Reflections on the readings for Sunday 21 November 2010
2 Samuel 5:1-3; Psalm 122:1-5; Colossians 1:12-20; Luke 23:35-43
David’s journey to kingship was a circuitous one. He had been anointed by the prophet Samuel while he was still a shepherd boy during the reign of King Saul. He served in Saul’s court for a time but then spent years as a fugitive from the jealous king who wanted to kill him. After Saul was killed in battle David’s own tribe Judah made him king, but the northern tribes of Israel remained faithful to Saul’s son. The first reading is set a number of years after David has become king of Judah and records the moment when the northern tribes also accept David as their king. The son of Saul who had ruled over them was dead, and they knew the fearsome reputation of David as a great warrior and wily negotiator. They were convinced that this man showed the necessary leadership and military skills and so they finally acknowledged his claim to be chosen by God. They recognised David as king because he did the kind of things a king is expected to do: he exercised power. David and his descendents – the Davidic line – were established as one domination system among the domination systems of the world, hopefully righteous, but nevertheless still using the tried and trusted political and military methods of holding on to and extending their power.
David established himself in Jerusalem which became the seat of the Davidic dynasty. His son Solomon built the temple there. Jerusalem as celebrated in Psalm 122 became the centre of the hopes of the people of God on so many levels. The temple was the magnetic centre for worship and the Davidic king was supposed to embody God’s justice and protection in their midst. Temple and king together symbolised their status as the people especially favoured by God and were the guarantee of God’s gracious presence with them. Later in their history they lost both when the Babylonians carried them off into exile. They returned to their land and rebuilt the temple but the Davidic dynasty was not restored. God’s promise to David then became the focus of messianic hopes; the people longed for the day when an anointed son of David would once again rule over them.
Many people in first century Palestine were longing for God’s chosen one to come, the Messiah or Christ (both mean ‘anointed’). They were hoping for the restoration of a Jewish kingdom under the (Davidic) king of the Jews. It was clear to the powerful people at Jesus’ crucifixion that this scorned, helpless man could not be he, whatever the earlier promise of Jesus’ miracle-working ministry. And yet the criminal alongside Jesus recognises in his co-crucified not only an innocent man but also a king: “remember me when you come into your kingdom.”
When we worship Christ as King, what do we imagine? If Christ is King in the mould of a human ruler, then he must fight in order to subdue his enemies. He must be the biggest and the best, playing the same power games, only better. As a kind of über-David he would out-dominate the world’s domination systems. But that’s not the picture given in the Gospel or the reading from Colossians. As the one who images God for us, Jesus inaugurates the reign of God by showing a completely new way of ‘winning’, the way of the cross. The way of the cross sidesteps all the power games and unmasks them. Jesus forgives his enemies and disarms them. The victory sought is not domination, but reconciliation, a returning of all things to the purposes for which they were created, including powers and principalities. If that is how the kingdom of God comes, it must affect the way in which the Church as the people of God operates. Where the Church becomes another domination system among the domination systems of the world something is amiss. We fail to recognise our King.