Wednesday, 16 April 2014

What Kind of King?

It's Good Friday in two days, the day we commemorate Jesus' death.  At St Andrew's South Brisbane each year we have a series of meditations, and I'm responsible for one of them this year.  This mediation brings together three things. 

The first is the chosen reading, from Matthew 26:46-68, which includes Jesus’ arrest in the garden and his sham trial before the High Priest Caiaphas.

The second is the framework for this year's series, “Jesus the real King”.  In what sense is it possible to see Jesus as a king when he is so obviously powerless?

The third is the religious thought of Leo Tolstoy.  Later in his life, after he had written his great novels, Tolstoy experienced a profound conversion.  He came to understand that following Jesus meant obeying his command to love our neighbours as ourselves, to do to others what we want them to do to us.  If we take this seriously, he says, we will not try to kill one another in war, we will not flog or imprison one another in the name of law and order, we will not live in luxury while others struggle in poverty.

He was completely committed to non-violence, because he believed a violent revolution would always end with a worse regime than the one it replaced.  He says it this way: “The good cannot seize power, nor retain it; to do this men must love power, and love of power is inconsistent with goodness.”

The result is this meditation on the kind of king Jesus appears to be, and what that might mean for us.

What Kind of King?
Two kings meet in the garden
In the dead of night
One is there in person with his friends
The other is elsewhere, and has no friends
Instead he has servants who send their servants
To do his dirty work

What kind of king
Has servants who do his dirty work?
He is rich and powerful
But he is weak and fearful
What if his servants turn on him in the palace courtyard
And cut him down?
Or hang him from his own cross?
Or worse, ignore him completely?
 What if his servants find another master?

So he bribes them and placates them
Appeals to their basest instincts
Or sends still other servants
To frighten them with the force of arms
Impress them with the splendour of chariots and horses
Or drug them with the mystery of false gods
Servants abound but friends are few
And fears multiply.

What kind of king
Prays in a public park with a few friends?
Keeps an enemy by his side?
Challenges his foes in the light of day
And meets them in the dead of night?
What kind of king tells his defenders
To sheath their swords in the middle of battle?
He is a king who has conquered fear
Who would rather die himself
Than have others die for him
Who knows that death will not have the final say.

Two kings meet in the courtroom
The servant of one is the accuser of the other.
The accuser, in his fine robes and long beard
Sits in the seat of the priest of the King of Heaven
But he serves the King of Earth
Every day he sacrifices for him in the temple
Today he will sacrifice a man.

What kind of king
Sacrifices the innocent to protect the guilty?
Pays liars to conceal the truth?
Serves as accuser, judge and executioner?
Many would fear such a king
Few could love him.

What kind of king
Gives no answer to his accusers?
Speaks truth without fear when the time is right?
Answers their lies, their abuse, their flying spittle
With a quiet “you have said so”?
This is a king none could fear but those who have fears to conceal
None could hate but those for whom hate is a way of life
This is the King of Love.

It’s easy to serve the King of Fear
The King of the Nations, the King of Darkness.
His servants compel us
His wealth bribes us
His splendour dazzles us
Even the gods are on his side.
How could we resist? 
Why would we?
Obedience will bring us peace
The peace of Rome, which we buy
With the blinding of our eyes
The stopping of our ears
The binding of our legs
The selling of our souls
So that life can go on as normal
“The trouble with normal is it always gets worse”.*

Are we brave enough to follow this other king?
To listen to his voice, to do as he does?
Risking his life daily in temple court
Receiving his betrayer’s kiss with words of assent
Opposing  clubs and swords with gentle words
Hearing their lies, receiving their blows,
Refusing to fall for the temptation
To match power with power?
This will not be normal
This will not be safe
This will cost us our lives.

But then we will no longer have to lie to ourselves.
We will be free from pretending war brings peace
Greed breeds plenty
Oppression protects freedom
Our blind eyes will be opened
Our deaf ears will be unstopped
Our trembling legs will walk again
Our silent tongues will shout for joy
Then we will see things as they really are
Our death will be swallowed in victory
And the Kingdom of God will reign among us.

Let it be so
O Lord, let it be so.

*I borrowed this line from Bruce Cockburn's song, 'The Trouble with Normal'.

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