There was also an inscription over him, ‘This is the King of the Jews.’
Mark Davis concludes his reflection on the Gospel and particularly on this verse with the words:
I am not sure how capable we are of ridding our minds of tyrant kings, cruel emperors, and the like. While it may be an act of piety to call Jesus ‘king’ – and might even be a prophetic intention to radically re-define kingship – I worry that it comes across as yet another attempt to establish power, to put on Jesus the desire to rule rather than to serve. I might be wrong, but I have never been comfortable with this title for Jesus or for the Sunday before Advent.
Today is the last Sunday in our Church Calendar. Next Sunday will be Advent Sunday and we turn our attention to the coming of Jesus. But for now we draw the year to its conclusion with the feast of Christ the King. I believe the Church has chosen this theme because it wants us to hear the most important invitation of our lives. ‘Will you accept Jesus as your “king”?’ If you say yes the implication will be that you will embody the vision that Jesus has of the Kingdom of God.
Before we can say yes or renew the affirmation that we made many years ago we need to reflect on what a King is. It is good to ponder what sort of Kingdom Jesus was on about. And finally, it is vital that we ponder the implication of embodying that notion of Kingdom in our lives.
To reflect on kings it is easier to get a picture of the sort of Kingship that Jesus opposed. Right back in 1 Sam 8 we glimpse the reality of life under a King. ‘You are old [the people of Israel say to Samuel,] and your sons do not follow in your ways; appoint for us, then, a king to govern us, like other nations.’ (vs 5)
God’s response to Samuel when he prays about this is don’t take it personally. for they have not rejected you, but they have rejected me from being king over them. By giving allegiance to the King you effectively reject any other kings that might be vying for allegiance.
Though generally most people don’t choose to give allegiance to a king, the kings take power by violent dominance.
As children we used to play a game “who is the king of the castle”. It was a game where the strongest and biggest children pushed the smaller weaker children off the hill or sofa and claimed victory as the king. As children we knew the king was not only the most powerful physically but was prepared to use the level of violence necessary to dominate others who were equally powerful. As teenagers the level of violence usually escalated until someone went home with a blood running from their nose.
So Kings are those who dominate through power and violence. Kings who were born to be kings didn’t stay kings for long if they were not willing to use power and violence. Fear and allegiance were woven together for the subjects of the king. For Women to wield power they had to rely on other forms of power. Recently I watched a series on the Roman Empire. The conniving and violence that was used first to gain power and then to hold it was extraordinary. And we still use the phrase in our own politics, “stabbed in the back” which may have its roots in the story of Julius Caesar. While our politicians and company tycoons don’t physically stab anyone they are often tempted to use various levels of coercion and subtle forms of corruption.
But Jesus offered a completely different perspective. His passion was the kingdom of God. To quote Borg and Crossan in their book “The Last Week”
The first Passion of Jesus (his all consuming interest) is to incarnate the justice of God … It was that first passion… that led inevitable to the second passion, Jesus death on the cross.
Let’s catch a glimpse of how different this Kingdom would be.
Service is central. We remember the story of James and John seeking special places of honour in the Kingdom. Jesus says to the disciples,
whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant…’
In John’s Gospel Jesus models this servanthood by washing the disciples feet.
The least important have a voice in God’s Kingdom. Children, women, lepers, tax collectors, sinners, they are all heard and included.
Forgiveness and grace are fundamental. Even at the Crucifixion in Luke’s account we hear the words of forgiveness. The story of the prodigal son communicates the grace at the heart of Jesus’ vision of the Kingdom of God.
Even a critic of others is done with gentleness. Have you ever thought about Jesus’ response to the Lawyer who set out to test Jesus? Who is my neighbour? Jesus tells the story of the Good Samaritan. Jesus finishes very gently.
Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbour to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?
Go and do likewise.
Jesus doesn’t shame, or mock the lawyer.
In Mark’s Gospel account of the Rich man asking, what must I do to inherit eternal life, Jesus loves him and says, sell what you own, come and follow me. (Mark 10:20-21)
Our task then as we say yes to Jesus is to embody these things in our own lives individually and as a community. We will be a servant community where all are heard and included. We will make forgiveness and grace the hallmark of our lives. When we disagree with others, we will avoid violent language. We will seek to hear their point of view. We will offer our point of view without a desire to deride or humiliate the other.
The reality is that each one of us will need to work on these issues in our own lives. Sadly, the two-year-old in us comes to the fore every now and again. We demand our way of doing things, we get angry when things don’t stack up in our favour. So, part of saying yes to Jesus is realizing that the world does not revolve around me and my needs. The other person and their needs become more important.
I have recently been reading a book called The Hate Race by Maxine Clark. Clark has an African heritage, via Jamaica, via England to Australia. Her father was a Mathematician lecturing in an Australian University and her mum an actor working in various theatre companies. I have been shocked by the level of racist abuse young Maxine experience growing up in a state school environment in Western Sydney. It has made me reflect on my own part in racist and snide comments as a pupil at school. Mostly it was failing to say anything to stop the comments. However, by reading this book I realise the young aboriginal colleague of mine who came across as a bully was mostly likely responding to several years of being bullied. I know that if my parents had of my response to being pushed by him, I would have had a very saw backside and would have been marched around to apologise. Part of saying “yes” to Jesus being king in our lives is repenting of past behaviours and committing to a whole new way of living. Part of this change is deepening our appreciation of the pain caused and the richness our indigenous brothers and sisters can bring to us.
But it is not just individually that we need to work on these things. For us to rid our minds of the tyrant Kings and cruel emperors as Davis put it, we need to develop a culture of the Kingdom of God. I have spoken before of the work of Marshall Rosenberg’s on Non-Violent communication. Rosenberg points out that much of the way we communicate with each other is violent by nature and it is normal in our society. Some of us may take issue with Rosenberg’s proposition that we use violence in our language. I have been trying to inculcate into my life his notion of compassionate rather than violent communication for 10 years but the old ways don’t evaporate easily.
So today, let’s hear once again the great invitation to accept Jesus as our King. With that invitation comes also the invitation, the expectation to reject any other would be “kings”. Finally let’s hear the promise that the Holy Spirit will help us curb the demanding two-year-old within and help us build a culture befitting the Kingdom of God.
 The Last Week, The day-by-day Account of Jesus’s Final Week in Jerusalem
Marcus J. Borg and John Dominic Crossan HarperCollins e-book EPub edition February 2006