A Different Kind of King
Today is Christ the King Sunday. It usually falls on the first Sunday of Advent, so it gets lost in that celebration. This year is different. Since Thanksgiving is early, there is an extra Sunday before the beginning of Advent—and that’s Christ the King Sunday.
Today we remember and celebrate the kingship of Jesus Christ. One Scripture passage that is often used is Philippians 2:1-11. I used it myself this morning. For this column I am drawn to another passage.
There are different categories of kings. Some are absolute monarchs, like Louis XIV in 17th-18th century France. He said, “The state is me,” and he was correct. As king, he could do practically anything he wanted—as could his heirs until 1789, when the French people decided they’d had enough of absolute rulers and removed Louis XVI from office by removing his head.
There are constitutional monarchs. England is a good example of a constitutional monarchy. The king has little power to make laws. He can suggest laws, but not enact them. That’s done by Parliament, specifically the House of Commons. The ruler (at present, the queen) is the titular head of the government, but “remains above politics.”
There are variations on these—actually, a sort of continuum from absolute power to little or no power. Each king in history has fit somewhere on this continuum.
There have been good kings, bad kings, and downright ugly kings. Perhaps the best example of a good king is David, who, we are told, was a man “after God’s own heart.” But even he made serious errors when he let power go to his head. Examples of bad kings abound in every generation. The same is true for those whose lust for power led them to absolutely horrific acts. Some have wielded their power in an “off with their heads” manner, not caring what happened to anyone else as long as they kept their thrones, their perks, and their lives.
And then there’s Jesus, a truly different kind of king. Christian theology teaches that he has been King since before time began. Paul calls him the Lord of creation: “For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth,” (Colossians 1;16) Jesus did what few kings have ever done. He voluntarily gave up his kingship. He abdicated to bring about reconciliation between God and humans. The only other king who abdicated (that I remember) was King Edward of Great Britain, who gave up his throne for purely human reasons.
Matthew, Mark and Luke say very little about Jesus’ appearance before Pilate. Jesus is taken to the governor early Friday morning. There is a short exchange of words. Pilate asks Jesus if he is the King of the Jews. Jesus says, “I am.” The Jewish authorities accuse him of heresy, to which Jesus offers no answer.
John tells us much more. In his gospel, Jesus gives an extended answer to Pilate’s question. He informs Pilate that he is a king, but that his kingdom does not belong to this world. Though he doesn’t say so, his kingdom encompasses not only this world, but all worlds. Jesus also tells Pilate he could easily have provided forces to have prevented his arrest. Later he says Pilate has no power except that which is given him “from above,” that is, from God.
Perhaps Jesus’ most telling statement is that he has been sent “to bear witness to the truth,” prompting Pilate’s famous response, “What is truth?” Throughout his ministry Jesus has been speaking truth—truth to power and to the powerless. He continues to do so here, even in the face of his own certain execution. A different kind of king indeed.