John 18.33-37 & Daniel 7.9-10,13,14
Power crazy people in themselves can be difficult enough but when they come face to face with their opposite number and neither will back down, then it’s often a recipe for disaster. People and physical resources become mere pawns in their games as they seek to destabilise and weaken each other. I’m sure that you can easily call to mind examples currently in the news, Belarus, Afghanistan and the troop build up near Ukraine come to mind.
So today we meet the familiar figure of Pontius Pilate, a powerful man indeed, the Roman Prefect (or Governor) of Judea with great military resources at his disposal. He really is not interested in the people’s squabbles as he sees the concerns of the Jewish leaders, there is a sense that he can’t be bothered to intervene in their dramas unless his rule is threatened. So he wastes no energy investigating what he assumes are false accusations against the man brought before him, this Jesus of Nazareth, and instead comes straight out with ‘ Are you the King of the Jews’?
If you asked a Judean local who was powerful they would tell you of the Roman and Jewish leaders but the way in which Jesus answers Pilate’s question has a sense of power that comes from a deeper authority which isn’t granted through rank or your place in the system.
Jesus’ reply is a challenge that I’ve seen described as ‘slow’, the slow food movement I’m familiar with but slow Kingship is a new way of for seeing things. I guess it’s the sort of challenge to Pilate and many like him which is subtle, rooted in truth and which just won’t go away. It requires a shift in the way we see things, it’s certainly not a Kingship for the war mongers or the vengeful.
Pilate correctly interprets Jesus’ replies to his question as a ‘yes’, a direct threat to his authority, in fact, to all authority. He’s not interested to hear what this type of kingship is all about, how it might differ from people’s expectations, how it’s very strength comes from turning away from the exploitation and violence that temporarily props up earthly rulers nor how it finds enduring power among the weak, the servants and those who seek justice.
Our lectionary labels this Sunday as ‘Christ the King’, the hinge between Ordinary Time and Advent which starts next week. When we think of Jesus’ kingship in the bible we may recall the time the Magi got King Herod worried when they asked ‘where is the child who has been born king of the Jews, or when Jesus was in the wilderness and refused an offer to have all worldly kingdoms if he would worship the devil. Perhaps the easiest image to conjure up is that of Christ riding into Jerusalem on a donkey as the crowds laid cloaks and branches in his path ‘Look, your king is coming to you, humble, and mounted on a donkey…’
These earlier events have already taught Jesus’ followers that this is no normal king but someone who has come to show them what real kingship is about, how things could be so much better for us and all in the world if only we would listen. But even to them it must have been a challenge to recognise Christ’s kingship as he is pushed around and sent before Pilate as a child might be sent to the Headmaster.
In our reading from the book of Daniel we hear an Old Testament description more in line with what we might recognise as earthly power. A great throne to be occupied by ‘an ancient one’, old and wise we assume, in white robes as fire spues out around him and thousands of servants attend him.
It plays into the stereotype that God is an old bloke with white hair, just like in many films and cartoons.
‘An ancient one’ can be an image used both positively and negatively dependant upon one’s agenda.
Age should not be a determining factor in anything much, ageism is often rife along with many other prejudices, and because our world is so technology driven some younger people associate a lack of familiarity with tech as a lack of familiarity with the world when the fact is that each can benefit from the others knowledge.
Admittedly it can sometimes seem that different generations have their own language. I heard of one mum, confused by all the abbreviations used in texting who sent a message her son to asking what does IDK, LY, & TTYL mean? He texted back, I Don't Know, Love You, & Talk To You Later. So she replied, don't worry about it. I'll ask your sister, love you too.
Let’s be honest, we’ve all done it, or at least had to fight hard not to do it. You are sat down in a warm conference room, however important the subject, the presenter may not be the most scintillating, maybe you’ve had lunch and the lights are dimmed. Add in some jetlag and a busy schedule and perhaps you don’t actually have to be that ancient to fall asleep, though if you hold a position of global responsibility you can be sure that your opponents will seize the opportunity to say this proves that you are ‘past it’.
Until very recently a Reader (Lay Minister) upon reaching the age of 70 would automatically trigger the need for Permission To Officiate (PTO) from the Bishop. It’s an interesting thought now that I have several people over 70 working full time in our business, a Building Surveyor of 78 was still happily inspecting lofts and climbing scaffolding when he retired.
It's quite thought provoking this age and power thing, especially when you consider that the boss of the Church of England, Her Majesty the Queen is 95. I doubt that she had any direct influence but now those youngsters in their 70’s can simply seek endorsement from the Vicar for a license extension.
Particularly in the Old Testament the various Kings were always up to something so Daniel’s vision would have caused the ears of those hearing this to prick up.
At this particular time, around 167 BC, the Syrian Emperor Antiochus IV was persecuting the Jews but Daniel speaks of a divine courtroom where God has pure white robes and sits in judgment unaffected by transitory rogue leaders offering a vision of hope.
Our focus should be on helping each other thrive through recognition of our common humanity drawing upon the example of the one who came before the throne to inherit an ‘everlasting dominion’…’that shall never be destroyed.’ Jesus humanity is found here.
As we begin to understand the type of kingship we see in Jesus it helps us recognise a clear mis-match with much of what we passively accept as normal. We need to think afresh about why we are doing certain things and if they seem right to pursue them with a degree of humility.
There is a great deal of difference between those that accept positions of responsibility and service aware of their weaknesses and reliance upon the support of others and those that seek self-importance and power. The real question is whether leaders want to rule over or to live in community with others.
We know that there is a great deal wrong with our world but we ( us here, you and me) also need to be people who can recognise God’s kingdom when we see it in each other. As Christians we remain people of hope, seeking peaceful resolution of our differences and not giving up in our efforts to collaborate with people of all faiths and none where this benefits others. We get a glimpse of Christ’s kingship each time we see kindness and forgiveness in action that seeks no reward, even more so when it is for those we don’t know, find hard to help or even like. In doing these things we are not keeping God’s kingdom to ourselves but allowing others to experience it and share in it. There’s always a possibility that it might catch on and spread further.
We are citizens of God’s kingdom every time we refuse to turn our back on people in need, every time we have the courage to stand up against what we know to be wrong and every time we try to put God’s desires above our own.
So, as we celebrate Jesus as king today, let’s try to take all we have been told out into our world and play our part in building that kingdom which he desires for our entire humanity.
Kevin Bright 20th November 2021