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God's Word on Sunday: There are no shortcuts — God is the only path

  • November 18, 2022

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

When and where was David anointed king of Israel? Take your pick — Scripture reports three events, in 1 Samuel 16:13, 2 Samuel 2:4 and 5:3. We could go through all sorts of tortured explanations in an attempt to harmonize the text, or we could accept the more likely reason: they represent three separate traditions regarding his rise to power. Regardless of the explanation, the mere fact of having a king represented a step backward for Israel. 

After their entry into the Promised Land, the Israelites were self-governing for several generations and God was their king. Charismatic “judges” — military leaders — were raised up by God periodically when Israel was in danger from enemies. But in 1 Samuel 8, the Israelites asked for a king to be given to them like the other nations. God interpreted this as a rejection of divine rule, but granted their request as a concession. Sometimes getting what we ask for is punishment enough. 

Kingship was a very mixed blessing for Israel — not many kings walked in the ways of God. Many of them engaged in idolatry, corruption and injustice. Eventually misrule led to the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple and the subsequent exile in Babylon. 

What does all that tell us? We are awash in political strife, misrule, extremism and a host of other calamities. We always look for a person, group or party to blame and hate. Perhaps we need to look in a collective mirror. The cause of our misery might be that we evade or reject divine governance and are casting about for a “king” to rule us. Sometimes people find their king in a demagogue or extremist leader. But the problem lies within us rather than in the system or the people with whom we disagree. We should not delude ourselves — there will be no significant or lasting solution to our problems until we walk in the ways of God. There are no shortcuts; there is no other path.

Living in Christ is being ruled by God. Colossians portrays Jesus the Christ as the beginning and end of all things as well as the divine energy that holds the universe together. He was present in the distant past and is already present in the future. The fullness of divinity resides in Him, and He has reconciled all things to Himself by the blood of the Cross. Reconciled — not conquered or dominated, for harmony and reconciliation are the tools that He uses. His way of governing or ruling is definitely not ours.

This is evident in the way the crowd mocked Jesus on the Cross. If He is indeed the Messiah or the king of Israel, then He should manifest His power by coming down from the Cross and saving Himself. Only force and power are respected in human eyes — just look at our cultural heroes. 

The mocking sign at the head of the Cross that derided Jesus as the “King of the Jews” was supremely ironic. He certainly was, but not in the fashion that most expected. God seldom follows our script or meets our expectations, for God’s ways are so very different. True power flows from being in harmony with the divine will as the mind and heart of Jesus was. 

The two “thieves” — actually bandits or insurrectionists — who were crucified with Jesus were silent in the other gospels. In Luke’s Gospel they were very talkative. One of them mocked Jesus and repeated the taunt about exercising His power. But the other one “gets it” — he rebuked his sidekick and then asked that Jesus remember him when he entered His kingdom. In his last moments on Earth, he had a spiritual awakening. In the Old Testament, being remembered by God means being rescued, blessed or saved. 

Jesus will indeed remember the penitent bandit, who will be with Him that very day in paradise. The story challenges us to rethink our notions of power and the manner in which it is exercised as well as how we measure success and failure. Just as pressing is the call to reexamine the means by which we accomplish our goals. Finally, we can examine the individuals and behaviour of the cultural heroes and models we hold up for admiration and imitation. 

Our call is to walk the path of Jesus and not worldly paths cloaked in Christian language.