This Sunday the Church of England celebrates the festival of Christ the King. Earlier in the week one of thee world’s ‘great’ despots, Robert Mugabe, ‘resigned.’
Mugabe may not have been a king, simply a president, but there can be little doubt that he had scant regard for the rule of law and for anyone who stood in his way. His ‘kingship’ was all about power and personal aggrandizement. He subjugated, terrified and tyrannized ‘his’ people. I am glad that his ‘reign’ is over and that he was forced to face up to his own rejection. Mugabe of course stands in a long line of political tyrants. Tyrants for whom power and authority are absolutes. Is, God, was Jesus such a king?
I don’t think so, in fact I would want to suggest that at the very essence of Jesus ministry we find the concept of liberation.
Jesus’ earthly ministry, his earthly ‘kingship,’ was one of liberation not subjugation. When Jesus died, he did so as, ‘the king of the Jews,’ and by all earthly standards he was a pretty ineffective king. He didn’t singlehandedly and heroically defeat any imperial powers. He wasn’t much of a land grabber (but there again when all the world is His why would he be?) He didn’t seem to be very good at getting the strong, decisive, and resolutely alpha types on his side. He seemed to be happier mixing with the likes of Peter, Thomas, James and John. He got on well with various Mary’s and the odd Martha and seemed to have a very strange mate called Lazarus. He was, and is, a paradoxical and counter cultural old king. Oh, and he died tragically young.
It seems he wasn’t particularly interested in shoring up his defenses and protecting himself from his opponents. All that could be mustered by his supporters was one sword attacking one guard in the Garden of Gethsemane. In his life time the only physical injury that could in any sense be attributed to his ministry was one ear (which he then stuck back on!). Jesus was, and is, a funny old king.
Many, perhaps even most, ‘kings’ are obsessed by power and the trappings of office. Jesus wasn’t. That is what made him so counter cultural. We need to be clear Jesus, ‘Christ the King,’ wouldn’t have been of any interest to Hello Magazine or Forbes. He wouldn’t have made it into the Sunday Times Rich List or Who’s Who. In earthly terms he was a pathetic example of anything that passed for a king. And yet, we still celebrate his kingship.
How on earth can it be that a king born in a stable and crucified on a cross is exalted to this day? The answer to this question is of course multifaceted, however, speaking personally (if I may) a big part of the reason is that he came to offer liberation not subjugation.
Jesus’ kingship was of a an entirely different quality:
Born in a stable, and not a palace.
He worked as a carpenter, and not a prince.
His kingship started in the wilderness where he confronted all of the temptations that might have led to despotism and the abuse of power.
He allowed himself to touch, and be touched.
Those who he touched included lepers, demonics, epileptics and women with serious gynecological problems.
He cared about the young, the old, the widowed, the orphan, the outcast, the migrant and the refugee.
He was vulnerable and allowed his perception of his own kingship to be challenged by the ultimate outsider; a Samaritan women.
He sought to challenge social, economic and religious taboos irrespective of whether they were imposed by kings, emperors or priests.
He cared about standards, but was less concerned with protocols.
When he spoke he did so first hand with his feet firmly planted on the ground, surrounded by his people, and not from a remote and deified kingly throne.
His ‘courtiers’ were an extremely odd lot including ex fishermen, former tax collectors, reformed zealots, honest doubters, men, women and, I suspect, children.
He was, and is, a king whose primary concern appears to be liberation not subjugation.
Maybe by focusing on Jesus’ kingship we start to understand the notion of kingdom? Maybe then, and only then, do the words ‘they kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven,’ become real to us?
As I reflect on the character of Jesus of this I am sure:
That Jesus came to bring liberation not subjugation.
At the beginning of this week leading up to the First Sunday of the Advent Season, many of us celebrated the Feast of Christ The King, a time when we close the old liturgical year with a reflection on the Kingship of Christ.
In my parish of Saint Michael and All Angels, Christchurch, at the close of the Sung Mass on Sunday morning, the Host was processed around the Church during a processional hymn and the people were able to acknowledge the Kingship of Jesus in their own lives.
If Jesus were to come again this week, we are told that he would come in ‘all his glory with the Angels’ – a foretaste of the Kingship that Jesus will exercise over All Creation at the end of time as we now experience it. However, during his Incarnate life-time, as Andrew Lightbown here describes on his blog ‘Theoreo’, the kingship of Jesus was not so obvious. In his service of humanity – especially of those on the margins of society in his day, Jesus exemplified a kingship that he himself described as “not of this world” – not anything like that of despots like Robert Mugabe, whose rule is limited even in this world. “Maranatha, even so; Come Lord Jesus”
Father Ron Smith, Christchurch, New Zealand