Our comrade King - A sermon for Christ the King Sunday based on Matthew 25: 31 -46
I always feel just a little ambivalent when I see that Christ the King Sunday has come round again. I guess that is because Kings don’t exactly score highly with me. Certainly the Kings who are mentioned in our Old Testament going right back to when Samuel anointed Saul were on the whole a pretty rum bunch. I guess I could count on one hand the appealing ones.
And then studying British history back in school days a similar picture emerges. William the Conqueror, Richard the Lion Heart and Henry V111 were the big stars and each of them was responsible for a whole lot of bloodshed. And to make it worse each of them had the gall to claim they were doing God’s will.
And then last Sunday I found myself looking back to the First World War when a number of participating countries had monarchs who were related to each other - albeit with varying degrees of power within their countries.
Not that others who have claimed power have been any better. The unsavoury figures who emerged between the 2 World Wars are a powerful reminder of that. And indeed it was the emergence of Benito Mussolini as Italy’s dictator that was a factor in Pope PiusX1 establishing the Festival of Christ the King on the last Sunday in October. Now held on the last Sunday before Advent and celebrated ecumenically it has become an established part of the church year.
So what is the significance of Christ the King Sunday for us today? Well I think it provides a real challenge in how we see the world. Upon the cross of Jesus, Pontius Pilate placed an inscription, “The King of the Jews.” He did this as an insult to a subjugated people for whom he had no real sympathy. And yet he was not so far off the truth. For from the humiliation and pain of a cross Jesus would be more a King than Pilate ever could be.
But this Kingship would be that which subverts our understanding of kingship. For power historically whether exercised by a King or a dictator or indeed a few supposedly democratic leaders, tends to be caught up with domination. We expect the one in power to dominate yet Jesus tells us he has come to serve. Unlike the Kings of his day he did not rule by the sword but his kingship is exercised in love. Unlike the powerful of every age he does not surround himself with the rich and the powerful but instead is found with the poor and despised. Quite simply he turns our notions of kingship upside down.
And nowhere is that more true than in the parable which we have heard this morning. So often Kings are those who bark out the orders. Yet what we have here is the King who becomes a comrade to those whose needs are greatest - the hungry, the outsider, the sick and the prisoner. And that is what we need when our experiences of life are at their worst. Not a commander giving out the instructions but one who is alongside us completely identified with us.
Often we are caught up in hierarchical structures, the church no less than any other body. Often we write some people of as if they have nothing to contribute. But Jesus lives a very different way. He is so caught up with those treated as the disposables that what we do or do not do for them we do or not do for him. Now that we speak of Jesus as a King, are we not challenged to see those who are the needy and hurting as equivalent to royalty?
I think here we have a defining issue for the followers of Jesus. The economics of Europe look set to create an increasing tide of people who are dislocated from society. The problems of disaffected youth look likely to increase and alienation is rising among some within all age groups. These are indeed difficult times. And they present the challenge to us to hold on to the need to treat as special those whose lives are a disappointment to themselves even when they have contributed to that situation in some way or other. If we see others as lesser in value we ultimately demean ourselves.
Our parable ends on a pretty frightening point with a picture of judgement. The language here makes clear the importance that Jesus attaches to how we relate to those treated as the disposables. There is the divide between sheep and goats. And here is a problem in that we are all at times goats for we are all caught up in the injustices of this world. This scripture is dangerous when over literalised for Jesus is hardly the divine torturer. Instead we need to realise that the Judge is the one who loves us the most and the purpose of judgement is to strip our goatness away that we might become the people he wants us to be, the people who see the royalty that is in all.
I was recently reading about the slave trade. We are all aware that the primary victims were the slaves. Yet from reading case studies I found myself realising that those complicit with the trade were also victims in that their involvement with the trade and its attitudes tore away at their own humanity.
That is why I like the idea of Jesus as a comrade King. He is enmeshed in the life of the poor and the vulnerable but he is also enmeshed in our struggles with the dominant religion of the West, consumerism, through which we all too easily become identified. Alongside us he shares in all our struggles pointing us to his Kingdom of justice, peace and joy in which all count.
And so it is that next week we enter once more a new liturgical year in which we shall once more enter into that story of hope, the story of Jesus the comrade King who opens up the possibilities of royal life for all and who though executed by a tinpot dictator is raised by God to the Kingship unlike any other.