I suspect if I asked most people, “Who is the King?” the answer might well come back “Elvis.” There is just part of us that lives in a pop-culture world. Besides, we Americans aren’t too keen on kings. After all, we fought a Revolutionary War to rid ourselves of English monarchs. Of course, we remain fascinated by them. Just look at the television ratings for royal weddings. But kings are a prominent feature of the Old Testament, e.g. 1 Kings, 2 Kings, 1 Chronicles, and 2 Chronicles. But hen we look back into the pages of salvation history the great names are Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, the 12 sons of Jacob, Moses, Joshua, Ruth, Judith – none of them are kings. Today’s first reading answers the question: how did Israel get a king? Here is how it all came about.
Once the people of God arrived in the promised land after about 200 years, they grew envious of their neighbors and wanted to be like them. In effect they said they no longer wanted God as their leader, protector, the one upon whom they would depend – they wanted a king. They wanted to be like other people, rather than the children of God.
So they went to the last of the Judges, Samuel and asked him to go and ask God to appoint for them a King. You can read the account in the first reading. It is a pivotal moment in salvation history. Samuel does as they ask, God describes to Samuel the rights of the king and asks him to “run it by” the people. Even when warned about the rights and privileges of a king – to take for himself the best of their lands, their crops, and their children – the people still wanted a king.
I would suggest is it akin to the moment in the Gospel of John, in the court of Pontius Pilate, the people cry out that we have no king except Caesar.
It started out well enough with King David, but too quickly the core humanity of the king came through – absolute power corrupts absolutely. There were too many like King Manasseh, a cruel and idolatrous king, who led the people farther from God. It eventually led them to exile in Babylon. And the kings were no more.
It is good to remember how it started and turned out. It is a good reminder for ourselves – that despite all the machinations and plans of men, despite the lure of power, apart from our own ideas of kings, there was truly but one King – the one whom the Book of Revelation describes in 19:16 as the “King of kings and Lord of lords.”
The King who stands before Pilate. There is no pomp, no circumstance, no projection of geo-political power. There is just our King, this Jesus – as the psalm proclaims: “The LORD is king; he is robed in majesty.” The majesty of a crown of bramble and thorn, and whose robe is saturated with blood, this King will begin to ascend to the throne with arms outstretched as he is mocked and scorned. His heads of state are naked thieves, even as all his subjects, the apostles, run away. Seemingly powerless.
Yet he came to establish his reign over the earth, over all created things. Not within the boundaries of old Israel, not within the confines of an earthly realm, but in the hearts of we who succeed him in our royal inheritance. We who have been baptized and anointed as priest, prophet and as king. We who are called to work towards the Reign of God on earth to establish within ourselves, our families, our neighborhood, city, state and nations, the reign of God. A reign that is described in our prayers of the Eucharistic Rite: “…making all created things subject to His rule….an eternal and universal kingdom, a kingdom of truth and life, a kingdom of holiness and grace, a kingdom of justice, love and peace.”
Who is the King? Jesus Christ.