Friday Focus: What Kind of King?
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." - Luke 23:33-43
Lots of kings have come from humble origins. David, the shepherd turned warrior, came to the throne from the field of battle. Napoleon vaulted from outcast immigrant to Emperor of France. Mythical Arthur pulled a sword from a stone and was transformed from bumpkin to monarch. In his wake came a score of Henry’s, George’s, Edward’s and William’s. Their ascent to the throne has been marked with solemnity, heralded by choirs, wildly cheered by euphoric throngs. That’s what the world expects of a king.
So what kind of king did we get… nailed naked to a cross, with a crown of thorns, a pitiful laughing stock, beaten and broken, hanging beneath a sign that mocked him as: Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews. What a sick joke. What a tragic disappointment to those who put their faith in him. And so it would be, if the story had ended there. But Calvary was a beginning not an end. From the cross Christ the King opened the floodgates of grace that have ennobled generations of Christians ever since.
Up til then his circumstances were humble: an itinerant preacher, born in a stable, a friend to sinners, spurned by the in-crowd. Yet his origins are exalted beyond all imagination. In the beginning was the Word… and the Word was God… all things were made through him. Jesus was not just a divine after-thought, sent to help us get our act together. Jesus was God before all Creation… one with the Father and the Holy Spirit. Scripture reveals and the Church Fathers have taught us that Jesus is the “Second Person” of the Trinity… a concept that defines our Christian faith, yet strains our human intellect.
I find the mystery of Jesus more approachable to see him as God’s love made flesh to redeem us, to inspire us, to lead us home to eternal life. The imagery of kingship is useful to illustrate our relationship with Jesus. He said: My kingdom is not of this world. But as earthly creatures our understanding of his kingship is limited. The imagery of kings and kingdoms are part of our intellectual vocabulary. Jesus uses them to helps us get a frail handle on the infinite greatness of God and our relationship to him.
Doubtless all of the inspired Gothic, Renaissance and Baroque depictions of Christ the King will prove quaint when we soon come face to face with the real thing. There never was or ever will be a king like this. Surely all the thrones and crowns and regal robes will be seen as human confections that we have cooked up to fill in the vast blank spaces that exist in our understanding of God. But his kingdom is real. We have God’s word on that. In all the gospels for this feast, the kingship of Christ is proclaimed over and over: in dialog before Pilate, in mockery by his executioners, in the desperate plea of the crucified thief. From the very beginnings of all the gospels, the “the kingdom” is proclaimed repeatedly. It is clearly more than a metaphor. It is a state of mind. It is a destination. Whether it will reside above the clouds, beyond the stars, in our hearts or, most likely, in a dimension well beyond our current comprehension: Christ’s kingdom will come. Jesus will reign in love and peace and serenity: King of Kings, Lord of Lords. That’s the kind of king we have.