This Sunday marks the end of the liturgical calendar, with what is known as the celebration of Christ the King.
As much as the church, and even the Christian tradition from the earliest days, proclaimed Christ as King of Kings and Lord of Lords. This is far, very far from what Jesus said about himself in the Gospel narratives. In fact, it could be argued that Jesus refuses to accept any title as king in his response before the Roman Authorities, “it is (only) you who say that I am a king”.
Kings in ancient times, like some nation-states and some corporations in our time, have power, have wealth and can lord it over others, and even can justify competitive violence to promote their causes. Now there were kings in ancient times, like nation-states and corporations that do provide welfare for their citizens and employees. But the exploitation of others for the benefit of the few, Jesus had no desire to be a part of any such systems, or, to replicate such systems or power structures, particularly with him named as the head.
I would argue that Jesus of Nazareth was no King, nor is it helpful to see Jesus in such a light.
James and John came seeking positions of power in what they thought was a coming kingdom, Jesus rebukes them, saying in that God’s people will have no part in that power that lords it over others, – lording it over others is not on. This was true for Jesus and the community he was teaching. Jesus goes on saying that “if you desire to lord it over others, focus that desire on serving others instead. If you need to be the best, be the best at serving others.
Jesus was not about wealth or building his own business or empire. Rather a wholeness of life in trusting in the abundance of the God of creation for all. The gospels illustrate this in the story of the rich young ruler. The rich young ruler was asked to sell all his possessions and give them to the poor, which was too much for him to do, to truly share in the life of God. This is just as challenging today as it was two thousand years ago, if not more as we are so dependent on the economic systems of our day. Jesus is not an economic king or ruler.
As for violence and war, an open justification for competitive behaviour that seeks to remove or destroy the ‘other’ as a threat is a powerful human motivator. We may not see as much bloodshed in the political and corporate world’s power games today, as it did in the ancient world. Still, some of the justifications of nation states for so-called defense and peacekeeping efforts in the articulation of a clear and present danger should cause concern for Jesus followers (war on Iraq is one example, in which Australia was apart of the coalition of the willing). This way of violence continues (Today, terrorism is seen as this clear and present danger, and then religious and/or ethnic groups have been labelled within this grouping by some).
What is remarkable is when Jesus is encountered by ‘violent removing the other’ this at his unjustified arrest, one of his disciples responds in a violent act for the sake of self-protection. Jesus says, put away your swords, those who live by the sword, die by the sword. And then remarkably reaches out to the so-called enemy with healing in his hands. Now that is compassion. Today we could say those who live by the gun, die by the gun. Jesus is nonviolent, compassionate and is not about seeking the destruction of the other, but rather that we learn to love even our enemies until they become friends.
Jesus is no King, no CEO, no Prime minister, no commander and chief. Jesus is Jesus, who shows us a Way that is love, gift and grace for all. The early Church did call him King of Kings and Lord of Lords, but this was not to elevate Jesus to any higher status as a super King or super Lord, it was to make a mockery of the powers of the day that failed to see all humans and all creation beyond the exploitation frames. This Jesus way of mutual love and respect, neighbourliness and the collective and individual focus on the common good was a way of life in stark contrast to any example of Kings or Lords.
Following Jesus as a disciple means not confusing Jesus for power and control, but rather a way of life that is about fullness of life and life to the full for all.
Rev. Ben Gilmour is Minister of the Word at Paddington Uniting Church