Kings are an interesting concept. When someone tries to impose their will upon us, one of our tried-and-true responses is, “Who died and made you king?” Maybe our American spirit has a bias against unbridled power in the hands of the one. Yet there is something within in us that wants a king when we want a king – you know – the times we feel uncertain, times are turbulent, and we are just a tad frightened.
In Bible Study, we just finished a section on the Kings of Judah and Israel. The people were uncertain, a bit frightened, and times were turbulent. At a pivotal point in the Old Testament, the people come to the prophet Samuel and demand that he ask God to send them a king so that they could be, not the people of God, but that they could be like the people in the nations around them. It seemed to the Israelites that those people were secure, safe and prosperous. Samuel understood the implications: the people thought that the Lord God wasn’t doing such a good job – else why would their lives be other than safe and sound? Right? The people wanted a different king.
What kind of king? A king who would have an army they could see to offer security against enemies foreign and domestic. A king who would promise a better tomorrow, a prosperous future, and make us feel better about our lives. A king who would ensure we will not be uncertain, threatened, face risk, or suffer. They people of Israel wanted a king that projected power, invulnerability, and a better tomorrow.
That better tomorrow never came under the kings of Judah and Israel. The times were always turbulent, the future was always just around the corner, and after 400 years, there was no king – and the people of Israel were enslaved in exile in Babylon. So much for kings.
We are a nation dedicated to the proposition that we need no king, and yet there are times when I wonder if we Christians are not too dissimilar from the Israelites of old and we too want to be like other people and follow the kings of fashion and fame, lifestyle and licentiousness, and, power and politics. Here on this last day of the liturgical year we celebrate the Solemnity of Christ the King; to remind us to daily choose the king we would follow.
What kind of king is Christ the King? The one who is not like the kings of our stories or imaginations: He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. He is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, [who] reconciled all things …, making peace by the blood of his cross.
Jesus is a king like no other; he has no scepter but only towel to wash his disciples’ feet
He wore no crown of gold but one of thorns
His royal courtyard was a place called the Skull. His courtiers were a criminal on his left and a criminal on his right.
His royal court was not a place of judgment and execution for those who contested his power, but a place where forgiveness was found
The King was not separated from the people by a security team, but he walked, spoke and shared the life of his people, like us in all things except sin
The King of Kings did not entertain only the nobility and powerful. He shared table with the sinners, the prostitutes, tax collectors, widows, orphans, foreigners, and thieves.
His kingdom’s boundaries do not delineate, separate and marginalize. Rather his rule and grace extends to prodigals, the Samaritans, the poor and outcast, the lepers, and to all the world
The King did not impose his power, he proposed his grace and mercy
The king did not lay the debts of his monarchy on the backs of his people, he laid down his own life so that the debt of human sin would be forgiven
He did not wield the sword of war and conquest but preached the good news that can quell the wars that rage within us and around us
The King reconciled all things …, making peace by the blood of his cross
He is not like other kings and yet he is King of the world. “in him were created all things in heaven and on earth, the visible and the invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or powers; all things were created through him and for him.” Perhaps better said, King of Hearts – every heart, for the desire of God is that all be saved.
And what about us? We are like the people who came before the Prophet Samuel – each day we are at a personal tipping point. Do we want to be like the people of the other nations, subject to other kings or will we pray for the grace to be members of God’s kingdom? Will we distort the kingdom with sin, selfishness or diminish it with our pride and prejudices? Will we stand with the powerful and entitled, or will we stand with those of the margins?
If you choose to follow the King of All Hearts, if you choose Jesus, you are choosing to reflect his image and inherit all the rights of his kingship. We need not look for a scepter with which to rule over others, but only need look for a towel with which to serve. Not condemn, but extend mercy and forgiveness. We must choose to make the King’s virtues our own – so that others will recognize the King and that we belong to Him, the King of All Hearts.