Christ the King - A sermon for Christ the King Sunday based on John 18: 33 - 37
I once remember hearing Tony Benn commenting on his discomfort at hearing Jesus being spoken of as being a king or a lord. I thinkI get his point. After all these are words associated with people of great wealth and power. Is it right for us to place Jesus within the class system as one associated with those at the top of the pile.
And yet our scripture raises Pilate's question
"Are you the King of the Jews?"
If this question were only in John's gospel the perhaps we could downplay its importance. But the same question is also raised in the Synoptical Gospels by Matthew, Mark and Luke. So we cannot ignore the matter. Instead we need to ask just what is going on.
There is something almost comic about this interrogation. On the one hand there is Pilate, a ruthless representative of the only superpower in the world. On the other hand there is Jesus, a storyteller and healer from the backwater of Nazareth. He has no power with which to confront Pilate. Indeed his life is very much in Pilate's hands.
There is also a sense of a dialogue in which the participants are at cross purposes. Pilate's only real concern is whether Jesus is a threat to the dominance of Rome. Jesus, on the other hand, whilst no lover of Rome, is not an insurrectionist like those whose folly led to the fall of Jerusalem in 70CE. Far from it, he offers a vision of a kingdom beyond the imagination of Pilate and his cohorts.
In the dialogue which we have heard, Jesus does indeed proclaim a Kingdom but when it comes to being a King he completely rewrites the rule book. You see he doesn't fit the ideas of Kingship that were current in his age. No more does he fit the ideas of Kingship that are current in our times.
Look for a moment at this King.
Whilst most kings are born in a palace, this is the King whose birth will be linked to a stall.
Whilst most Kings acquire great wealth, this is the King who will own precious little at all.
Whilst most Kings are surrounded with servants who attend to their needs, this is the King who will proclaim himself in word and deed to be a servant.
Whilst most Kings spend their time with the "great and good", this is the King who will party with outcasts and the poor.
Whilst most Kings wear a crown at defining moments, the only crown that this King wears is a crown of thorns.
And whilst most Kings command armies into battle, this king demonstrates the vitory of powerless love over the love of power.
Yes indeed this King rewrites the textbooks of Kingship in the most radical way possible.
There is nothing comfortable for the structures of power in this exchange. That Jesus is facing a capital charge is not the doing of anarchists or revolutionaries. Far from it. He is facing execution as a result of an alliance of the powerful. The Imperial power of Rome in alliance with the economic and religious powers of the Jewish elite has brought about this situation. And in the dialogue with Pilate, I get the feeling that Jesus is letting Pilate know that he bears a heavy responsibility for events. After all Pilate has sent troops to effect the arrest and indeed the Temple elite are very much Rome's collaborators dependent on Rome's patronage.
But in a way Rome is right. Jesus does indeed represent a challenge. His challenge is not however just to Rome. It is a challenge to all power that dominates. His kingship is more radical than anthing dreamt up by Lenin or Che. It is not about replacing one form of dominance with another form of dominance. Instead the Kingdom proclaimed by Jesus is that in which the first shall be last and the last shall be first. It is the Kingdom in which greatness comes from serving others however unpalatable that might be. It is the Kingdom in which the love of God is expressed in the love of neighbour even if the neighbour may be from a community which is a threat to us or a community that we are tempted to despise.
See! We need to resist the temptation to so spiritualise Jesus as to make him safe. That his Kingdom is not from this world does not mean that it can only be expressed in another sphere of existence. On the contrary Jesus is showing the marked differentiation between his kingdom and the alternatives. Far from being safe, this statement demonstrates that the kingdoms of this world are themselves under judgement.
Soon we shall enter Advent and ultimately Christmas. One of the scriptures that we shall encounter is Magnificat with its revolutionary message of a world that is radically transformed. Once more the powers of this world will come under judgement. Our challenge is not to allow the seasonal fluff to drown out the voices of revolt that we are encouraged to hear at this time of year. Hark, they are calling out, longing to be heard, longing to be acted on!
But now on Christ the King Sunday we hear the news of a different kingdom. Not so much the end of Rome but the end of the world as we know it. May we march energetically into God's future where the sound of war will cease, where the cries of rejection will give way to the sound of comfort and affirmation, where those seen as of no significance will be enabled to find their true value as much loved children of God.