This Sunday in the church calendar we are presented with a conundrum. The scriptures, when heard within the context of an American Church present a kind of conflict that is difficult to reconcile or a tension between what seem to be opposing ideas that resists being resolved. a conundrum. (Conundrum is also the name of white wine I like that is served at the local restaurant, but we’ll ignore that for now and maybe have a glass later.)
In this country we fought the revolutionary war to get out from underneath the oppressive rule of the tyrant King George III. Instead our founding fathers declared that we would be a nation with power invested in the people, not a single monarch.
In our own day, we Americans view with great suspicion any government based on a “Theocracy” where the rule of law is determined by a specific interpretation of the dictates of a holy scripture like the Qur’an. There are debates currently going on in Egypt wether Sharia Law should be the law of the land in the new constitution that is being written. In our own country local legislative bodies have tried to outlaw Sharia Law as anathema to the American experience.
So it is a conundrum that on this feast day we in the “land of the free” are celebrating the fact that we Catholics are under the rule of “King Jesus” who essentially proclaims that a theocracy is the law of kingdom. God is in charge and his rule, his law is contravened at our mortal peril. Exult Jesus as sovereign ruler and obey his truth and live or choose the falsehood of the civil order and experience the death. That’s the dichotomy and conundrum that’s set up in the Gospel of John taken from his Passion account read this day in our church year, John 18:33b-37.
But then here’s the visual image that reminds us that this is no earthly king, that Jesus is not talking about the kind of authority that is oppressive and dictatorial. In the Gospel exchange with Pilot, who represents the image of earthly styles of authority, Jesus says to him, “My kingdom is not of this world.” Besides the verbal word spoken by Jesus we have the image of our king reigning not from an ornate chair or bench his head adorned with a crown of gold and jewels, we have a king who reigns from the throne of the cross, his head bedecked with a crown of thorns. Both cross and crown are symbols of the false power violence and domination of the this world’s concept of authority. Yet, Christ turns them into symbols of his kind of rule which originates from the power of poverty, weakness and servitude.
The death and resurrection of Jesus shows the truth he presents to Pilot (the world) and is rejected in the gospel passage. While it seems violence, might and domination of others by force would be the way to establish order and bring about some sort of peace between different peoples, that such things always lead to disaster and no freedom for the human being. Under such a world view humans are forever enslaved by the cycle of violence that leads to death. Just look at the middle east, the land of Abraham, Jesus and Mohammad. Perpetual violence and death.
The truth of Jesus’ death and resurrection is this. Service for the sake of others, sacrifice for the betterment of the other’s life, respect for human life and dignity is the only way that breaks the cycle of death. He destroy’s the power, violence and tyranny of death by being the powerless, weak servant who sees human life so full of dignity he can no longer let humanity suffer endlessly and replaces the false hope of earthly power with the hope of eternity’s kingdom of God. There is no other way.
Yet “the world” rejects the truth. There are many, many people who can not accept that there is one ultimate truth. They choose instead to say “You can not impose one belief system on people in their free will. Who is to say there is one truth, that’s politically incorrect.” While Vatican Council II did call for religious freedom as a human right it did not mean that all religions were to be treated as a smorgasbord of all equal choices. We are bound to believe that in Jesus Christ is the ultimate, highest revelation of the truth.
So, how are we to live in the tension of our conundrum?
First, be a good citizen. Use whatever is good and has the potential of promoting human life in our political system to help build the kingdom of God that is among us but not “of the world.” But, here’s the difficult part. When our political, legal, economic, social systems attempt to use their power to force us to disobey the truth of Christ we object, we protest, we advocate for the ones whose lives are being endangered, where life is diminished. We risk being called unpatriotic, or traitors or maybe even persecution. But, we are first of all the representatives, as the Body of Christ, the presence of the His Kingdom in the midst of the realm of time and space until he comes, again. It is our vocation to lift high the cross and proclaim, “Christ Jesus Victor, Christ Jesus Ruler, Christ Jesus Lord and Redeemer” in the words of the familiar hymn “To Jesus Christ our Sovereign King” if we are loyal Catholic subjects!
An image from the civil realm comes to mind, with a twist.. When we are called in a courtroom to give testimony in a trail in the U.S. we are asked to place our hand on a Bible and respond in the affirmative to the question, “Do you promise to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth?” to which we are supposed to respond “I do.” But, because of our faith in Christ the King that we affirm at each Eucharist we could just as well be saying, “Yes, I promise to tell the truth, but you’re not going to like it because the rule this court is under, indeed the whole illusion of order you live under will be destroyed when the truth of Jesus Christ has it’s day, for he is the truth, the way, the life!”
- Additional information about the feast of Christ the King will be found at http://www.churchyear.net/ctksunday.html
- Interested in an “alternative” depiction of the execution of Jesus? The image reminds me that Christ reigns from the “throne” of the Cross, but the cross is replaced by an electric chair – a sort of throne that is also an instrument of a “criminal” in our day. Remember Jesus was convicted as a criminal by the civil authority …