Christ the King is a hard festival to understand. It has been on my mind all day, particularly after Donald Trump's election. What does it mean to have power? And what does it mean for Jesus to be our King?
In the Hebrew Scriptures the children of Israel lived with God as their King. They were led by human Judges who kept peace, guided the people, and gathered an army to protect them if necessary. But the Judges didn't rule. Eventually, the people asked the prophet Samuel to give them a king; he was angry.
"God is your king!" He shouted in frustration. "But we want a King we can see," they said. They wanted a King to protect their freedom. Samuel spoke to God, who told him that the people were not rejecting Samuel, they were rejecting God himself. He told Samuel to grant the request, and he did, but with a warning:
"A King will not make you free, a king will tax you, and make you fight in his army and enslave you."
They still wanted one.
Samuel’s warning was realized, and then repeated over and over again through the history of Monarchy. How do we reconcile this image with the idea of Christ the King?
When God finally decided to join us as Jesus, he did not take power and rule; he guided, advised, challenged and taught. He modeled a new way of living and invited people to follow him; to imitate him. Along the way, he made enemies. Some of those in power didn't like the way he challenged them. In spite of this, he lived his life fully aware that he was a free child of God. Nothing anyone else could do could take away his freedom, not even execution.
Christ the King is not a festival that celebrates royal power, it reimagines it. Jesus is regal, not because of his power, but because he is free. He lives his life, within a coercive and corrupt political system, without being subject to that system. He is an example to us that we can be free wherever, whenever, and under whatever regime we live.
This is a different kind of Kingdom in which we are all called to make the values of God present in our world by living them. This may mean supporting those in authority when their actions match those values. It may mean resisting, peacefully, the exercise of political power when it is in conflict with those values. Some have used a different biblical word to describe this Kingdom: Shalom - it means 'peace,' and it is what God wants for our world.
I wanted to find an example to make the concept I am trying to explain make sense. It was hard to find one in the middle of the current political climate. Then Martín suggested someone to me, Malala Yousafzai. For anyone not familiar with Malala, she is a young Muslim Pakistani girl who wanted an education. She was shot in the face by a member of the Taliban, who do not believe women should be educated. She recovered from the attack, and with great humor, courage, and grace became an advocate for girls education throughout the world. She is the youngest ever recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize.
Malala is not powerful in the political sense, she does not rule and she is not a monarch; her power is in her example and in living her life: Malala is regal.
She is a Muslim woman who inspires me to be more Christlike.
Jesus lived his life as an example and invited us to follow him. Malala is an inspiration to millions. This week, find someone who lives a life full of similar values, someone peaceful, someone dignified, someone regal... and be like them.
From the UK, Matthew loved US culture from the first time he picked up a Fantastic Four Comic when he was 12.