Not that kind of king

Reflections on the readings for Sunday 24 November 2013 (Solemnity of Christ the King)
2 Samuel 5:1-3; Psalm 122:1-5; Colossians 1:12-20; Luke 23:35-43 (Find them here)

David’s journey to kingship was a circuitous one. Samuel anointed the shepherd boy during the reign of King Saul. David served in Saul’s court for a time, but then spent many 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 rest of Israel remained faithful to Saul’s son, Ishbaal. 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. Ishbaal had been assassinated and they knew the fearsome reputation of David as a great warrior and wily negotiator. Convinced that this man showed the necessary leadership and military skills, they finally acknowledged his claim to be chosen by God. They recognised David as king because he did what 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 house of God 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 executed with the sentence “King of the Jews” nailed to the cross was not the king they were hoping for, 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, including powers and principalities, to the purposes for which they were created.

If Christ is that kind of king, what of the Church who claims Christ as its head? Where the Church joins the conventional power games as another domination system among the domination systems of the world, something is amiss. We fail to recognise our King.

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About Jessie Rogers

I'm a Scripture scholar and Godly Play practitioner living in Ireland.
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