Christ the King

You know those discussions you have, especially when you’re fairly young, about what you would do if you ever found yourself possessing unfathomable riches?  If you had 100 billion dollars, what would you do?  I used to joke that I would raise a private army and take over Cuba, installing myself as king.  I would have been a benevolent king, I’m sure, worthy of the praises of my people.  But the fact remains that we don’t live in a time that has been particularly kind to kings, at least in the western world.  Our very existence here speaks to how our forefathers felt about kings.  Most western royal houses exist for show more than anything else, and now that we’ve thrown off the worst of what royalty has to offer, we can do things like enjoy royal weddings and princess movies and seeing American girls become duchesses.

But the fact remains that “Not every image of kingliness is pleasant.  Even in better times for royalty, kings have been associated with opulence, money, and reckless appetite.  They were distant and unapproachable, high and mighty surrounded by sycophant and jester.  Most strutted through time, decked in finery, decorated with trappings and trimmings of grand lordliness.  It was the uncommon king who did otherwise.

“King imagery is more problematic today, not only because of widespread suspicion of hierarchy and masculine dominance (a lordly word, that).  We are also not likely to be drawn to chivalrous virtues. Notions like honor, obedience, duty, and loyalty vex anyone whose highest value is individualism.  We love our autonomy (I sure do).  We celebrate choice because it is ours.  Doing the will of someone else is another matter.”[1]

And so welcome to the Feast of Christ the King.  The Last Sunday after Pentecost, according to our church calendar – or perhaps it’s easier to think of it as the last Sunday before we launch into the Advent season – is always the feast of Christ the King, a time to reflect on just Who we’re dealing with as we prepare to gaze upon Him as a baby on Christmas.  We do that because it can sometimes be difficult to grasp, in our day and age, just what it means to refer to Jesus as our King.

“The difficulty of properly applying king-talk to Jesus already appears during Jesus’ own public ministry.  While Jesus easily and enthusiastically proclaimed the kingship, or reign, of God, he was reluctant to accept for himself the royal title of Messiah (“Anointed One,” for which the Greek equivalent was Christos).  This reluctance seems linked, at least in part, to the image of king that most of Jesus’ contemporaries associated with the expected Anointed One.  Many first-century Jews appeared to be looking for a Messiah who would lead the people in the manner of King David, which at that moment of history seemed to entail leading an armed revolt against the Romans.”[2]

We already know that Jesus wasn’t about all that.  At no time did He ever even speak of raising a private army and taking over Israel, even though I am certain He would have been a benevolent king, worthy of the praises of His people.  But Jesus did talk an awful lot about the Kingdom of God, the reign of His Father.  All this talk got people nervous, especially those in power, and those from His own people who had authority, the Scribes and the Pharisees, they used all this talk to set Jesus up to be killed by the Romans.  “A person who constantly spoke of a kingdom and was treated by his followers as the Anointed One must, his opponents insisted, surely pose a threat to Roman law and order.”[3]

And so it ends up being Pilate, of all people, who actually recognizes that Jesus is truly the King of the Jews and perhaps the King of more than he could conceive, and we all know his course of action.

It’s been said that in Jesus, we serve a strange king.  That is true in that God is truly strange to us, but false in that the kingship of Christ is the true icon of a king – Jesus is what a king looks like, and we, with all our human kings, with their opulence, money, and reckless appetites, are just perversions of the real thing.

The Feast of Christ the King forces us to choose between the two images of kingship, and to choose which type of king we prefer to follow.

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