Proper 29, Year B, Christ the King

By Deacon Greg

2 Samuel 23:1-7; Psalm 132:1-19
Revelation 1:4b-8; John 18:33-37

   I have a question for you this morning: What political party does Jesus belong to?

   I suspect some of you may be thinking, “Well, he’s a Democrat!” or “He’s a Republican!”, but, of course, these parties didn’t exist in 1st Century Judea. Yet there just as surely existed political parties, or factions, that existed in his day, with politicians who claimed to speak for God and vied for control of the population.

   The reason I’m raising this question is because Jesus was not executed for being a rabble rouser or a blasphemer.  Roman law provided penalties for murder, theft, rioting, etc. Those crimes were subject to penalties like confinement in prison, whipping, or being sold into slavery.

   Crucifixion, though, from the eyes of the Romans, was a rather labor-intensive penalty. Roman troops were required to carry out the penalty, using much effort to affix the condemned to the cross, and then having to guard the prisoner until they died, which could take several days, to prevent anyone from killing the prisoner prematurely to end their torture.

   Carried out along the side of a major road, the condemned victim essentially became a living, screaming billboard advertising State terror to maintain control of the local population.

   This is why the penalty of crucifixion was reserved for those who were accused of political insurrection against the Romans. So, what political faction did Jesus belong to?

  • There were the Sadducees, who believed that if they performed the ceremonies of the Temple just right God would send his angel armies to overthrow the Romans.
  • The Pharisees believed that if enough righteous Jews lived strictly according to the Torah in their everyday life, God would send the angel armies.
  • The Essenes believed the other two factions were corrupt, so decided they would separate themselves from society to live apart, assuming that God would see them as the only righteous survivors of the Kingdom.
  • The Zealots believed that if the Jewish people would all come together God would be on their side to physically throw the Romans out.
  • The Sicarri, or dagger men, were the terrorists of Jesus’ day, like the anarchists, and white nationalists of our own day, who believed they could bring on the Kingdom by murdering selected targets who cooperated with Roman authority.
  • Then there’s the Romans, who ruled the land thanks to the power of the Roman Legions.

   Each of these parties had supporters and detractors, including the Romans, and each group strived to increase their own power while diminishing the power of other groups.

   As Roman governor, Pilate knew of the conflicts between these different groups, and used it to his own advantage. As long as these different parties were fighting with each other, they wouldn’t have time to cause problems for Rome.

   What caught Pilate’s attention, though, was that the contentious and competing Jewish parties in Jerusalem had suddenly united in their opposition against this Galilean Rabbi named Jesus, who had a large following outside of Jerusalem.

   Hence Pilate’s question “Are you the King of the Jews?”

   The biggest fear of the Roman authorities was that the Jewish people would unite under one leader. The biggest fear of the Jewish factions was that one party would gain control of overall leadership. The biggest fear of the Jewish people was that the Roman Legions would again be unleashed on the countryside starting another wave of death and misery.

   Each political party wanted to claim Jesus as their own, because of the wide-spread support Jesus was receiving, even from their own followers. If you remember, after Jesus fed the 5,000, the people wanted to make Jesus a king! Yet each time, faced with the option of taking political power, Jesus clearly declined and walked away.

   The common denominator of all political parties, in Jesus’ time and in the present, is the use of fear to motivate their followers. “They’re coming to take away your guns.” “They’re coming to take away your choice.” “They’re coming to take away your jobs.” “They’re coming to take away your money.” The list goes on and on. There is so much to be feared.

   Jesus did not use fear to control his followers. Jesus used love to invite people into God’s new Kingdom. Jesus spent his ministry preaching and demonstrating the Good News of the Kingdom of God.

  • “But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you.” (Mt 6:33)
  • “When Jesus saw he had answered wisely he said to him “You are not far from the Kingdom of God.” (Mk 12:34)
  • “The kingdom of God is not coming with things that can be observed; nor will they say, ‘Look, here it is!’ or ‘There it is!’ For, in fact, the kingdom of God is [within] you.” (Lk 17:20-21)

   So where do we find this Kingdom of God within us?

  • The pathway starts with the recognition that God loves each one of us so much that God sent his Son to bring us the Good News.
  • The pathway begins with each of us realizing that God loves each one of us as individuals regardless of our many faults.
  • The Way begins with each one of us realizing that since God loves each of us individually without reservation, then God also loves our neighbors without reservation.

   This idea of unreserved love, and allowing people to choose for themselves to join the Kingdom of God, is what drove the political factions of Jesus’ day into a fury. If people became motivated by love to follow God’s plan and join the Kingdom, the power of fear—the power of the politicians—would be driven away.

   If you step back and look at the politics in this country from a distance, you find it’s like the ‘crazy uncle’ you invite over for a holiday meal who imbibes too much holiday spirit.

   Uncle Sam gets up from the table and starts staggering down the hall, bouncing from the wall on the left to the wall on the right, going down the hall like a ball in a pinball machine, on his way to the bathroom, and the whole time you’re watching and praying “Oh, dear God, I hope he makes it to the bowl before he makes a mess on my floor.”

   For the first time in 20 years this country doesn’t have troops fighting an active war in a foreign country. One president signed the agreement to get us out of the quagmire, and the other president moved the troops out. Do you hear anything from politicians of either side celebrating the end of 20 years of wasting our men, women, and resources, and praising the two presidents who led us out?

   Just before his arrest Jesus prayed “I have given [my disciples] your word, and the world has hated them because they do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world. I am not asking you to take them out of the world, but I ask you to protect them from the evil one. They do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world.” (John 17: 14-16)

   This is our challenge as Christians: to live in the world, but not be a part of it. To bring the Kingdom of God into the world, not just through prayers and worship, but also through our actions to bring justice and mercy to those who are outcast or oppressed.

   As Christians we are called to ask ourselves:

  • Do the strangers among us, whether documented or not, deserve to be treated with respect and justice, knowing God loves them just as God loves us?
  • Do people of color deserve equal respect, dignity, and opportunity for what many among us have already enjoyed in the pursuit of this experiment we call the American Dream?
  • Is the world around us just another part of the throwaway economy polluted to the point of affecting the climate, or are we called to be caretakers of the Earth bringing healing to this battered planet?

     For Christians, these are not political questions—these are questions at the heart of Jesus’ continuing ministry. These are challenges to each of us on how to bring God’s Kingdom into the world immediately around us.

   Jesus calls us to live in this world, but not be a part of it. We each need to ask ourselves “How do I respond to that call?”

   What kind of king is born in a barn, and laid in a feeding trough, and then dies as a slave on a Roman cross? It is the Son of God, who loves us so much, that he came to search for us, and died to show us the way to the Kingdom of God.

   All hail King Jesus, ruler of this world and the next. Amen.