Sermons from St
At the trial of Jesus, Pontius Pilate put to him the direct question “Are you the king of the Jews?” And St John’s gospel has Jesus replying, “Yes, I am a King. I was born for this, I came into the world for this, to bear witness to the truth, and all who are on the side of truth listen to my voice.” But he also pointed out that his Kingship was not of this world. Today it is only with great difficulty that we can begin to understand the original meaning of the Kingdom of God, or the Rule of God. To the modern mind the concept of Kingly rule has become associated with authoritarianism and suppression, but not so in Old Testament times.
The Kingdom of God is non-political and non national. In ancient Israel, justice consisted, not so much in applying the law fairly, but rather in maintaining help and protection for the weak, the poor and the helpless. If the justice of God operated in the world it would hopefully usher in peace between nations, between individuals, and within each individual.
Left to their own resources, humans were seen as incapable of attaining this peace and justice, since life was constantly threatened, freedom suppressed, justice trampled underfoot. To remedy this, a completely fresh start was necessary, something which God alone could initiate. This new element is what is meant by the Kingdom of God, a Kingdom which would bring liberation from the forces of evil, and reconciliation between divided peoples.
Although Christ denied that his kingdom is of this world, nevertheless his Kingship is a very real power, which will be revealed at the end of time. It’s interesting that people who are vested with purely earthly power are at a loss when confronted with this power of Christ. Their reaction quite often has been, and still is, to strike out blindly, using abuse, or even physical violence against what they regard as a threat to their power. For power, in a vulgar sense, is by and large recognised only by winning in a confrontation.
We should always remember that Jesus’ death and resurrection i the supreme example of evil being overcome by offering no resistance to it in any physical way. In the course of its history Israel learned, through bitter experience, that belief in the Lordship of God contracted sharply with the world as it was around them The result was the formation of a new vision of life hereafter, while those who had suffered in the cause of truth here in this world would be rewarded. Jesus himself promised that those who are ready to leave earthly possessions and relatives for the sake of his name will be repaid a hundred times over and also inherit eternal life. Furthermore, Jesus gives another twist to this hope in things to come by saying that a transformation is already taking place: “Blessed are the eyes which see what you see. For I tell you many prophets and Kings longed to see what you see and did not see it,t o hear what you hear and never heard it.”
Christ spoke of the Kingdom of God in parables; in every one of which a mystery lies hidden. For example, to Jews the mustard seed was the smallest of all seeds, the most insignificant of all things. Yet out of it comes a huge tree. God’s Kingdom comes in a hidden way, even in spite of seeming failure. But, as with the mustard seed, this small beginning holds the promise of a magnificent ending. “I think that what we suffer in this life can never be compared to the glory, as yet un-revealed, which is waiting for us,” St Paul wrote in his letter to the Romans. At first sight there seems to be a contradiction between the present and the future in Jesus’ references to the Kingdom. The Kingdom is here and now, we are told, and yet we are asked to look forward and in the Lord’s Prayer we pray, ‘Thy Kingdom come.’
Jesus gives the answer to this. “The Kingdom of God does not come in such a way as to be seen. No one will say, ‘Look here it is’, or, ‘There it is’ because the Kingdom of God is within you.’ That’s to say, here and now, God is at work within each one of us, and putting before us al choice, a choice to let Jesus give direction to our lives, a choice which will determine our own future also.
For each person Christ’s Kingdom begins with an inner renewal, a spiritual rebirth. It’s only by this personal reformation that we can help in the spread and expansion of the Kingdom and also bring about a renewal and a transformation of the society in which we live. “I tell you most solemnly”, Christ warned, “unless people are born again of water and the Holy Spirit, they cannot enter the Kingdom of God.”
Christ’s life, death and resurrection teach us that humble dependence, trust, obedience, love and service will ultimately lift us up to God; that pride and self-regard will cast us down; Kingship is humble service, not Lordship of an earthly Kingdom of rule and domination. Pilate need not have feared. This subversive truth – that Kingship is service – is often borne out by those human beings who seem to hold the most distinguished roles, but who are often also distinguished by their humility. They hold positions of jobs that they have not sought, but that they have been called to. They are not comfortable, easy, peaceful ljobs but challenging, exhausting, self-sacrificing jobs, taken on, in obedience, trust and hope, in response to God’s call, by those who tend to feel unworthy of them. I’m thinking of Mary, the queen of heaven at the annunciation, who submitted her will to God’s will and dedicated her body to hs service; of our own queen, who has dedicated her life to service of others, with a strong sense of vocation and duty; I’m also thinking of priests and other professionals who have taken up the challenge of parishes and jobs in some of the most deprived and most difficult parts of the country. In the Italian Dolomites there’s a wonderful twelfth-century collegiate church with a raised altar. Suspended high up in the centre is a group of carved, wooden figures: the crucified Christ, with his mother Mary and the apostle John on either side. This Christ was not a Christ in agony, twisted and distorted by suffering, but a calm, serene, crowned King – a King with arms outstretched, nailed to a cross, looking down compassionately, piercingly, on those below him.
Humility exalts; pride casts down. So the answer to the relation between |Jesus of Nazareth and Christ the King, which is at the heart of today’s feast and celebration, is that Kingship is service; that human life is one of humble obedience to God, who turns our human pride on its head and subverts it by becoming man; that humility exalts and pride casts down.