A different kind of KingA sermon for Christ the King Sunday 2021 November 21, 2021 by Sebastian Meadows-Helmer
- Filed Under:
- Pr. Sebastian
Almost 40 years ago, a film deemed by an ABC poll to be the 5th greatest film of all time, appeared on screens in movie theatres worldwide. The movie, by director Steven Spielberg, was E.T., The Extra-Terrestrial.
Some of you might have even seen it.
“The author of the novel on which the screenplay was based has indicated that she intended it to be a kind of a parable of the life of Jesus. An engaging creature with mysterious powers arrives from a realm beyond this earth, dies, comes back to life, and returns to his extraterrestrial world. Audiences have had their hearts captured again [and again] by this little weird-looking character.
Notice that he was not a “creature from the voids of space”
with invincible powers, zapping enemies with ray guns,
conquering earth with thought-control devices etc.
Rather he was vulnerable and subject to risk. That is what allowed audiences to laugh and cry,
to smile and cheer. This says something about what really controls and rules us.”
Jesus, as our Gospel reading today tells us,
is not of this world. Like, ET, he did not put on big shows of power,
he did not destroy his enemies with the sword.
And we are attracted to Jesus, not because of his superhuman strength,
but because he tells us the truth about ourselves,
because he is vulnerable, approachable, different,
and somewhat majestic and regal in a sombre way.
The handcuffed prisoner talks about kings and kingdoms and truth, and we listen.
In our Gospel text from John today, we have a debate between “kings”. Between the representative of Roman power, Pontius Pilate, and the representative of divine power, Jesus.
Jesus had been brought to Pilate’s headquarters, and faced accusations as a criminal. The crowd wanted to put Jesus to death, but Pilate wasn’t so sure of his guilt.
And so, Pilate asks Jesus: Are you the King of the Jews?
This is the Big question.
The ultimate question that any Roman ruler would ask.
It is a Political accusation of whether Jesus wanted to be a king, over and above the Roman law.
Pilate wants to figure out if this Galilean was plotting a revolution, and whether he is guilty of treason.
Because to claim kingship illegally from the Roman powers
was basically to question the status quo, to question the legitimacy of the Roman power,
and this would be punishable by death. a cruel and painful death.
Pontius Pilate, was Roman governor of Judea from 26-36 A.D. Ancient Jewish authors describe him as being harsh and unjust.
However in this Gospel account, it seems almost like Pilate is forced
into the position of being a judge…
he doesn’t really want to be here,
He doesn’t want to have to make this decision.
By asking “are you the king of the Jews?”
Pilate ridicules the concept of Jewish kingship:
He basically says: “You people have been slaves of Rome for more than 80 years, how could anyone conceive of successfully rising up against the most powerful empire the world has ever seen?”
Are you the king of the Jews??:
It is firstly a political question:
are you a threat to the social order? Are you an enemy or a friend?
And Jesus responds: My kingdom is not of this world. It is not from here. My kingdom doesn’t consist of what you see around you. I’m not the world’s kind of king.
This response would have smoothed things over for Pilate…
initially, that is...
If Jesus’ kingdom is not of this world, then there is no need to prosecute, as Jesus lays no political claims.
A kingdom “not of this world” poses no threat to the powers that be.
But perhaps there is more than meets the eye in this one.
Because Jesus is not talking about a “pie in the sky” kingdom,
he’s not talking about some fairy tale fairyland.
Jesus, as witnessed by his teaching and healing,
is interested in questions of power, injustice, peace, pain and abuse.
His “kingdom”, his kingship, is concerned with matters of the greatest importance for humans…but his solution is not the traditional war-mongering one.
This stems from the fact that Jesus’ father was not a prince or a ruler,
or a governor.
Jesus’ royal dignity comes from his heavenly father.
And this shows that here, in Pilate’s palace,
the prisoner has the upper hand.
Jesus’ replies go farther and deeper than the questioner had bargained for.
Because Jesus’ answers go beyond the here and the now,
beyond the realities of 1st century Palestine.
They have to do with ultimate realities, and truths.
And throughout this exchange between governor and prisoner,Jesus’ vulnerability hooks us, and claims us.
Through his vulnerability, our own vulnerability is displayed:
which we are aware of through the
- injustice, abuse, pain, suffering, selfishness and violence of this world,
- but also in its beauty, sharing, love and self-giving.
Have we had an experience such as Christ had,
of being a victim, or do we know of someone who did?
Most of us can tell the story of someone who died too young,
someone who lost a job,
some spouse who deserted the family,
some family member who cannot be contacted.
Throughout, Christ was there,
okaying our vulnerability,
telling us the truth about ourselves.
And Pilate asks Jesus again: “Are you a King?
Do you claim to have a Kingdom and worldly power?”
On this feast day of Christ the King, we celebrate an outdated, and even anachronistic image
of Jesus as a monarch.Yet interestingly, at least on the symbol on this pulpit parament,
Christ the King is represented by a crown and a cross.
Without the cross, the crown is just sheer power, glory.
But with the cross, there is a recognition of solidarity with the downtrodden of this planet.
Jesus’ power is not a power over others,
but power with the forgotten.
Jesus shows Power in weakness,
power in vulnerability.
In this account of Jesus’ trial, we read of Christ not only as divine King, but as condemned prisoner in this fallen world.
And Jesus responds once more to Pilate:
You say that I am a King, for this I was born, and come into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.
Jesus’ Kingdom is a kingdom of Vulnerability.
It is a kingdom of justice, truth, goodness, and peace
that stands against the powers that be.
Jesus’ kingdom is not of this world,
but at work in the world.
And what this kingdom precisely is,
although somewhat mysterious in this passage from John,
is fleshed out to a greater degree in Jesus’ parables
of the Kingdom of God.
like the sower and the seed, the good samaritan, the prodigal son…
This Kingdom of which Jesus speaks, is a kingdom undergirded by truth.
The truth embodied in his person, and in the lived-out response of his followers.
This truth here is not a series of statements or propositions.
The truth is firstly that: Jesus comes from God.
And secondly: the truth is contained in that great commandment:
love one another.
Jesus is the royal messenger from God,
bringing us the divine truth.
Let us hear and listen.
and Acknowledge the truth:
by worshiping Jesus as King of our Lives and
Lord of our souls. Amen.
Leave a Comment