1 Corinthians 15:20-26,28
History tells of some very interesting, if not very moral, monarchs. Ivan the Terrible merited his nickname by torturing enemies and friends alike for sheer pleasure. Henry VIII altered the moral code to suit himself and married six times, murdering two of his wives to clear the way for others. Montezuma, great king of the Aztecs, waged war solely to obtain thousands of captives for human sacrifice. Almost every monarch you can think of has grown rich at the expense of their subjects. One of the characters in 'Huckleberry Finn' sardonically remarks that, All kings is mostly rapscallions.
The Gospels assert that Jesus was of royal blood, descended from the House of David, but do we really want to include him among all the rapscallions? What king was ever like Jesus, born in royal David's city, Bethlehem, but in a stable not a palace, with no place to lay his head, and buried in another man's tomb. His accession to the throne was his entry into Jerusalem, the royal capital, riding on a donkey rather than in a state coach. His royal robe was a spittle-covered purple rag, his crown was of thorns and his sceptre a reed. He made his royal progress weak and bleeding through the streets, to the jeers not the cheers of the populace. At Calvary he was enthroned on an executioner's gibbet.
Christ the King has nothing in common with earthly rulers, so his kingdom can be nothing like an earthly kingdom. In his realm there are no masters because everyone is a servant. Even the King came to serve and not to be served. Those who would be greatest in the Kingdom are those who make themselves the least. The reward for service is not promotion and financial gain but to be given further opportunities for service. When his subjects become rich or gain promotion, they are impoverished and demoted, the mighty being cast from their thrones and the lowly exalted. The lowest are the highest and tax collectors and prostitutes will get into the Kingdom before the hypocritical Pharisees, members of the religious and political establishment, who take the best seats in the synagogues, encourage salutations in the market places and create heavy burdens for other people to bear without lifting a finger to help them.
It is difficult for us Christians to live simultaneously in two kingdoms, that of this world and that of Christ. We are prone to amalgamate them, to make one look so much like the other that we can't tell the difference. Often it seems that the Church, and our lives within it, have been made to fit the image of an temporal earthly kingdom rather than making earthly kingdoms fit the image of Christ's eternal heavenly Kingdom. It is difficult for Christians to live in society because the structures of that society are not the same as those in the Kingdom of God.
The distinguishing feature of Christ's rule is that of justice, but not the kind of justice we're used to. We tend to think that justice is giving people what they deserve. But justice in Christ's kingdom is the opposite. There the ultimate in justice is forgiveness. If we all got what we deserved what a sorry place God's Kingdom would be. Most of us would be cast into that outer darkness Jesus talks about in today's Gospel. Throughout his life Jesus emphasised forgiveness and it is this that tempers justice.
You can recognise the people who feel at home in the Kingdom, they are the ones who are ready to forgive. They are the people who feed and give drink to the hungry and thirsty, who welcome outcasts back into society, who clothe the naked and visit the sick and imprisoned. This difference between earthly kingdoms and that of Christ the King, between earthly subjects and gospel followers, is beautifully expressed in a verse written originally in Latin by John Chandler in the 19th Century:
Conquering kings their titles take from the foes they captive make:
Jesus, by a nobler deed, from the thousands he hath freed.
Father Ed Bakker,
Anglican Catholic Church / Original Province
Mission of Saint Aidan of Lindisfarne