Jeremiah 23:1-6 & Luke 1:68-79 • Jeremiah 23:1-6 & Psalm 46 • Colossians 1:11-20 • Luke 23:33-43
The church year calendar, beginning each year with an Advent season starting four weeks before Christmas, is an odd conglomeration of readings. Perhaps nothing is odder than the last Sunday of each church year – Christ the King Sunday. In this week's reading from Luke, Jesus is hanging on a cross, with two criminals, one on either side, along with a sign over his head: Jesus, King of the Jews.
Being executed by crucifixion was not an uncommon event in those days, where the Romans ruled a wide empire of many peoples. While supportive of peace, the Romans were not averse to using force to quell any unrest suggestive of insurrection. However, while being executed on a cross was not unheard of, being executed with a sign over one's head saying King of the Jews was unusual.
It was Pilate, the governor appointed by the Romans, who had directed that the sign be placed over Jesus' head. Everyone joined in the fun of ridiculing a powerless man who had talked about kingship, now hung on a cross. Spectators dared him to save himself. The guards brought him soured wine, in a charade of a servant waiting on a king. Even the criminals began speculating about kingship. One of his fellow sufferers joins in the mockery; if you are a king, get us out of here. The other takes Jesus' side, saying we're criminals but this man did nothing wrong.
There were hints, earlier in the story, that Pilate himself had realized that Jesus had done nothing wrong. He was too much of a politician to let this interfere with the political expediency of the death sentence. Still, it seems that the King of the Jews sign may have had a hidden meaning, for under the ridicule was a tipping of the hat. In a sense, calling someone a king is like calling them an Olympic gold medalist or a karate black belt or a chess master.
What was Jesus a master of? Not this world, that's for sure. No one put to death by torture in their early thirties can claim any success in this life. Master of the life to come, maybe – and he seemed to think so, promising to the criminal on the cross next to him that they would both be in paradise by close of business, so to speak, that day. But there is something else that Jesus was master of: himself. From the arc of his life story, from the scene in the temple at age 12 to this dying moment on the cross, Jesus was clear about himself, ruling what came from him.
What would it be like to be ruler, king, or queen, of oneself? First, it would mean ruling over one's emotions, not letting them take over oneself, that insurrection from within threatening every human under pressure. Second, it would mean having options, as a king has couriers, bringing many different ways of seeing and managing situations rather than reverting to whatever automatic positions one usually takes. Finally, it would mean benevolence: connecting with others without fearing them. The balance of true kingship involves being both human and regal, reigning over the realm of the real.
Morning: How can I rule over myself today? When might I have difficulty?
Evening: What was automatic for me today? How can I see a broader view?