NOVEMBER 20TH, 2016: CHRIST THE KING
Then all the tribes of Israel came to David at Hebron, and said, “Look, we are your bone and flesh. For some time, while Saul was king over us, it was you who led out Israel and brought it in. The LORD said to you: It is you who shall be shepherd of my people Israel, you who shall be ruler over Israel.” So all the elders of Israel came to the king at Hebron; and King David made a covenant with them at Hebron before the LORD, and they anointed David king over Israel.
May you be made strong with all the strength that comes from his glorious power, and may you be prepared to endure everything with patience, while joyfully giving thanks to the Father, who has enabled you to share in the inheritance of the saints in the light. He has rescued us from the power of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.
He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; for in}} him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers—all things have been created through him and for him. He himself is before all things, and in him all things hold together. He is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that he might come to have first place in everything. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross.
And the people stood by, watching; but the leaders scoffed at him, saying, “He saved others; let him save himself if he is the Messiah of God, his chosen one!” The soldiers also mocked him, coming up and offering him sour wine, and saying, “If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!” There was also an inscription over him, “This is the King of the Jews.”
One of the criminals who were hanged there kept deriding him and saying, “Are you not the Messiah? Save yourself and us!” But the other rebuked him, saying, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed have been condemned justly, for we are getting what we deserve for our deeds, but this man has done nothing wrong.” Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” He replied, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”
As far as I can tell, all of us long for peace and tranquility, though few of us are willing to pay the price it costs to actually obtain it.
I frequently repeat spiritual author Jack Shea’s insight that the historical Jesus’ ministry revolved around answering just three questions – What do you want out of life? Where do you get it? How much does it cost?
It’s clear from today’s first reading that the 10 tribes of the northern kingdom of Israel believe David – king of the 2 tribes comprising the southern kingdom of Judah - can bring about such peace and tranquility. The author of II Samuel succinctly states the situation: “When all the elders of Israel came to David in Hebron, King David made an agreement with them there before Yahweh, and they anointed him king of Israel.” This history changing treaty was ratified in 1,000 BCE – the easiest date in biblical history to remember – and lasted until David’s grandson Rehoboam’s reign in the 930s when the one nation again reverted to being two.
But at least for those 70 years Jews believed they could eliminate war and fighting by having one leader stronger than any other leader, especially leaders of the countries surrounding them. Their king’s army could either conquer those other armies, or put enough fear in them that they’d never dare start a war. A once popular 70s poster perfectly summarized their belief. “Lo, though I walk in the valley of darkness, I fear no evil, because I’m the meanest s.o.b. in the valley.” Peace came through power.
The Pauline disciple who wrote Colossians was convinced Jesus of Nazareth could also bring peace and tranquility, not just to Israel and Judah but to the whole world. Yet how this Galilean carpenter planned on doing it differed radically from David’s methodology. It turned everything upside down. This itinerant peasant preacher believed peace could only definitively be achieved by reconciliation, not warfare. The Colossians author was convinced that Jesus personally accomplished this “by the blood of his cross.” Against all logic, Jesus’ peace came not from strength but from weakness – the weakness one demonstrates by loving, not conquering others.
Luke couldn’t state this early Christian belief any better. Using Jesus’ actual crucifixion as the background, he shows how his kingship was diametrically opposed to any other kind of leadership. Following common wisdom, one of the criminals crucified with him joins the crowd in wanting to know why the Christ – the savior of Israel – isn’t saving the three of them by demonstrating he’s more powerful than the soldiers who’ve just nailed them to their crosses.
Yet Luke’s Jesus, always more concerned with the needs of others than his own, ignores their demands and instead responds to the plaintive request of the second criminal, “Remember me when you come into your kingdom.” He simply tells him, “Amen, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.” In other words, “Stop worrying! My suffering and death will bring you peace.”
The historical Jesus – following Jack Shea’s insight – assured his followers they could achieve peace and tranquility simply by imitating him. Not very complicated. But it was the cost of that imitation which created difficulties. To eventually reach a tranquil state, we, like him, would first have to suffer and die by giving ourselves to those around us – especially our enemies.
No wonder after just a few centuries some theologians got us off the suffering and dying hook by coming up with the concept of a “just war.” Just one problem: not only didn’t the gospel Jesus ever mention that loophole, but after 1600 years of employing it, it has yet to bring anyone lasting peace and tranquility.