Is Christ really YOUR King?

 Readings: Jeremiah 21: 1 -6; Colossians 1:11-20; Luke 23:33-43.

The OT passage today from the prophet Jeremiah is called a ‘messianic oracle’. That means that it foretells the coming of Jesus Christ as the Saviour. It was written some 2,500 years ago in what were troubled times for Judah. It is an oracle of reproach directed at Judah’s rulers (referred to as shepherds) for their scattering of the flock (i.e., the people of God). God then promises to place a member of King David’s family (a righteous Branch) to reign over a restored people, a new Israel. This king will be righteous (i.e., he will be in right relationship with God). He will exercise justice and wisdom, as opposed to the actions of the puppet king Zedekiah who was currently on the throne. Naturally Jeremiah saw all this in terms of the Israel and Judah that he knew – but in a renewed and cleaned up form, a worthy nation for God. This is the reason for our referring to the Church as the ‘new Israel’ when we assess Jesus, His ministry, death, resurrection and ascension in relation to the oracles of the OT prophets such as Jeremiah.

There is another interesting aspect to the concept of the restored Israel in this passage: Then I myself will gather the remnant of my flock out of all the lands where I have driven them, and I will bring them back to their fold, … Some Christians have seen this as implying that all Jews have to be returned to Israel before the Last Day, and that the Christian Church must work at this in order to bring in the Kingdom of God. Thus they expend large sums of money in bringing Jews from the Ukraine and elsewhere to Israel.

It seems to me that there are greater priorities on our resources when we pray, Thy kingdom come, thy will be done. It represents a literal reading of the scriptures rather than a seeking after the spiritual meaning. The line of King David was where most of the prophets looked for the source of this new, restored messianic Kingdom.

However, David was an earthly king and shepherd to God’s people. And Jesus indeed was of David’s line, but His coming brought with it a new and different vision of kingship. Jesus is the king who gained His crown by way of humiliation and the suffering of death as a convicted criminal. His glory belongs to a different sphere from that of a king at the head of conquering armies, wealth and power. His was glory gained by way of pain and obedience to God’s will. Membership of His kingdom demands a radical shift of viewpoint. The language of S. Paul’s letter to the Colossians is the language which characterizes this conversion, this 180° turn-around; of the move from darkness to light; from being powerless to the acceptance of God’s strength; from the authority of darkness to the light of the kingdom of God’s beloved Son, symbolized by the saints in light. S. Paul piles up words of authority, power, glory, might, as he struggles to express the reality of God’s sovereign, enabling power.

As we change our allegiance from the world to God, so we experience change within ourselves – we become empowered where before we were power-less. It is a process, conversion is a process, a lifelong walk of faith. It happens as we surrender, and acknowledge our own helplessness, powerlessness, and our unfittedness for citizenship of the King-dom of God. Being made strong with all the strength that comes from his glorious power prepares us to endure everything with patience, says S. Paul. We have spoken about this before. Living in the kingdom is not easy, because it takes place while we are living in the world, amongst the pressing and attractive values of the world. To remain in God’s kingdom we need God’s strength, if we are to remain true.

Jesus needed this endurance as he faced the inevitable consequences of his life and work; so did the martyrs of the early Church, so do martyrs in parts of the world today. Yes, people die and suffer persecution for being Christian still. And so do we need endurance as we face the daily temptations of the world around us. Together with endurance is patience. Patience is the attitude that enables us day by day to get along with others who hold to different ideas and values, and who do not belong to the sphere to which we have transferred our allegiance, the Kingdom of God. Patience is one of the gifts of the Spirit we are told (Gal. 5:22).

These virtues of patience and endurance are linked several times by S. Paul. He had found by experience that he needed both. They belong together in the lives of those committed to the kingly rule of Jesus the Christ. S. Paul urges us to give thanks to the Father, who has enabled us to share in the inheritance of the saints in light. Of ourselves we are insufficient, powerless. When we realize this, then God can empower us. The passage says that our ‘part and lot’ is that of light. ‘Part and lot’ is a Jewish term for ‘what is apportioned to us’. It is traditional language expressing the idea of conversion as an empowering act of God. When moral unfitness is acknowledged, then he brings us as converts into the sphere of light. S. Paul then leads into a credal passage based on a series of relative clauses telling of God’s activity in relation to conversion. He has rescued us …and transferred us … in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.

So conversion means deliverance from the power of evil, described here as the power of darkness. The convert comes under the authority of a new king, Jesus, and lives in a new Kingdom, the Kingdom of God. Redemption is another Jewish word indicating release from bondage. Sin, and the often crippling guilt that goes with it, are amongst our worst bondages; conversion to kingdom life, and the sacramental life of the Church, can deal with this. When we pray, Your kingdom come, your will be done, one thing that we are praying for is that those in darkness may experience conversion, may experience the light of Christ. When we talk about conversion we are talking about something that God does in us, when we acknowledge our need. Then we experience His power, change our allegiance, and enter a new sphere of existence – that of the kingdom of God. When we understand what conversion is, and how it takes place, it is easier to witness to it more readily and effectively.

The Gospel for today illustrates something of the nature of Jesus’ kingship. His mockers wanted a show of earthly power: they would only willingly give allegiance to a king who could at least save himself. It is this death on the cross which is the most significant difference between the world’s kingdoms and the Kingdom of God. This is absolute defeat; but it is by way of this death that God’s Kingdom is achieved. Had Jesus saved Himself in worldly terms, He would have failed to bring true salvation. Also, in His death, and by His attitude to the two criminals, he shows the twin virtues of patience and obedience mentioned previously. Jesus himself shows what is required of those who are being converted into his kingdom. The inscription over His head on the cross was intended to be belittling – in reality it was a brief factual statement.

Jesus was consistent with it in terms of his own understanding of the nature of His kingdom. The second criminal was accepted, and promised entry into the kingdom, simply because he was aware of his own guilt and his need for help. This promise of a place in the kingdom is held out by Jesus to everyone and anyone who desires it, and admits their need. The authority displayed by Jesus, even here through his pain, is worthy of note. This second criminal got more than he expected or asked for – he got it as a free gift. After all, he had nothing left to offer Jesus except his change of heart. Jesus’ Kingdom is a fact. Only he can give the passport into it. This He does, freely, to those who seek truly. In His reply Jesus used the word paradise. The word comes from a Persian root meaning a garden or park.

The Greek OT (Septuagint) took it over and used it for the Garden of Eden – and also later, for the future bliss of God’s people. In the NT it is used quite loosely to describe the Heavenly bliss. The point is that Jesus used the normal language of His own time to guarantee a place with himself here-after. Such a guarantee on Jesus’ lips gives us a sure and certain hope. Today, Jesus says to the criminal, you shall be with me in paradise. ‘Today’ is the time of the kingdom which has already broken into the world in the person of Jesus, the only one by which we can be saved (Acts 4:12). Do we really know who we see as we look at the cross – a criminal, a good man, albeit somewhat mentally disturbed, or, Christ the King? Can we say from the depths of our hearts, knowing our need and acknowledging our unworthiness, …remember me ….? It is here, under the cross, that the Lordship of Christ must be recognized. It is here, under the cross, that the Church gathers, a community of the guilty and the needy, like the second criminal, called to salvation. Help us Lord to choose the life of the kingdom …remember me…

S. Margaret’s – Budapest.