This Thursday, two turkeys by the name of Cobbler and Gobbler became the luckiest turkeys in the United States...
Unlike most of their peers, they did not spend most of her Thanksgiving Day in the oven... Instead, they were pardoned by the President of the United States from her mealtime fate, and now, they’ll live out the remainder of her days in a petting zoo.
And while it may seem rather odd—or even a little ridiculous—that the most powerful office in the world is being exercised on behalf of a turkey, this yearly Thanksgiving tradition has much to teach us about the true meaning of power...
With exactly one month until Christmas day, our Gospel takes us not to the little town of Bethlehem, but instead to the headquarters of Pontius Pilate, whose name we mention every week as the man responsible for ordering Jesus’ death.
Pontius Pilate’s official role was governor of what we know as the Holy Land. You can think of him as the Roman Emperor’s errand boy, whose job was to keep Jerusalem and the surrounding regions firmly under Roman control. If he kept the Emperor happy, he and his family would enjoy a life of power, prestige, and wealth.
But Pilate wasn’t the only person wielding power in Jerusalem. Enter the religious authorities: the Pharisees, the scribes, and the high priest, Caiaphas. These are the ones whom Jesus is constantly speaking out against; the ones he calls hypocrites and the brood of vipers. They all acted as the gatekeepers to the Temple, and therefore God himself. Their song and dance routine was to control the people so that they worshipped and served God on their terms. Naturally, any dissenters would be dealt with swiftly and harshly.
These people didn’t get their marching orders from Rome or from Pilate—but they still owed them both for the power they enjoyed. So they bribed their way into power, using the money from the Temple treasury which came from taxes and offerings. This way, they could look and act like they were in charge—and Pilate was happy to play along, provided they kept the cash flowing.
Then along comes Jesus. With his signs and miracles and teachings, people were believing that he was the way, the truth, and the life; that he was the way to the Father. With Jesus, the people had no more need of the temple or the religious authorities. This is why they were bound and determined to get rid of him. That is why it was inevitable that Jesus would find himself on trial before Pilate.
Now history has always been a little sympathetic to Pilate. After all, he found no fault in Jesus—and why should he? Jesus never said a word about raising up an army to depose Rome. Pilate knew he was innocent—and Pilate had every power to set him free. And if the religious authorities didn’t like it, too bad.
But they didn’t like it. They wanted Jesus dead. And if Pilate didn’t play along, he’d be putting all his power, prestige, and wealth in jeopardy. So Pilate gives in—and in so doing, shows himself to be, in fact, quite power-less.
For Pilate and the religious stooges, their power rested in their ability to get their own way. And as we see in Jesus’ crucifixion, there was no limit to the brutality by which they would try and hold on to it. At the same time, their power was quite fragile—because if they offended the wrong people, they could quickly find themselves on a cross...
But Jesus, on the other hand, will show us what true power really is. Instead of using his power as God’s only Son to ruthlessly oppress and subjugate people for his own benefit, Jesus uses his power to set us free. He lays down his life at his own accord for the sake of the world that he loves. He offers himself as the perfect sacrifice that reconciles a sinful world to God. Thanks to Jesus, there is nothing that we have to do to get right with God; Jesus does it all for us. That’s grace, plain and simple. That is what makes Jesus a different kind of king.
And furthermore, because of Jesus, the powers of evil and death that wreak so much havoc have no ultimate power over us. They can cause us pain, they may even take our lives, but their power is no match for Jesus Christ. Christ the King makes us free—and he will always have the last word over our ultimate destiny.
As people who believe in Jesus Christ and call upon his name for our salvation, we are given the power to become the children of God. And we are called to use our power, as Jesus does, for the benefit of others—to set them free from whatever binds them in darkness and despair. So easily we forget how much power we have from God—to do God-sized works.
What gifts can you give to set people free from poverty and need? What gifts can you give to free people from loneliness and isolation? How can you share the gift of your faith, so to free people from despair and hopelessness? Over the past week, we celebrated Thanksgiving for the purpose of remembering all of the ways God has blessed us. Now, it’s time for us to ask God how we can use these blessings to set others free. And there is not one person here today who is without power to set another free.
So in this season of giving, remember the power you already have to set others free—and discover the true joy of the Lord.
You yourself are God’s gift to the world for setting others free—so challenge yourself to participate in the life of your king and feel the power that comes with doing good in our King’s name.