Sunday, November 25, 2012

Behold Your King

After Jesus has fed the five thousand the Gospel writer tells us, “When the people saw the sign which he had performed, they said, ‘This is truly the Prophet who is to come into the world.’ So Jesus, perceiving that they were intending to come and take him by force to make him king, withdrew again to the mountain by himself alone." As we celebrate Christ as King today, it is wise and wonderful to remember this scene. For “King” may be a title we need- to remind us of the place we want Jesus to have in our lives, in our hearts- but if we are not clear about who Jesus really is, he may elude us and withdraw. King is a dangerous title after all, all about domination and power. And it is simply not a title Jesus chooses for himself. In the trial scene in John’s Gospel, Pilate asks Jesus, “Then you are a king?” Jesus’ response, “You say I am a king,” is not an affirmation like, “You’ve said it!” Scholars tell us that it is probably something like, “Call me a king, if you so desire.”

Such is the humble majesty of Jesus in John’s Gospel that even here as he is being interrogated as a criminal by Pilate; it is Pilate himself and not Jesus who seems to be on trial, it is he who puts Pilate on the spot. Jesus goes to his passion and death in sovereign freedom. Jesus speaks of truth and about a place, a place called the kingdom, where God’s truth has absolute precedence. It is this place, this kingdom that Jesus enfleshes with every fiber of his being. He embodies the kingdom that he himself proclaims. He enfleshes the humility of God’s love that the kingdom is, for God’s loving-kindness has taken flesh in him.

Jesus has not taken our flesh to bully us or make power plays or exercise domination as worldly kings might do, who try “to make their importance felt.” There’s no drama. He says simply, "My kingdom does not belong to this world.” From the very beginning of his ministry he has absolutely refused to be Super-Jesus. Ignoring Satan’s prodding when he is tempted, “C’mon, you can do it. Change these stones into loaves of bread. Jump off the top of the Temple,” he says emphatically, “No! Be gone.” Jesus has come to serve, to heal, to console and feed us and to wash our feet.

Detail of The Redeemer, Michelangelo, 1521, Church of Santa Maria Sopra Minerva, Rome.Essay includes insights from Gerard Sloyan, Interpretation: John and James Alison, Undergoing God.