A King's Ransom
First Reading Daniel 7:9-10, 13-14
Psalm Psalm 93
Second Reading Revelation 1:4b-8
Gospel John 18:33-37
“Ever since the world began, your throne has been established; * you are from everlasting.” In the Name of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.
Some say it is good to be the king. Tell that to all the kings who have been defeated, even killed, by foreign armies, or worse yet, by rebellion from their own people. Kingship brings forth many different images in history and our experience. For God’s chosen people, the love-hate relationship began long ago. Joshua, by the power of God, defeated many kings, and paved the way for the nation of Israel to inhabit the promised land. They looked around the then small world stage, the Ancient Near East, and said, “All the other nations have a king, we should have one too.” The people wanted to be like all the other nations, despite God’s repeated proclamation they are not like all the other nations. Humanity can be stubborn. They wanted a king. They demanded a king.
Joshua and later the prophets warned them, God is our only King. If you name a person king, they will tax your resources, conscript your sons for an army, take your daughters as servants in their palace, build great buildings on the backbreaking labor of the people, and take all the credit. A king will demand obedience and service. As God’s chosen, we are called to obey and serve God, and God alone.
Be careful what you wish for, you just might get it. And Israel got what they asked for, but perhaps not what they wanted. The kings of Israel can be divided into “good kings” and “bad kings.” Even the best remembered, such as King David, had his issues. Humanity has always had a precarious relationship with kingship. Is it any wonder the child’s game “King of the Mountain” centers around knocking down the current king so one might raise one’s self to the position of king. Children have the uncanny knack of innocently yet accurately portraying the world of adults.
For Jesus, it is probably not good to be the king, or at least called king, when standing in front of Pilate. As Roman procurator, Pilate must protect the emperor’s claim as ruler of the Roman Empire. For Pilate, it is more immediately important to protect his small circle of power and authority. It would not look good on Pilate’s resume to have a rebellion and competing claim of king rise up on his watch. He wants to stay on top of his mountain. But what is Pilate really protecting? What power does he really have? Pilate claims to be in authority, but is not his own master.
Pilate is often thought of as willing to release Jesus, but is too weak to do so. He is unwilling to overturn the demands of the Jewish leadership and the crowds, too concerned for his own position and self-preservation. He is willing to commit any perjury or injustice to hold on to the power he thinks he has. In John, Pilate seems to go even further, ridiculing the possibility of Jesus’ kingship.
In the exchange between Jesus and Pilate, two images of power come face to face. Pilate believes he has the power to destroy and the power to save. Jesus will ultimately demonstrate Pilate has no power at all. Jesus suggests Pilate has no concept of true kingship. Earthly political power is an illusion. Our strange human obsession with power is an aberration. The power we seek has no ability to create, to redeem, or to sanctify. It is time to recognize a different kind of King.
Christ is King. Humanity names our own kings, rather than recognize the Truth, that God alone is King ... sovereign, all powerful, all knowing, and all present. The Book of Daniel and the Revelation of John offer us apocalyptic glimpses of God’s kingdom and perfect reign, and they are too much to take in. It is too much to wrap our human brains around. We must abandon our experience and understanding of human kings. God’s is a different kind of Kingdom, and a different kind of King.
Earthly kings demand their subjects kneel before them. God knelt down to humanity and offered a Son, to experience humanity and live and die as one of us. Earthly king’s demand servitude. Through Christ, God shows us the way of love and service to others. When kings were captured in battle, they expected their subjects to buy their freedom and pay a king’s ransom. Christ freed us all from the power of death and offered his life, the ultimate King’s ransom.
We are to called to identify and deny all that competes for Christ’s throne in our lives and proclaim Christ King of all. The challenge is discerning God’s will in God’s reign, and recognizing our own desire for power and control of our lives. Do we use the notion of God’s rule actually to impose our own? Do we impose our understanding of the world on others, especially those weaker than ourselves, and proclaim we are only adhering to God’s will?
We are disciples, followers of Christ, and wrapped up in discipleship is the ongoing work of discerning what God would have us do ... what might be the next faithful step. We are freed by Christ from sin, but continue to strive and struggle with obedience. On our journey, there will be blessing and suffering, as Jesus demonstrated in both his glory and the cross. The way of Jesus is the way of Truth. Any other way is bound to fail. Our King is the One “who is and who was and who is to come.” Our King is the alpha and the omega, the beginning and the end, total and complete. Our King is for ever and ever, Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen