I’m going to be honest. I don’t think Jesus loves “king” language. But here we are on the Last Sunday in Ordinary Time of RCL year B, and our readings, as always on this Sunday, are all about kings and kingship, and the surely strange application of that title to Jesus. (Readings can be found here.)
In our reading from 2 Samuel, we can find the “last words of King David,” that “man after God’s own heart” (1 Samuel 13:14). For a useful tool in assessing David’s kingship, why not also go back to God’s words of warning to God’s people when the whole idea of kingship is raised in the first place? They can be found here. Short version: God says (in essence) “I’m your king, but, hey, have it your way. Get yourself a king. See how you like it.” Davids words are moving, however: in his last hours he opens his mouth for God’s oracle to be made known: that “One who rules over people justly, ruling in the fear of God, is like the light of morning, like the sun rising on a cloudless morning, gleaming from the rain on the grassy land.” ~2 Sam. 23:3b-4
The Psalm (93) has the tone of an ecstatic oracle, too, The psalmist resorts to images of thunder and mighty waters, in attempting to give even the tiniest glimpse of God’s majesty.
The reading from Revelation is another vision– that’s three so far!– of Jesus Christ who is described as “the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth” (Rev. 1:5). Like the readings from 2 Samuel and the Psalter, the writer looks to nature to convey Christ’s wondrous nature: he will be “coming with the clouds.”
John’s gospel– never one to shy way from language of glory and awe– interrupts these narratives with the starkest of images: Jesus, all too human, has been arrested on specious claims. (He can serve in this moment as a reminder of so many of our African American siblings, whose arrests somehow, inexplicably, end in their deaths.) Jesus’ closest friends have abandoned him, denied even knowing him, and he has been brutalized by law enforcement. He stands, with no witness or defense to his name, before the highest local (civil) authority. The outcome of the trial is a matter of life or death (from any angle).
The question: “Are you the king of the Jews?”
“Do you ask this on your own, or did others tell you about me?”
“My kingdom is not from this world. If my kingdom were from this world, my followers would be fighting to keep me from being handed over to [those for whom you imagine I am king]. But as it is, my kingdom is not from here.”
“You say that I am a king.”
Jesus does not embrace the title. He speaks vaguely of another world, a claim the Roman governor has no way of verifying.
This is the nature of Jesus’ kingship, if it exists at all. It can never be recognized by other kings… the moment they do, their own authority vanishes. It is also a title that sits uneasily on this man who has roamed the Judean countryside and Jerusalem’s city streets, engaging in verbal skirmishes with religious and civil authorities alike. ‘King’ may be too paltry a title for what he has in mind; either that, or it may be a title he rejects outright.
How will you observe “Reign of Christ” or “Christ the King” or “Christ Our Sovereign” Sunday? Will you compare Jesus with one who is said to be his forbear, David? Will you embrace a “Jesus of the People” Not-King? Will you soar with the nature imagery from the first three readings? Will you take your congregation to Holy Week, to observe the strangeness of this king who is tried and dies?
I look forward to our conversation in the comments… Blessings upon your Thanksgiving (those who are in/ of the US), and blessings upon this Sunday’s reading, writing, and proclamation.