Readings: 2 Samuel 5:1-3; Colossians 1:12-20; Luke 23:35-43
In Catholic grammar school I had been taught in American History that democracy was the best form of government and that we earned the right to govern ourselves by overthrowing the tyranny of monarchy. Yet in the same school in Religion Class, and taught by the same teacher, I was taught that Christ the King–not Christ the President or Christ the Chairman and certainly not Christ the CEO–constituted the best form of universal government.
I never thought about that mixed message until I was a young adult and by that time I was skeptical enough to question any form of government. It seems that we fallible, if resourceful, human beings can abuse any system in the concrete no matter how well it functions in theory.
Our ancestors in faith confirm this. In the First Book of Samuel, when the Israelites want a king to match those of their neighbors, there is not one but two warnings about replacing the reign of God with a flesh and blood king. What is described is a man who, fit for no useful work, monopolizes the nation’s resources and subjects his own people to servitude, forcing them into wars with their neighbors. All the same, in the Book of Judges, which describes Israel before the monarchy, there is no attempt to cover up the infidelity and chaos of the people when God was their only ruler. There seems to be no ideal, definitely no fool-proof system for human beings. We grasp at power and protect our interests by accumulating wealth and connections all the while desiring to be seen as responsible adults.
Today’s Gospel makes me question every conventional image, every historical example of kingship. What is presented in today’s Gospel is a king nailed to a cross, as naked as he is powerless, as constrained and oppressed as he is unjustly treated, as free to have accepted this fate as he was to flee from it. I don’t mean that Jesus wanted to be tortured and painfully executed but, seeing the value and necessity of his death for us, he embraced it despite the pain and fear he dreaded, poignantly described by St. Luke as the Lord’s agony in Gethsemane.
Today aren’t we confronted by a king who embraces powerlessness to pass through suffering and death as the only way to deal with them? Today do we not meet a king so confident to encounter God even in death and annihilation, that he leads the way for us right there into the heart of our doubts and fears? Is he not still there with us in our powerlessness? Today do we not meet a king who offers forgiveness, patience and understanding for the toxin of anger, violence and hatred? Who accepts suffering and sacrifice as the seed of new life and not a threat to life? And isn’t his proof not that he did it but that we, his kingly, priestly and holy people, could do it, too?