Time was when every country had its king. Kings were the flavour of the month. For a time Israel felt left out in the cold because they had no king. And so they complained to the good Lord asking why they couldn’t have a king like all the other great nations of the world? But when God did grant them a king things did not improve. The problem is our human nature that is so easily corrupted by power and as we have often heard, absolute power corrupts absolutely. When power is invested in kings, they tend to be selfish, autocratic, demanding absolute respect and obedience. They also like to cherish the notion of the ‘divine right of kings’ which leads to huge inequality and the suppression of individual rights. Herod the Great, who ordered the death of the Holy Innocents, was a tragic example of this. It is the fear of investing absolute power in any human being that cautions our modern world against kings, preferring democracy instead. What then can we make of today’s feast, celebrating Christ as our king?
Does Jesus demand our service and submission? Would he suppress our right to self-expression and all other rights? Today’s Gospel provides us with the answer. The very scene of a bruised and battered Jesus before a ruthless military governor tells the whole story. Jesus tells the Roman Governor that his kingship was like no other: “My kingdom is not of this world.” His kingship is far removed from our usual notion of kings. Standing as a prisoner, robed and crowned with thorns as a mock king before this ruthless military governor, Jesus claims a spiritual authority that has nothing to do with external trappings or the power to compel by force. Perhaps in Jesus’ case, we should qualify the word ‘king’ by saying he is a shepherd-king calling to mind the good shepherd whose sole concern is for his sheep. Or perhaps servant-king because Jesus himself explicitly said “I came to serve and not to be served.’
The authority of Jesus is the authority of truth. This key truth of Jesus is that God is love. It is summed up in John 3:16: “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that every one who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.” Jesus is king by the fact that he lives this truth and has the power to lead others to it. This is the truth that can save and lead us to eternal life: “for this I was born and came into the world, to bear witness to the truth. All who are on the side of truth listen to my voice” (John 18:37.)
The kingdom that Jesus so longed for is summed up in the preface today. It is a kingdom of truth and life, of holiness and grace, of justice, love and peace. This ideal is not some future pie in the sky without any cooperation on our part. It has to begin now and be worked for in the present. The kingdom is our hope, but somehow it is also in our midst, in the process of becoming. The gospel tells us how we are to promote the fuller coming of God’s kingdom among us. It comes whenever justice is done for the hungry, the thirsty, the naked, and the oppressed. To behave in this way is to imitate the Shepherd-King himself who is presented in our Gospels as one who rescues from situations of alienation, who feeds, gives rest, heals and makes strong. Among his final words was a promise to the thief being crucified at his side, that he would be enfolded by the eternal love of God, in paradise.
Christ our king calls us to be with him. We may find ourselves with some specific work to do, but the essence of this call is, above all, to be with Jesus and share his life, to think of him and do what he does. Christ is not a remote ruler commanding his forces through a hierarchy of princes, dukes and knights. He is ‘in the trenches’ with us. He is doing the work of evangelising and healing himself. His call goes out to each one of us.
For Jesus being king of all means being servant of all. Being a loving servant isn’t about grand gestures and great achievements. It’s about having an eye for the lowest and the least. Notice that in the gospels Jesus never asks his disciples to worship him. But he often asked them to follow him. Perhaps we make the mistake of worshipping him because it is easier to that rather than follow him. The latter would entail taking on the mind of Jesus who, as St. Paul says, did not count his equality with God but emptied himself, so as to became the servant of us all.
22 November 2015