Give way to God's sovereignty

  • November 19, 2009
Christ the King (Year B) Nov. 22 (Daniel 7:13-14; Psalm 93; Revelation 1:5-8; John 18:33-37)

Dreams and visions are the food of oppressed and desperate peoples. The Book of Daniel was written during a period of great distress and persecution. The Jewish culture and religion were at stake, and many minds struggled with the question of who ruled the world, the God of Israel or the many divinized tyrants of the surrounding nations.

The seer’s vision is one of a transcendental human-like figure who is the emissary of God. Many scholars believe that it represents the archangel Michael, although in later centuries the writers of the Gospels will modify the vision and use it to portray the return of the triumphant risen Christ at the end of time. The point of the vision is clear: regardless of how powerful oppressive and evil forces might seem, their power is illusory and temporary. Tyrants and murders can make life hell for others for a period of time but eventually they are all ground into the dust and remembered only with fear and loathing. The Earth and its peoples belong to God and all the rulers of the Earth — regardless of their beliefs or religion — must answer to divine standards of justice, mercy and compassion.

The many “isms” that haunt us — nationalism, militarism, consumerism, chauvinisms of various varieties and a host of other ideologies — all deprive us of the happiness and well-being that would result from a world united in the pursuit of peace and justice. All human claims to power must eventually give way to the sovereignty of God.

The Book of Revelation also repackages the image from Daniel as it describes the return of the pierced Messiah. Again, full dominion belongs to Him alone as He gathers humanity into a kingdom of joyful service to God. The Alpha and Omega and the “firstborn from the dead” are symbols describing the one who has fully completed the human journey to God by immersing Himself in the human experience. It was His struggle and blood that made it possible for the rest to follow. This is the source of true authority rather than the bogus power claims of earthly entities. 

The Gospel of John witnesses to the fundamental human misunderstanding of power and truth. In fact, John portrays humans as incapable of understanding anything that Jesus says because he speaks with layers of subtle spiritual meaning. A puzzled Pilate asks Jesus if He is really the King of the Jews — after all, that is the accusation against Him. Jesus refuses to take the bait and turns the question back at Pilate. But after repeated provocation He answers cryptically that His kingdom is not from this world — if it were, there would be more evidence of it in the form of violence and conflict for that is the way of the world.

Jesus is not saying that He is from another world or that His kingdom is “up there in heaven” somewhere, only that His authority is not based on worldly principles. He is in harmony with a completely different source of power and will not play the game according to human rules. Pilate cannot understand the message — he has reached his position through the skillful maneuvering of power politics, corruption, violence and manipulation and interprets the world in those terms. He has lots of company. Since Jesus does not deny outright His kingship, Pilate is convinced that he has Him all figured out: So you are a king! He cannot understand the power and authority that flow from love and harmony with the creator.

To be in the world and not of it is to live one’s life according to divine rather than human principles. Jesus insists that He came into the world to witness to the truth, and anyone who belongs to the truth will listen to Him. He manifests the truth of God’s kingdom in His teachings, life and death. In God’s kingdom the source of honour and power is humble service, patient endurance and love. They have a power and force all their own but they do not dominate, do violence or destroy. To truly dwell in God’s Kingdom we will have to change our mind about many things and learn to renounce violence, domination and selfishness. Truth is a verb; it is how we live and treat others.