(A note about this day in the lectionary year: This Sunday, the last Sunday of the Christian Year, is often called the feast of Christ the King, or a celebration of the Reign of Christ. It was intended originally to be a feast recognizing Christ's supremacy, and the lectionary passages point to the notion of "kingship." In recent years, gender-specific terms, particularly those that reinforce male dominance, have been removed from hymns and liturgy, making "Reign of Christ" a more appealing name. There are also those for whom the image of a ruler is not in keeping with their understanding of Christ. And so, in some circles, people have adopted the language of "the KINship of Christ" which highlights our common relationship with Christ in shared humanity rather than Christ's supremacy over anything.)
We have spent a lot of time thinking about this and there is something that no matter how strongly we exercise our imaginations we cannot grasp: What must it be like to be a King?
We Americans have not officially had a King since we were officially Americans. Of course, there are a few Kings here and there alive and employed in the world today. We can read about Kings that have existed in different lands and in different times. But first person experience with Kingship is limited.
Between the two of us, we have met lots of people that have fulfilled a wide variety of jobs, but never a King.
In the movies Kings are portrayed as having a plush lifestyle--golden toothbrushes and velvet tissues and such. But it cannot be all good, right?
Think of the pressure of being a King.
And usually, a King does not answer to anyone else.
But in our scriptures this week we get an interesting perspective of Kings whose lives are not all milk baths and windows made of diamonds. These scriptures show us Kings who are subject to a higher power.
In the passage from 2 Samuel we get to listen in to the last words of King David. He is reflecting on how great things go with those who rule over their people justly and rule in the fear of God...and how things can go poorly for the godless rulers. He is aware of being in service to God and he is aware of the ways (both positively and negatively) his service might be rewarded. There seems to be an awareness of the weighty-ness of his position. There is a burden in his accountability and relationship to Yahweh similar to that expressed by Moses. David was the first Jewish King...and his authority was given to him as he was anointed by Samuel. And Samuel's power to anoint a king also came from God.
In Psalm 132 we see again some of the internal struggle of a King as he attempts to do what he can to serve God. And it seems to be real labor, not a life of ease and luxury. And there seems to be an exchange. God has chosen Zion and has anointed a King and when that King is loyal, his heirs are assured the throne. The psalmist is regaling the hearer with God's promise to Israel to remain with them in the land while they are loyal. It is a burdensome mutual accountability, in some ways.
We (Matt and Laura) often want to compare a King to our President. But that breaks down in a bunch of ways....especially when we are thinking of a President of a democracy such as ours. Our President (as least on paper) serves / owes allegiance to We The People....and to no other. And as we understand a King as found in these passages, it seems that the King also found himself saddled with the responsibility of owing allegiance to God - perhaps in spite of the people at times. (Flash back to Moses - those Israelites were a complaining bunch who wouldn't have willingly guided Moses to the same conclusions that Yahweh did.)
In Revelation we find Jesus being praised as the ruler of the Kings of the earth....and yet, even he is subject to his God and Father.
In John we find Jesus and Pilate engaged in what turns out to be a bit of a philosophical conversation. Pilate begins by trying to understand why Jesus has been brought before him. However, in their dialogue it seems Jesus pushes past the questions of earthly Kingship and a worry about who "rules" over any one group of people. His statement seems to close down that line of questioning: Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice. Now this answer is so far beyond what Pilate was living into. Pilate was a politician. He was doing all he could to stay in right graces with the Roman powers that were gripping the area. He was a few rungs down on the ladder, too. And here is Jesus standing before him responding in what must have seemed an answer from another galaxy - my Kingdom is not of this world.
It is mind-boggling to consider where our understandings come from. In many ways, the kingships of the early and middle-ages were based on a biblical notion that authority came from God. But the human addiction to and misuse of authority eventually altered the notion kings, kingdoms and rule and our reaction to them. When we peel back the layers and get back to the biblical concept of kingship and authority, its a mind-blowing responsibility...and reminds us of our prayers for those "burdened with power."
Was David a just King? What were the benefits of his position? Drawbacks?
What human needs have changed our understanding of authority? of kingship?
What titles do you have for Jesus? Do you perceive Jesus as an authority? A comforter? A shepherd?
God of Power and Might,
Humble us to recognize the burden of authority
and help us to temper our understanding of authority
in recognition that we are stewards of your gifts
to be used for your Kingdom.
© matt & laura norvell 2009 www.settingourstones.org
we want to share this with you and hope you'll share with the world; we simply ask that you let people know where you found these words. May Grace & Peace be with you.