Luke puts it this way, “that same day Herod and Pilate became friends with each other; before this they had been enemies.” Ironic, isn’t it? That Jesus brings together Pilate and Herod? That Jesus makes friends out enemies?  Isn’t that the whole point of his ministry? That we, who were far off from God, are brought close to God? 

But sit with this idea for a minute, that Pilate and Herod are conspiring together against Jesus. See, evil is well organized. Evil is well organized. Evil has structures and powers and systems to oppress, to beat down, to hurt others. One only need to know that there were timetables for the trains running to Auschwitz to know that evil is well organized. So here we have two men, their differences erased, conspiring together for evil. They overcome their culture, their religion, their past fights in order to fulfill their evil intent.

Love, well, love is never so well organized. Love looks like Jesus; betrayed, mocked, tortured, crucified, and dead. Love looks like a lonely man with arms stretched out wide upon the cross. Love looks like a man who can barely even carry his own instrument of execution. Love looks like a man who shows kindness, even to a common bandit. Pilate and Herod with all their evil are well organized, with layers of governance and administration to keep up their malevolence. Evil looks like two men with soldiers and armies to keep up their appearances. Evil looks like suspicion. But love, love looks like a carpenter and a dozen friends wandering around the countryside. Love looks like a man who feeds people without asking why they don’t have any food. Love looks like a man healing people without asking why they’re sick. Love looks like a man who opens wide his arms upon the cross, forgiving the thief next to him without asking where he’s from. Love looks like Jesus.

Strange bedfellows indeed. Pilate and Herod. Jesus and a thief. God and us. For that is the point of Palm Sunday. That Jesus holds out his arms on the cross and brings together those who have been separated.. Enemies have become friends, which is only possible through the blood of Jesus.

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