The English word king is related to the words kin and kind. It reflects the notion that a king or a monarch inherits this title and this position by birth. A king or queen is therefore to reflect the people that she or he is asked to lead. He or she is of the people and sums them up. Does this make sense for Jesus? Well somewhat but not completely does it?
Now if you can think back a little further in history, really a queen or a king is much more of a guide. A monarch ruled a very small area and a very small group of people. She or he was not situated thousands of miles away from some parts of the realm but within a day’s walking distance. This perspective is very important I think. In this kind of culture the people of the land can be often on the move, moving from one part to another. If you picture a more nomadic people moving from place to place, and at the lead of the group is the monarch, the king or queen guiding the people to new lands. The monarch is seen as the one who knows the path the people should walk, the direction they should go and is the judge of what is best for the country. This kind of image of king makes more sense for Jesus. This fits with the shepherd image, the guide, the protector, the way, the voice, the saviour.
When you think of Jesus what kinds of images come forward for you? The Preacher? The Healer? The Wise Theologian? The Spiritual Guide? The Forgiver? The Son of God? The Word of God? The Light of God? There are of course many images and so many of them are wrapped up into the title of King. Not a king of great earthly power, angrily looking out over the people of the world waiting for us to trip up and then planning to destroy us or reject us. No a king who is a guide, who gently steers us and invites us closer to see a whole different kind of kingdom, the kingdom of heaven.
Pilate stared down at Jesus, this poor, wandering rabbi standing before him. Pilate in his great robes and seated in a grand building, seemingly having all the power in the world. If Pilate snapped his fingers many servants would come running. If Pilate wanted something to drink twelve different offerings would be presented to him. If Pilate wanted revenge on someone their life would soon be over. If Pilate wanted anything there were those who would ensure his every desire was fulfilled. This Pilate stared at this poor, backward, weak looking Jesus standing before him and you can almost hear him spit out in complete mockery and amazement: So you are a king? You? Is this some kind of a joke? You who have nothing are calling yourself a king? Jesus response was this: My Kingdom is not from this world… For this I was born, and for this I came into this world, to testify to the truth.” There is a lot wrapped up in this conversation between Pilate and Jesus.
Pilate can only see a certain kind of king, a certain kind of world, a certain kind of truth, a certain kind of understanding of what is important. Jesus was not interested in any of this that formed the foundations of Pilate’s world. It was not important to Jesus. It had nothing to do with the meaning of life. It was all that Pilate knew and yet Jesus might as well have been speaking another language to him. I can’t help but feel that faithful Christians in this time and place are in this same kind of predicament. We claim to have faith in God and many others scoff at us. We claim to recognize the Kingdom of Heaven and many think we are so off base. We claim that faith in a loving God is really the foundation of life and not the things of this world that often take up much of our time. We claim that there is a truth to life that Jesus pointed out to us that lies just under the surface of all else in this world and yet so many are unable to see it. It is sometimes hard to explain to others but it is connected to those things that touch us deepest at our very soul: grief, sadness, love, joy, laughter, peace, thanksgiving, compassion, prayer, calm, an awareness that we do not walk alone in this world based so much on earthly power and earthly truth.
Today, besides being Reign of Christ Sunday we also are remembering the Primate’s World Relief and Development Fund of our Anglican Church of Canada. A fund centred completely on compassion and seeking a new vision for the world. It is a fund based on seeing Jesus not as an all-powerful king but one who points out to us a different way, a way grounded in what he called the truth or the kingdom of heaven. In my own experience the work of the PWRDF brings incredible transformation. About five years ago I was fortunate enough to visit in South Africa, Temba House which is supported by PWRDF. Temba House started out as an AIDS hospice but soon morphed into an AIDS support and place of education. Their success rate in helping survive an HIV infection was absolutely miraculous. They now spend so much time teaching people how to live with compassion, hope and as transformed people. The teach people to grow their own food and share it. They teach people about gender violence and how to bring it to an end. They teach people about how to care for the children in their midst. They teach people how to live with love instead of too easily moving to violence. It is an incredible place Temba House that has an inspirational message of the kingdom of God in our world. Of course there are many others as well. And that is what we focus upon today for we are called to be kingdom people, people changed because we have seen, known and experienced the truth of Jesus, who has invited us to journey with him in this gift of life and to come closer to God and God’s presence.
Pilate stared down Jesus and I can’t help but wonder if after Jesus spoke, Pilate too recognized the truth of Jesus words. That he too heard that there is a whole other way of life that is grounded in the love of God, grounded on spirituality, grounded on forgiveness and oneness with others and with God. I am not sure about Pilate that is hard to tell, but may it be true of us this day, this reign of Christ.