Commentary for November 24, 2013
by the Rev. Dr. John Fairless
God’s “shepherds” over his people are the kings and leaders (such as priests and prophets and all.) They are to guide and guard the flock of God’s people in God’s place — on God’s behalf. They have not done well with this task, and God is “woefully” upset with them!
The real import of Jeremiah’s message is that God has come to be THE SHEPHERD of God’s people — “I myself will gather the remnant of my flock.” By asserting God’s direct shepherdhood and responsibility, God also lays claim to the ability to raise up a ruler from David’s line who will assume the tasks at which the other shepherds had failed.
The name of this Shepherd will be “The Lord is our Righteousness.” Nice.
In a text that most often surrounds the Christmas story, we have the father of John the Baptizer — Zechariah the priest — raising his voice (which had been lost to him for pretty much the nine-month term of his wife’s pregnancy) in praise of what God is doing through the life of his son, and of the Son who would come after him.
Zechariah’s words are a beautiful canticle of praise during the days that are darkening around us, for they speak of the coming of the light. JTB will, of course, reappear shortly in our readings during the season of Advent. He may not have the eloquence of his pappy, but what he lacks in tact, he makes up for with force!
On this very “kingly” day, we are reminded by the psalmist of the protection and strength of the true King. It is the “Lord of hosts” who is our strength and refuge. This strong God is quite capable of being our “very present help in trouble.”
An awesome passage for our further consideration of the Christ who is our King. He has both strength and power on his side and is, in fact, the very fullness of God dwelling bodily in our presence. Sounds like a setup for a great superhero movie, does it not?
And this King certainly conquers and triumphs — but, strangely, does so through sacrificing his life — shedding his blood, as the cup reminds us — on the cross.
What kind of King is this?
Those unfamiliar with the rhythms of the church year and the lectionary are somewhat jarred by the “unexpected” reading of the crucifixion story on this day. Aren’t we supposed to be getting ready for Thanksgiving and the holidays? Why would we read a story from the passion of Christ?
Again, we remember that this Jesus, this King of the Jews, is no ordinary king. He appears powerless — in this story, he speaks only twice. Both of his sayings are of peace and forgiveness, even while he is mocked, tormented, and dying. Hollywood wouldn’t make much of this kind of king (if it weren’t for Mel Gibson.) No swords, no chariots, no loyal subjects by the thousands rising up to attend to his victory over incredible odds.
But his is the kingdom and the power and the glory, forever and ever! How can this be? Only by the power of God, as Jeremiah and the prophets foretold. It’s quite a story, isn’t it?
by the Rev. Dr. Delmer L. Chilton
Today is Christ the King Sunday. It is an odd sort of celebration for this time of year, with this story of Jesus’ crucifixion popping up just before the Feasting of Thanksgiving and the Joy of Advent and Christmas. And the very idea of kings, and Jesus as our King, is very hard for us to get a handle on in America in 2013. After all, we got rid of kings in this country over 200 years ago. What do kings have to do with us?
Luke’s story of the crucifixion is very spare and simple; “they crucified Jesus there with the criminals, one on his left and one on his right.” That’s it. Very simple, very plain, and very clear to the people to whom Luke was writing. Luke was a Greek, his main audience was Greco-Roman in culture, not Jewish, and they knew exactly was Crucifixion was, they didn’t need to have it explained to them. It was very common throughout the empire; which was Luke’s point.
Jesus, the supposed Son of God, Lord of Lord and King of Kings, executed like a common criminal with a couple of petty criminals. Not very kingly, is it? And then, more indignity, more shame; the soldiers kneel at his feet while he’s still alive. Not to worship, but to gamble for his clothes. And people laughed at him, “He saved others, let him save himself if he is the Messiah of God, his chosen One.” There it is, the crux of the matter for the people then, and if we’re honest for us now.
We don’t want a suffering and dying God. We want a strong and powerful one. We want a Savior who can not only forgive our sins, but who will make us richer and prettier and more popular and help insure that all our plans work out for the best.
One of the popular TV preachers was interviewed on National Public Radio a few years ago. After the pastor talked about his books and sermons, the interviewer pointed out there was almost nothing in his preaching and writing that had to do with God, or theology, or Christ or death and resurrection. The interviewer said, “It seems to be mostly pop psychology with a Bible verse attached.” And all the preacher could think to say was “Well, what I teach them helps people.”
Yes, we want a powerful savior, a helpful God, a conquering Messiah, a King who conquers. That’s why they were mocking him. And the Romans made fun of him too, for different reasons. It amused them to see this carpenter; this rustic preacher wrapped in purple, with people claiming he was the king of the Jews, the rightful king, the representative of God on earth.
It amused them because they were Romans and they knew what a real king looked like, and this definitely was not it. A real king had power and arrogance and a hint of cruelty, and this Jesus had none of that. So they mocked him. This first part of the Scripture shows us a man who is not anything like what anyone believes a king should be; not the Romans, not the Jews, not us.
The second part, verses 39 through 43 shows us what kind of king Jesus was, and is. One of the criminals crucified with Jesus joins in the derision. He sees Jesus the same way everyone else does, as a self-deluded failure, as a pitifully deranged religious fanatic, as a nut.
But for some reason, the other thief sees Jesus with the eyes of faith. He starts out simply by reminding the other man that while they are guilty, Jesus’ himself is innocent and does not deserve to die. So far, just a compassionate and honest thief taking pity on another condemned man.
Then he does this astounding thing. He turns to Jesus and says, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” Where did that come from? How can he hang there on the cross and look over at a man dying beside him, and see in him a savior, a messiah, a king with a kingdom?
More importantly, how can we look upon this same man, this same small town carpenter and preacher, this same little Jew from 2000 years ago, and see in him not only the savior of the world but the savior of our souls?
It is because of something the Jews introduced to the world, something that Jesus taught and lived out and died for, something that has become a part of our modern world; the idea that the true leader, the true king, is the one who serves, the one who suffers for the people.
The Jewish idea of a king was that the king ruled under God, not as a God, that the king was responsible to God as were the subjects. This idea was taken further by the prophets, in particular Isaiah, who saw the king, the messiah as the one who suffers on behalf of the people, as a suffering servant.
Jesus frequently said things like the true leader is the one who serves others. The one who takes up the burdens of others is the one who comes in the name of the Lord. Particularly in the upper room, when he got down on his knees and washed the disciples’ feet, Jesus showed what true leadership, true kingship, is about.
And somehow, the second thief got it, saw what Jesus was doing, saw that here was the Lord of the Universe, the King of kings, refusing to swat his oppressors, dying so that they could be forgiven, dying so that by his suffering their suffering would be healed.
We celebrate Christ the King today, not because of his regalness, but because of his humility; not because of his power, but because of his compassion; not because of his triumph, but because of his travail; not because he fixes our lives, but because he shows us the way to live.
Amen and amen.