John 18: 33-37
“A Wise Reign”
To suggest that Christ was royalty begets the question of paradox; ie, contrary statements. The language of scripture suggests that the reign of Christ is political and yet Christ wasn’t interested in politics. There is an interesting relationship between politics and the Christ’s followers. If we look at God being, Sovereign then Caesar is secondary. Not a good idea! However, politics is simply not recognized by the Biblical writers as important to faith and the fulfilment of our faith journey, yet we are a church of social justice that is very political. All very paradoxical or contradictory wouldn’t you say.
Our reading from John this week records the most dramatic confrontation in all of scripture…Pontius Pilate’s interrogation of Jesus in the Roman court: his three-fold declaration that he found him innocent and then his death sentence verdict to pacify the mob. Pilate is in a dilemma: he either mocks the Jews or protects his job. For Pilate the passion narrative and trial are political rather than a religious crisis. Two kingdoms clash in the story.
Jesus response to Pilate’s interrogation, “Are you King of the Jews?” is to say, “My kingdom is not of this world, my kingdom is from another place.”
Jesus’ answer is a bit coy – as is often the case in John’s Gospel. He doesn’t come outright and say – yes, I’m King of the Jews, but he does accept the premise that he is a representative of the heavenly kingdom. If you must call me a king, he seems to be saying, then understand that “my kingdom doesn’t originate from this world.” Too often Christians have read these words in such a way as to devalue earthly experience. Too often we pine for our departure from this life to that of the next. Our earthly goal, some believe, is to make our escape and leave the world and its challenges behind. But is that what Jesus has in mind?
Jesus is mocked, beaten, flogged, humiliated with the purple robe of kingship and a crown of thorns suggesting Jesus is a political poser. The crowd yells, we have no king but Caesar.
A notice placed on his cross “Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews” further aggravates the Jewish temple leaders. As we come to the gospel reading from John, it may seem odd to have a text that might be read on Good Friday standing in for Christ the King Sunday, but the questions posed are important ones for us to consider. The point isn’t just whether Jesus is king, but what kind of king will he be? Pilate understands monarchy and power through the lens of empire. He is a representative of Rome’s control. He sees in Jesus merely a pretender, a person with a following but no real power.
The kingdom of God that Jesus announces is what life would be like on earth, here and now, if God were king and the rulers of this kingdom would be about: peace-making instead of war mongering; about liberation instead of exploitation; about mercy not vengeance; about care of the vulnerable instead of privilege for the powerful; about generosity instead of greed; about embrace rather than exclusion. The Lord’s prayer just might be the most political act; Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. We have a different agenda than a political statement when we pray; we are submitting to the above reign of Christ in our life: peacemaking, liberation, mercy, generosity, embracing…
So, if Jesus is King, how does he reign? A monarch from the 1st century of the Roman Empire was of a different breed from most of today’s monarchs. Modern Canadians likely envision kings and queens existing in the image of Elizabeth II, a figure head, who has no real power, except that of personality. We have Prime Ministers here – they have great power but whatever power Prime Minister Trudeau has, it’s nothing like that exercised by Caesar. So, what does it mean for us to declare Christ to be King? Is he a figure-head or is he powerful. What allegiance are we willing to give? We have faith that Christ’s reign will hold a word of hope; will both love us and free us from our inevitable mistakes in life; Jesus for us is the Alpha and Omega, who is and was and is to come. God is in us and we are in God then Christ’s reign through us is of goodness, of love, of mercy, and justice, even as all things are made new.
So how do we listen to the voice of Jesus in our noisy world of frantic shopping and aggressive drivers needing to be someplace important. Today is the last stop before the end of our church year and Advent begins a new year. Reign of Christ Sunday is a bridge between the end of our year and the beginning of another with Advent. Today we sort of slam on our brakes to express our faith before we experience Advent before we experience the most holy of nights. How tempted are you to give into the siren call of our hectic, noisy world with its conflicting messages and competing claims? Our culture tells us we need so much at Christmas.
Our consumer culture tells us that we need so much, that if we wear this or buy these or drive that we will be happy forever, or until we get home — whichever comes first. We learn that we are less than, not good enough, too homely, too poor, always reaching for the brass ring or next rung on the ladder to an illusion of success. All the while, Jesus softly and clearly testifies to the truth and invites us to listen and follow. Jesus, our uncommon king has no need to compete with the loud and stifling messages of the world because what he offers is life and truth and hope for all time–in all times. Maybe now is the right time to challenge one another to enter the season of Advent with open ears, expectant hearts, and quiet space each day. Listen. Can you hear him? May Jesus speak to you; best of all, Jesus loves you like no other.
I don’t know about you but as I age the gift giving at Christmas has gone far away from common sense. Do you have grandchildren or greatgrandchildren or nieces and nephews and watched then open birthday and Christmas gifts? The reality for these children and what they accept as normal is abundance without even knowing who the giver is. It saddens my heart to see that the next generation will be more advantaged and will think the world is their monopoly, more than any other generation. Maybe they will be more advantaged but by 2090 as I heard on the news, people will be dying from global warming. Then reality will be a different statement. Maybe it is because I have 9 great grandchildren endowed with gifts from grandparents, parents, aunts and uncles, cousins and looking for more when the gift giving is over that I am so skeptical. I want to put on the brakes this Christmas and pray that family time and love is their greatest gift. Let love reign this Advent as we wait for the coming of Love once again in our lives. Amen.