Remaining steadfast to the character of Christ's reign
Christ the King: 25th November, 2018
Fr Greg Davies, Priest Assisting at St Peter's, Eastern Hill
At the recent APEC meeting of international leaders from around our region, we witnessed a clash between at least two major powers — namely China and the USA over trade and also their influence within the Asia Pacific region. When a major power who is dominant perceives another power growing and feels threatened, then of course they react. We see this of course not only on the international stage between nations but it happens at all levels of human interaction be that at a national level, within communities, workplaces or families. This focus on power, authority and how we exercise it is timely in light of [our state election yesterday and how a newly elected government might exercise their new mandate and authority and] especially as we celebrate the feast of Christ the King or its more contemporary title — the Reign of Christ.
In our celebration of Christ's reign and authority as revealed in the gospel may also shed some light or guidance on how we are to exercise authority and perhaps more importantly react when there is an imbalance in power or a clash/conflict between two powers. In today's gospel we are certainly presented with a clash of power, in that Pilate is here pictured as the all powerful one against the man Jesus, a teacher whose reputation, charisma and preaching have got him into this dangerous confrontation with civil authority. The confrontation then unfolds between two very different perspectives and understanding of kingdom — of power and authority. This becomes clear in Pilate's opening question to Jesus. "Are you the King of the Jews?" Pilate's agenda here is to determine whether this Jesus poses some kind of political threat. In other words, he is asking Jesus, "Are you leading a nationalist revolt against Roman occupation?" Pilate is on about politics — about power and authority; Jesus is also on about power and authority but from an entirely different perspective — a perspective that for want of a better title — is 'religious or spiritual' rather than 'political'. This means, Jesus goes beyond the political here on earth and points to the transcendent authority of God and God's kingdom.
In earthly or political terms Jesus does not stand a chance. Jesus admits as much when he says, If my kingdom were from this world, my followers would be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Jews. Jesus does not resort to unknown or supernatural powers. The clash here is again between two very different worlds. When Jesus says that my kingdom is not from this world, I don't think he means that his sphere of rule is purely heavenly as if to leave the earth and humanity to its own devices. The saying is not about the kingdom's location but rather about its character: This kingdom that Jesus lives and proclaims isn't the sort that advances itself by manipulation, oppression or violence. Its character is not about putting people down nor is it about fighting off competition in order to sure up its own position. On the contrary, it is about God's purpose and love for humanity and for this to be realized in the here and now. In other words, it is about'truth'. Jesus reply to Pilate is clear — You say that I am a king. For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth — that is, to bear witness to the kingship or reign of God. And so, Jesus presents himself as God's regent if we follow this kind of kingship or royal imagery, but more important is Jesus' mission which was to declare God's truth and to call all people into that truth — a truth that proclaims the love and good purpose of God for all.
Pilate never seems to understand this or perhaps does not really want to understand it. How easy it is for us to close our eyes, ears, minds and hearts to a reality that threatens or undermines our own power, position or authority. However, the readers of this gospel of John know that Jesus came into the world to call God's people by speaking to them the truth of God, especially the magnitude of God's love as revealed in Jesus himself. This revelation brings the clash to a head for that community and so indeed for us today when we must choose whether to side with truth — with God's reign or that of the world.
And this is a decision that we may need to make each day as we too may find ourselves up against the kind of power or authority that operates through coercion, threat, manipulation, exploitation, dishonesty or even abuse be in the home, the work place, in the wider community and sadly even in our church.
The choice Jesus' calls us to make and its implications for our everyday life is revealed by Jesus himself and how he exuded the extraordinary character of God's kingdom. Jesus lived and witnessed to an authority and/or kingship that again stands in stark contrast to the aggression and violence that characterizes so much of our world today — and has done so for much of human history be it through dictators, rebel or political groups/organisations or individuals.
Christ used kingly authority to challenge and revise people's understanding of what it meant to be over others. His kingship contradicted the usual ways of the powerful and rich. He refuted the worldly definitions of success. The symbol of his reign, the cross is the paradox of the servant-king who came to tend to humanity's real needs. This reversal offers a new model in contrast to the old superior/inferior pattern. One became strong by acknowledging one's weaknesses and limitations; one became a leader not through force or coercion but through service and sacrifice. This is the kingdom that Jesus lived, proclaimed and in turn invited us to be a part of. Our yes to that challenge and invitation means a commitment to a way of life that again is grounded in the love and service that Christ lived and died for.
And so like Jesus as we strive to do this we can only expect to clash with the powers or authorities of this world. Well — perhaps not so much the structures or institutions but certainly the way power and authority is exercised within our communities. We too may well find ourselves being questioned, challenged, tempted or coerced to fall into line by hitting back in some way when we feel we have been hurt or have suffered injustice. In the midst of all this I believe that the challenge is not so much in the nature or amount of power or authority that we have and can exercise but rather when we look to Jesus and follow his example, is the way in which we exercise that power and authority that can have such a huge impact on relationships and outcomes and at the same time bear witness to the true character of Christ's reign among us.
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St Peter's Eastern Hill, Melbourne Australia.