To ask the question presumes much. What would a 2000 year old Galilean rabbi, make of a presidential inauguration in a part of the world no one believed existed until a thousand years after his death? Would the rabbi understand the idea of democracy? Had the Athenian ideal made it to the mean streets of Nazareth and through the lower Galilee?
I’m not even sure the founders of our republic would know what to do with our current inaugural spectacle. The Constitution was written before the advent of electricity, indoor plumbing, and in a time when slavery was accepted. I doubt whether they could have ever imagined much of what’s going to transpire over the next few days when they laid the foundations of the United States of America.
I do believe that Jesus can shed some light on the events of recent days. Over forty democratic members of Congress have announced their intention not to attend the inauguration of President-elect Trump. More may follow suit. Some like Congressman John Lewis have called his nascent presidency “Illegitimate”. Where is Jesus in the midst of the never ending partisan rancor? Is he on the sidelines, like the angry middle school basketball coach, yelling to his kids, “Suck it up, you lost this one, now go over there and shake their hands like real men. Humiliation after painful losses builds character.” In other words, it’s just how it’s done. The “peaceful transition of power” is how grown-ups talk about being a good sport.
Or. is Jesus telling us some other simplistic answer? Jesus said unto those unhappy millions, “Take your ball and go home.” “No,” Jesus continued, “thou doth not have to play with those who thou deemest to be meaneth, lying, and overly amicable to the Slavic King.” No, I’m not sure that’s Jesus’ light on the moment.
When Jesus speaks to power, it is stark, complex, and subtle. Here’s what I do know, if you’re ready to take Jesus’ side in a political and social argument don’t bring a tuxedo or ball gown. Prepare to be crucified. If you stand with Jesus, before political power, you should be prepared to face death. Jesus’ inauguration moment comes at the end of his natural life. As he’s ending his “work”, from our perspective, he’s “inaugurating” the kingdom of God with his death and resurrection.
The high point of the inauguration comes when Jesus is brought into palace of the Roman Governor. He tells Pilate in John 18:36, “My kingdom is not of this world”. Jesus comes to his own inauguration inside the palace of the man representing the Roman Emperor. The Kingdom of God is inaugurated in a Roman Palace and the only guest is the Roman governor, Pontius Pilate. In his inaugural address, Jesus explains the contrast between a violent and nonviolent kingdom.
The governor sees it the other way round. He is the solider, hero of the legions, veteran of the German wars, governor of a province of Rome, and this man is his prisoner. This is not the case. Pontius Pilate has a front row seat for the inauguration of the kingdom of God.
From the first moment, as Jesus refuses to answer Pilate’s questions, the governor realizes the tables are turned. When the most powerful man in the country feels the need to remind Jesus, “Do you not know that I have the power to release you, and to crucify you?” he’s lost control. Jesus tells him, “You wouldn’t have any power unless it too had come from above.” Power doesn’t frighten life. Truth listens to my voice. Who placed who here? What fate, something the Roman would have trusted, led him to this moment? Standing before Jesus, the moral certainties of the maddening crowd were nothing like questions in Pilate’s mind. Pilate asked Jesus, “What is truth?”
Jesus turned the tables at his inauguration. In what appeared to be defeat, the kingdom of God took hold in the least likely place before the most unlikely person. The Good News is that we have crosses to bare, scripts to flip, tables to turn, and truth to reflect. How best do we do this? Pray, stand with Jesus, stop following the crowd, and if Pilate asks you a question, you don’t have to take the bait.