Christ the King

 …. AFP Photo, Karim Sahib, Getty Images, click image to link …. 2 Samuel 23:1-7, Gospel of John 18:33-37

As we enter the week of national thanksgiving, recent terrorist actions are much on our minds. The bombings in Paris have been followed by police raids, airstrikes in Syria, and more terrorist activity in Mali. In our country, the White House plan to take in Syrian refugees has been countered by a proposal in Congress to set a new standard for refugee background checks. Where calls for compassion meet concerns for safety, there you hear energetic discussion and passionate debate. When it comes to determining the best course, who has the authority and power?

A similar question is at the heart of our annual celebration of Christ the King Sunday.

It’s more difficult than ever to appreciate the role or significance of a king in the way that the people did in Bible times. In the United States, we have no king. In our history classes, we learn that in the events leading to the American Revolution, King George III was the enemy, and the patriots who championed democratic ideals were heroes. A monarchical system of government seems so old, so distant, so irrelevant.

The text from John’s gospel presents us with an alternative picture of a king that we remember at Easter, but often forget during these months of the calendar year. The privilege of Pilate’s kingdom is contrasted to the power of a relatively young man from a humble background with stunning abilities to preach, teach, and heal. Some call him “King of the Jews,” a title that poses a threat to Pilate and his Roman superiors. Religious leaders who seem to be a in a position to recognize his kingship don’t; some who should speak up and testify to his kingship run away. He is murdered, but his death inaugurates a new era in which many people begin to accept his authority and experience his power to change the world.

Today’s reading from 2 Samuel comes from a time in our sacred history when God’s people were getting used to having a king. They understood that this arrangement often was curse. Into the mouth of David are placed words to remind everyone that the relationship also has the potential for blessing: “One who rules over people justly, ruling in the fear of God, is like the sun rising on a cloudless morning, gleaming from the rain on the grassy land.”

The understanding that true authority has something to do with fear of God and just use of power is part of the alternative wisdom contained in these texts, a wisdom that sometimes seems agonizingly difficult to apply.

As I think about current events, I imagine the outline of a morality tale I’d like to write. Western nations would be ships on the ocean, big and powerful, with large but limited stores of fuel and food. Refugees would appear on little lifeboats full of orange-vested people, cold, wet, and hungry. Each large ship would have some extra rooms, one ship ten, another fifty, and another one hundred. But there are so many lifeboats on the ocean. How does each ship crew decide which people to rescue? Is there enough food for everyone? Is it ok if they sleep in the hallways, or will they have to share rooms? How do they know who will be a well-mannered crewmate and who might sabotage the engines? How do they help some people without threatening the lives of everyone on board?

These are difficult questions to answer, whether in a morality tale, or in the current chapter of country’s story.

On the one hand, I am the son of a refugee father. I’m here today only because the people and policies of the United States were sympathetic to the plight of those who, like my father’s family, had been displaced from homes and land by the events of WWII. My family history makes me sensitive to the call for compassion.

On the other hand, the process for my refugee father to enter this country took some time. When his family was admitted, arrangements had been made in advance for employment. My father committed himself to learn the language and embrace the culture of his new home. He became a citizen, and served in the U.S. Army, knowing that he might die defending the nation that had adopted him. I pray that the same concern for safety that was exercised in screening my dad’s family in the wake of WWII will continue to be exercised in screening refugees today, as various news organizations have reported already is the case, even without new legislation.[1]

As I was thinking about Christ the King, the call to compassion, and the concern for safety, I saw the video of a reporter interviewing a Parisian father named Angel Le, and his young son, named Brandon, perhaps three- or four-years old. I’m sure many of you saw it. If you didn’t, you can either read my summary below or view by clicking on the link in footnote #2.

Young Brandon says, “We have to be very careful because we have to change houses,” to which his father responds, “Oh, no, don’t worry. We don’t need to move out. France is our home.” The conversation continues:

Son: “But there’s bad guys, daddy.”

Dad: “Yes, but there’s bad guys everywhere.”

Son: “They have guns. They can shoot us because they’re really, really mean, daddy.”

Dad: “Yes, they might have guns, but we have flowers.”

Son: “But flowers don’t do anything. They’re for …”

Dad: “Of course they do. Look, everyone is putting flowers. It’s to fight against the guns.”

Son: “For protection?”

Dad: “Yes.”

Son: “And the candles, too?”

Dad: “To remember the people who departed yesterday.”

The boy turns to the reporter and says: “The flowers and the candles are here to protect us?”

As the interview concludes, the reporter asks, “Do you feel better now.” “Yes,” says Brandon, “I feel better.”[2]

I like this video for several reasons. If you are a parent who has ever explained a tragic event to your son or daughter, then you can appreciate the sympathy the dad has for his boy’s feelings, and how much he wants to say something comforting and healing. Yet, as he does so, Angel tells the truth, the bad as well as the good. Bad guys are everyone, he says. There’s no denial of sin and evil, but rather recognition that evil is a fact of life. Drawing his son’s attention to the flowers and the candles isn’t fuzzy-headed optimism, or even stoic fatalism, but rather a poetic way of saying something that others have stated in simple prose. A recent U.S. Armed Forces field manual says it this way: “some of the best weapons for counterinsurgents do not shoot.”[3] Of course, I like the father’s message because it reminds me of Jesus, when he said: “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven.”[4]

Healing words and compassionate actions are among the best weapons in the long struggle to transform the lives of hurting people. On the one hand, we resist evil; on the other hand, we are not to allow our enemies’ attitudes and actions define our attitudes and actions, for then they have won, and we are plunged into an endless cycle of violence and revenge. They have guns and we have guns. But we should use flowers, too. So in these fearful and anxious times, think twice about the words you will speak, and consider carefully the actions you will take. Remember that Christ never will be the king of this world until Christ is King in you.

[1] “… refugees chosen for resettlement are exhaustively vetted by law-enforcement and intelligence agencies, with an average processing time of 12 to 24 months, before setting foot on U.S. soil.” Matt Ford, “The Return of Korematsu,” The Atlantic, 19 Nov. 2015, http://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2015/11/the-shadow-of-korematsu/416634/, accessed 21 Nov. 2015.

[2] http://nymag.com/following/2015/11/french-dad-movingly-explains-attacks-to-his-son.html, accessed 17 Nov. 2015.

[3] Field Manual (FM) 3-24/Marine Corps Warfighting Publication (MCWP) 3-33.5, Counterinsurgency, Washington, DC: Department of the Army, par. 1-153, http://usacac.army.mil/cac2/Repository/Materials/COIN-FM3-24.pdf

[4] Matthew 5:43-45

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~ by JohnH1962 on November 22, 2015.