Sunday, November 24, 2013

Christ the King

It’s Christ the King Sunday, the last Sunday of the Christian liturgical calendar. One of my devotional periodicals discussed the passage where Jesus stands before Pilate---Jesus’ “coronation.” The writer discussed Pilate’s question, “What is truth?” and Jesus’ own affirmation of being the Truth (and the Way and the Life).

Last year I wrote about Christ's dual role as king and priest: With my mother-in-law's death this month, and with my own mother's death fourteen months ago, and with these emotions of grief very strong as we moved toward the holiday season, I feel particularly comforted by this Sunday. I think about God's monarchical authority over death, the monarchical divine victory over those things that bring us sorrow.

Thinking of Christ as king can potentially free us from a common human failing: the need to be right. This, too, has been a source of consolation for me, as I've sought (with an eye on the Buddhist teaching about inner peace via non-attachment) to feel free from some recent anxieties. When we're anxious about things, after all, we implicitly think we know best. But we can trust Christ to have authority over areas of our lives that cause concern, fear, and vexation.   

In his book, The Naked Now: Learning to See as the Mystics See (Crossroads, 2009), Richard Rohr comments about what he calls our “dualistic” minds, which perceive things as either-or (p. 7). We see things black-and-white, either-or choices: either you're a conservative or a liberal, a Christian or a non-Christian. You believe this way about an issue, and therefore everyone else is wrong. A mystical way, in keeping with the Christian tradition and spiritual direction, is a nondualistic way, where you see things in terms of “both-and,” and you don’t deny the value of others if they disagree with you.

He writes, “Remember, Jesus never said, ‘This is my commandment: thou shalt be right.’ ... It is an amazing arrogance that allows Christians to so readily believe that their mental understanding of things is anywhere close to that of Jesus. Jesus said, ‘I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life’ (John 14:6). I think the intended effect of that often misused line is this: If Jesus is the Truth, then you probably aren’t!” (p. 45).

In my own experience, it seemed like the folks who most appreciated the image of Jesus as King---as Authority----were themselves rigid and authoritative. It’s a comfortable way of envisioning Jesus---the fierce Jesus of Michelangelo’s Last Judgment----if you yourself are inclined to want to shape people up and push them out. Those of us are less authoritarian but who are still passionate about certain justice, religious, and political issues are also likely to see things in an either-or way.

Rohr notes this. “Punitive people love punitive texts; loving people hear in the same text calls to discernment, clarity, choice, and decision.... Dualistic, early-stage thinking will murder the most merciful of texts, because that is where they are. We do not see things as they are; we see things as we are. ... God, however, swims in an ocean of mercy, with plenty of room for the outsider, the sinner, and even the violent, according to the Scriptures. The crucified Jesus calls for no recrimination against his killers, and he reminds us, ‘I did not come to make the virtuous feel good about themselves, but for those who need a doctor’ (Mark 2:17)” (p. 82)

Good things to remember, because as the scene with Pilate reminds us, Jesus abused and crucified is Jesus the King, and his resurrection broadens rather than limits the ocean of God’s mercy.

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