Reflections on the Readings for Sunday 25 November 2012
Daniel 7:13-14; Psalm 93:1-2, 5; Revelation 1:5-8; John 18:33b-37
In the Godly Play lesson for the first week of Advent I will tell the children: “A King is coming, but he is not the kind of king that people thought was coming. He didn’t have a big army, or a great house or lots of riches. This King was a baby who was born in a barn.” I wonder whether as the people of God we really ‘get’ the divine relationship to power. Not only Jesus’ birth but also his death turns conventional expectations on their head. Perhaps we’re holding out for the ‘Second Coming’ when Jesus will finally do kingship as we know it. Or will he?
Was Jesus Christ powerful? I find that a hard question to answer. He was crucified by the joint efforts of the religious and political authority of his day, so he didn’t have that kind of power. And yet he was not a helpless victim. People were amazed that he taught with such authority, and after a while his opponents were afraid to take him on with questions because he could run circles around them. And yet mothers brought their babies to him to hold and bless. When it came to power, Jesus marched to a different drum.
Although it isn’t clear in today’s Gospel reading from John, Mark’s Gospel shows us that Jesus at his trial understood his impending death in terms of the Danielic Son of Man who receives the kingdom from the Ancient of Days. The High Priest asks him: ‘Are you the Christ, the Son of the Blessed?’ Jesus answers: “I am; and you will see the Son of man sitting at the right hand of the Power, and coming with the clouds of Heaven.” (Mark 14:61-62). Later, it is when the centurion standing at the cross sees how Jesus dies that he testifies: “Truly this man was the Son of God!” Dominion, glory and kingship come not through force of arms, but through total commitment to God’s way, even to the point of death. This is the kind of power that doesn’t try to out-gun the power of the world, but completely subverts it.
There are different ways of proclaiming ‘The Lord is king!’ One of them is to use God to legitimise kingship and earthly rule. When human rule is understood as the expression of God’s rule in the world (as with the Davidic king in Ancient Israel), rebellion against that authority is equivalent to rebellion against God. Another way to proclaim the Lord’s kingship is to recognise that God’s rule undercuts all other claims to sovereignty. In the words of Peter in Acts 4, it is better to obey God than humans. This isn’t to advocate anarchy, but recognises that no power which works against the Kingdom of God can demand our allegiance, even if that power invokes God’s name. Conversely, we cannot claim to own ourselves. We do have a king who calls us to follow. But he’s a very different kind of king who demands a very different way of living. Christ’s kingdom is not of this world, not because it is in some ethereal realm unrelated to real life, but because it plays by completely different rules. Those who have been called into this kingdom should be living out that very different way of being in the here and now. And we can do so in hope, because the King that was coming is still coming.