“Do you not know that I have authority to release you?”
The exasperated words of a politician to a man whose life hung in the balance. The politician couldn’t get a handle on the guy. Normally the politician was in control, normally he was able to intimidate with his authority, normally the person across from him begged, pleaded, bartered. Not this time and it baffled him.
In episode six of the third season of House of Cards, Claire Underwood meets with American prisoner Michael Corrigan in Russia. Corrigan was put in prison by Russian authorities because he was advocating gay rights in their country. Claire Underwood had arranged his release with the condition that he would make a statement apologizing for exposing Russians to his “deviant behavior.” Corrigan refused to do so. Claire Underwood was stunned. The man would be given freedom if he played by their rules in this one instance. That was the problem, though, to do so would be to deny what he was fighting for and would endanger the lives of Russian gays after he left Russia. Nonetheless, to a politician such as Claire this was unsettling. In her world this was foolish and naive. It flew in the face of logic, of pragmatism, of wisdom. She would spend much time and effort trying to convince the man to change his position only to be changed by his conviction. She would lie down to take a nap only to wake up to him hanging lifeless before her very eyes. After which she would go before the press to talk about the suicide with the Russian and American Presidents behind her. She would attempt to lie about the Russian President’s respect for human rights only to go back on that lie and reveal the truth about why the Russian prisoner had committed suicide.
Jesus was Pontius Pilate’s worst nightmare. Jesus is a politician’s worst nightmare. Jesus couldn’t be bought, he couldn’t be sold, he couldn’t be compromised and cajoled in order to get the desired outcome. Jesus could not be controlled. Before Pontius Pilate he comes across as dismissive and indifferent towards Pilate’s position and power. In the synoptic Gospels he is largely silent with one answer to one of Pilate’s questions: “you have said so.” In the gospel of John, Jesus speaks to Pontius Pilate the way a schizophrenic would, “My kingdom is not from this world” “Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice” “You would have no authority over me unless it had been given you from above.” Before Pilate Jesus doesn’t fight for a fair trial, he does not accuse the religious leaders, he does not seek to work out a deal with Pilate so that he might be set free. No, he accepts his fate at the hands of the powers that be. Pilate was amazed, he even sought to have him released, but politics doesn’t work that way, a deal had to be struck in order to keep everyone happy and safe. Jesus would have to be crucified. Pilate would deliver Jesus over to crucifixion and would then wash his hands of the matter.
Claire Underwood went into that prison cell expecting to change the prisoner’s mind but instead walked out changed by one man’s conviction to not give in to the powers that be, even if that meant taking his own life. Ever the politician, she did what we the viewer would never expect a politician to do, she openly condemned the president of Russia for his inhumane treatment of homosexuals. Claire Underwood brought the truth to life because she was truly changed by the man in the prison who stood by his convictions. For a brief moment we witnessed a fictional character, whose very creation is bound up in our own reality, crossover from politician to radical, to truth speaker, and it was revolutionary.
The politician, the pragmatist, the logician would all have encouraged Jesus to strike a deal, to fight for another day in order to accomplish the change that he wanted and desired. What can anyone do when they’re dead, right? Yet, had Jesus struck a deal, had he given in in order to fight on for another day, the powers would not have been exposed for what they really were and are –unjust and ruthless. The religious leaders would still have had the appearance of being pious, religious and zealous for Torah. Rome and Pontius Pilate would still appear to be the just and divine empire it claimed to be. Jesus’ death revealed the evil that lies beneath religious and institutional zeal. Jesus’ death revealed the evil that lies behind political expediency and pragmatism. Jesus’ death also revealed that there is still yet a better way – agape – selfless enemy love that ultimately trusts in God. By going this Way Jesus changes the world and makes clear that death truly does not have the last say. In fact, from it comes Resurrection, from it comes change, from it comes New Creation.