John 18:33-37; Revelation 1:4b-8
How did the story get to this place?
What did Jesus do that was so offensive to the religious authorities that they handed him over to the secular ones to be killed? What is threatening about life, light, grace and truth? Why does healing on the Sabbath elicit scorn? Why does Jesus’ pointing to God make the God-professionals angry? Is there something inherently dangerous about feeding the hungry, reaching out to the Samaritans and healing those on the margins?
Jesus’ ministry is done mostly on the fringes with people on the edges of culture and yet it gets the attention of those highest up in the established institutions of temple and town hall alike. Seems odd, doesn’t it? Why do they care what this guy from that no-good-place Nazareth does? It isn’t like his followers are movers and shakers, either. Those closest to him are fishermen and a tax collector. There are some women who hang around him. They are no more worthy of respect or attention than the 12 men. The crowds he gathers are made up of the lowest of the low – lepers, blind beggars, known law-breakers, children and their desperate parents. Why is this such a problem for the leaders of the earthly kingdoms? Couldn’t they just ignore Jesus and trust he will eventually go away like so many wandering healers before him? So he says God is his father? Other religious fanatics have done the same and the sophisticated of the world rolled their eyes and moved on. What’s different this time?
What’s different is this time it is true. Jesus really is the Son of God and Jesus isn’t the only one saying so. John the Baptist, Nathanael, the woman at the well and all those Samaritans she told about him have declared the truth they have experienced. We know this is indeed the Christ, the Savior of the world. Not to mention those 5,000 who were fed are clamoring to make him king. The Pharisees are getting nervous because “many of the people believe him.” The man blind from birth, that sinner, is emboldened to chastise the official religious authorities no matter the consequences. Clearly, someone greater than an itinerant healer is on the loose and the order of things is being upended in this Jesus’ wake. Then as now, when change is afoot, those for whom the current set-up is working are certain to try and stop it. And this is the biggest, most radical change ever. Perhaps it isn’t so surprising that those at the top want to put an end to Jesus by whatever means necessary.
The reign of King Jesus makes the first last and the last first. The meek inherit the earth. To be the greatest you must not just relate to the least but become one among them. This King washes feet. This King emptied himself taking the form of a servant. This King showed that the strongest power in the world is that of love willing to risk suffering and even death for the sake of the beloved. (William Placher’s book “Narratives of a Vulnerable God” explores this theme in depth.) This King, unafraid of any earthly kings, must be silenced or the world will be turned upside down.
The text from John’s Gospel on this Christ the King Sunday puts the dichotomy between the reign of God and earthly powers front and center. We have no choice but to hold up the stark contrast between the two. Kingdoms of this world do everything they can to build themselves up. Jesus’ Kingdom is about giving, not getting. World kingdoms seek to glorify themselves. Jesus seeks to glorify God. Kingdoms of the world seek out allies to bolster their strength. Jesus’ Kingdom is filled with those the world often rejects. This Sunday we have to hold up these differences and we have to consider which kingdom rules us. To which kingdom do we pledge our highest allegiance?
We have to take a look at how we are often the religious authorities who hand Jesus over to Pilate. We need to confess that we, too, want earthly powers to take care of the very ones who would disrupt the current system from which we so benefit. We have to consider the times and places and ways we have sided with the strong, rather than recognizing ourselves in the faces of the weak.
We are in the wild and wacky season of a presidential election. This is prime territory for the conflation of kingdoms. Candidates want to position themselves rightly in relationship to faith and the faithful. They scramble to place their allegiance to both God and country. They want their religion to be seen as informing their policies, but not so much that it makes voters uneasy. It is an odd juxtaposition that those seeking this nation’s highest office must navigate but it isn’t one the church has to balance. For us, the Body of Christ, Jesus is Lord of conscience and of all. The Head of the Church is unequivocally Jesus Christ. We recognize Christ the King this Sunday and every day, or we should.
This means our ultimate loyalty is to Jesus and to His Way and Truth, Light and Life, Grace and Word. We always need to ask ourselves if we are individually and collectively living our loyalty. This means looking around our tables and seeing who is there and who isn’t. It means questioning our use of resources. It requires not only listening to those on the margins and fringes, those who’ve been exploited and oppressed, it means risking our lives for them because we are united in Christ, one body, rejoicing and weeping together.
In a time when red cups are getting a lot of attention, I challenge us to focus instead on giving out cups of water in the name of the One we follow, Christ the King, the one who “made us to be a kingdom, priests, serving his God and Father, to him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.”
- Here is a quote from the introduction to Jacques Ellul’s book “The Presence of the Kingdom” : “Authentic Christian existence trusts in the power of the Holy Spirit to give our ‘presence’ a revolutionary and explosive force in history. By incarnating their God-given identity as light, salt, and sheep, Christians effect a present reality of the kingdom of God which will be culminated in the future.” What do you think about this statement?
- Words like “king” and even “priestly” can be problematic for American Presbyterians. How do we use the biblical context to help understand them in theological terms?
- Consider some historical examples where Christians working on the fringes with people on the margins have been met with violence. How can they help us understand the reign of God?
- Do a Google search on the presidential candidates’ remarks about faith. What do you discover?
- Take a look at your church’s history. Are there examples of times when the congregation has had to choose Jesus’ Kingdom over earthly powers? What was the result?
- Use this prayer in your daily devotions this week:
Sovereign God, ruler of all creation, you sent Jesus to testify to the truth: that you alone are the Lord of life. Help us to listen always to his voice so that we may proclaim his realm of justice, peace, and endless love; through Christ, who reigns forever.
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