While we as an American people might be fascinated with things of the royal family, tales of King Arthur and his Round Table, affairs of Lords and Ladies, and all manner of things of the Royal Court – we fought a revolutionary war to throw off the burden of kings in order to live free. As a political people we want no king. But what about as a people of faith? Of course the answer is “yes” on this day we celebrate “Christ the King Sunday!”
If you search the internet for images and graphics of Christ the King you will find lots of images depicting Jesus with a royal crown familiar to us as a vestige of medieval royalty…like the one on this page. Probably OK, right? But…
Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, Joshua – some of the great names of Israel’s history. And none of them were king. Yet under the leadership of God, they led Israel from slavery to the freedom of the promised land. Deborah, Gideon, Samson – none of them were kings, yet under the leadership of God, these Judges united Israel to defend itself and identity against the other nations. To be the qahal Yahweh– the people of God. And the last of the judges was Samuel. It was to Samuel that the people came and said “Now that you are old, and your sons do not follow your example, appoint a king over us, as other nations have, to judge us.” When Samuel prayed about this before the Lord, God said in answer: “Grant the people’s every request. It is not you they reject, they are rejecting me as their king.”
And God warned the people of the rights of those other kings:
- He will take your sons and assign them to his army, his fields, and household
- He will use your daughters as ointment-makers, as cooks, and as bakers.
- He will take the best of your fields, vineyards, and olive groves for himself and his officials.
- He will tax your crops, your vineyards, flocks and your income for revenue.
- He will be your king and you will become his slaves.
“The people, however, refused to listen to [the] warning and said, ‘Not so! There must be a king over us. We too must be like other nations, with a king to rule us and to lead us in warfare and fight our battles.’” And so Israel had its kings. The Books of 1st, 2nd Kings and Chronicles is dedicated to describing how those kings were just like other kings, and how Israel became just like other nations. Which, by the by, was not a good thing.
We are a nation dedicated to the proposition that we need no king, and yet there are times when I wonder if we Christians are not too dissimilar from the Israelites of old and we too want to be like other people and follow the kings of fashion and fame, lifestyle and licentiousness, and, power and politics. Here on this last day of the liturgical year we celebrate the Solemnity of Christ the King; to remind us to daily choose the king we would follow.
What kind of king is Christ the King? The one who is not like the kings of our stories or imaginations:
- He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. He is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, [who] reconciled all things …, making peace by the blood of his cross.
- Jesus is a king like no other; he has no scepter but only towel to wash his disciples’ feet
- He wore no crown of gold but one of thorns
- His royal courtyard was a place called the Skull. His courtiers were a criminal on his left and a criminal on his right.
- His royal court was not a place of judgment and execution for those who contested his power, but a place where forgiveness was found
- The King was not separated from the people by a security team, but he walked, spoke and shared the life of his people, like us in all things except sin
- The King of Kings did not entertain only the nobility and powerful. He shared table with the sinners, the prostitutes, tax collectors, widows, orphans, foreigners, and thieves.
- His kingdom’s boundaries do not delineate, separate and marginalize. Rather his rule and grace extends to prodigals, the Samaritans, the poor and outcast, the lepers, and to all the world
- The King did not impose his power, he proposed his grace and mercy
- The king did not lay the debts of his monarchy on the backs of his people, he laid down his own life so that the debt of human sin would be forgiven
- He did not wield the sword of war and conquest but preached the good news that can quell the wars that rage within us and around us
- The King reconciled all things …, making peace by the blood of his cross
- He is not like other kings and yet he is King of the world. “in him were created all things in heaven and on earth, the visible and the invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or powers; all things were created through him and for him.” Perhaps better said, King of Hearts – every heart, for the desire of God is that all be saved.
And what about us? We are like the people who came before the Prophet Samuel – each day we are at a personal tipping point. Do we want to be like the people of the other nations, subject to other kings or will we pray for the grace to be members of God’s kingdom? Will we distort the kingdom with sin, selfishness or diminish it with our pride and prejudices? Will we stand with the powerful and entitled, or will we stand with those of the margins?
This is the king we are called to follow and love with our whole life, our entire being, the one to who we are to give our hearts. All of us, called to be members of His kingdom.
If you choose to follow the King of All Hearts, if you choose Jesus, you are choosing to reflect his image and inherit all the rights of his kingship. We need not look for a scepter with which to rule over others, but only need look for a towel with which to serve. Not condemn, but extend mercy and forgiveness. We must choose to make the King’s virtues our own – so that others will recognize the King and that we belong to Him, the King of All Hearts.