God is the only king we will ever need

  • November 11, 2010
Christ the King (Year C) Nov. 21 (2 Samuel 5:1-3; Psalm 122; Colossians 1:12-20; Luke 23:35-43)

Sometimes wanting is better than having. The people of Israel had been governed by covenant and divine law since their liberation from Egypt. They had no real need for a central government or strong ruler. Councils, elders and a loose confederation of the 12 tribes were sufficient. In times of distress or attack, God designated and anointed a judge or military leader but this role was not hereditary — it expired with the death of the leader or the passing of the crisis. In a sense they saw themselves as ruled by God.

But people get restless and eager for novelty. After all, those other nations living around them had flashy kings, princes and palaces. There came a day when they did what so many people do: they gave away their freedom, preferring the ease of having someone rule their lives. People do not like the ambiguity and effort required in making their own decisions. Freedom bears with it responsibility and the possibility of error. For many having a person or system to tell one how to live and what to think is preferable.

Israel did the unthinkable: they asked the prophet Samuel to appoint a king to rule over them — just like the other nations (1 Samuel 8). A stunned Samuel relayed their request to God who saw it as a personal affront and rejection. But God ordered Samuel to give them what they asked for. Along with this was a warning that this would bring abuse of power, warfare, oppression and loss of freedom. And all of these came to pass — today’s passage bears witness that the people were anxious to get rid of the disastrous Saul and have David for a king. But even the rule of David was one of blood, civil war and repeated disasters.

Power is a strange thing — it doesn’t take much of it in the wrong hands to cause untold misery. Thirty centuries later we still struggle to learn the meaning and use of real power. True governance, on either a small or large scale, is co-operative and grounded in equality, openness, sharing and compassion rather than domination, force and authoritarianism.

The author of Colossians saw Christ as the embodiment of divine power — a power characterized by love. The poet Dante saw love as the force that guides the planets and stars in their courses. In a similar fashion the love of Christ is the force that holds together and reconciles the entire world. This work of unity and reconciliation continues whenever human beings live in harmony with the divine will and govern their lives according to the principle of selfless love.

The taunt of the leaders and the criminal crucified with Jesus is the perennial taunt of the world directed at all attempts to live and rule by love and divine principles. If you are the Son of God… if you are a king… then act like one: flex your muscles, show your power. Even the devil in the temptation story uses this taunt against Jesus. The first criminal was hoping that Jesus would get them out of the unhappy situation they were all in. The crowd was relieved to see Jesus apparently weak and helpless — they assured themselves that they had been right and that He was an imposter. The world understands brute force and political manipulation but is puzzled and angered by those who do not play this game. The other criminal “gets it” — Jesus is displaying a different sort of power, the sort that flows from being in harmony with the mind and heart of God.

Human beings are constantly tempted to use power to lash out in revenge at injustice and hurt or to impose their individual and collective will on others. The power and kingly rule of Jesus has at times been misused to bolster the claims of absolutist kings and rulers or to justify violence and coercion. But His rule has absolutely nothing to do with force or imposition. Compassion and non-violence are not sentiments or signs of weakness but expressions of the power of God. When it is understood and manifested it subverts all unjust systems and structures.

This is the only “king” that we need and the only one we should ask for.