Summary: We are culturally conditioned to believe in our own autonomy: my rights, my choices, me as the boss of myself, me in control of what I want to do, so is Jesus really our King?
Really – A King?
various Scriptures November 20, 2011
In the church year, today is the last Sunday. Christian new year starts next week, with the first week of Advent, and the annual rhythm of worship begins anew. About a hundred years ago, in response to a growing individualism and secularism, the catholic church felt a need to introduce a new feast day which could perhaps combat this disturbing trend of people believing that they were ultimately in control of themselves, and could do as they please. So they introduced the Feast of Christ the King, a Sunday dedicated in the Christian year to a recognition of and worship of Jesus as King, and this was quickly adopted by Christians of many different denominations as they also saw the value of an annual Sunday celebrating the idea of Jesus as King.
But what is A King?
But before we go any further, what is a king anyway? I would be surprised if any of us here today have ever lived under a true king, especially of the understanding of a king that would have been in place in Biblical times. To us, a king or queen is largely a symbolic and ceremonial figurehead, which may be loved or hated, ignored, looked upon as a fairytale, or dismissed as irrelevant. I would be surprised if any of us here today have ever lived in a place where there was an actual king or queen – the one person who held ultimate power over a nation and people.
We are used to democracy, not dictatorship. We realized through history that power corrupts, and that investing one person with ultimate power more often than not becomes extremely problematic, and so we now have systems which attempt to distribute power through democratically elected representatives who meet together and argue, debate, and eventually make decisions through a due process.
So how are we supposed to understand, really, what a king actually is? We have to rely on the stories, and on our imaginations. The concept is still accessible to us, we’ve all watched movies or followed the Tudors on TV, read medieval novels or studied Shakespeare and even read the Bible’s stories of King Saul and King David. But we have to work at it. When we were on vacation a couple weeks ago, Joanne and Thomas and I went to dinner at a place called Medieval Times, where we ate roast chicken with our fingers while watching knights on horseback joust and fight with swords, all under the approving eye of the king while they fought for their kingdom – it was entertaining, but definitely not real. So the stories and concept are familiar, but not really very real in our experience.
Can you imagine what it would actually be like to live under the rule of a king? One person who made law. One person who decided when to go to war. One person with the power to say all people between the ages of 16-30 are now part of my army, and are marching into battle because I’m a little miffed at the king next door because he insulted me. And yes, some of you will die in battle. One person who decided how much tax to collect, who collects it under threat of violence and incarceration if it is not paid, and who decided how much of that tax to keep for himself. One person who decided ultimate questions of justice, and could literally say that guy is guilty – off with his head. One person deciding what, if any, rights or privileges any of us would have.
Under such a system, what the king says goes. It gets done, or people get punished. There is no sense of, well, that is what the king says, I’m not sure I agree… I think I’ll do something different. There is no sense of yes, I know I was summoned by the king, but I’m a little busy today, I’ll go later when I feel like it. There is no sense of, I know the king has commanded me to go or to do such and such, but I have to decide if that is what I want. For a people to live under the rule of a king, what the king says goes.
How many of us want to live as part of that kind of system? Honestly, how many of us would willingly give up our charter of rights and freedoms? Our appeal to the law of the land under which every person, regardless of status, is to be judged? Our right to speak freely, to choose together the people and groups to lead us, and to know that after a defined period of time we will be able to choose again at another election? How many of us would trade all we have under our current democratic system, for a true king or queen in the historic understanding?