OUR LORD JESUS CHRIST, KING OF THE UNIVERSE
One unfortunate aspect of our fallen human condition is the fact that those who seek authority are so often ill suited to wield it. Our politicians and would-be rulers seek positions of power for selfish reasons. Their motivations are power an celebrity. Even those who claim (some sincerely) to have altruistic motives all too often really mean that only their own gifts and genius can fix what's wrong with society. Their idea of altruism is to use their superiority to manage the "little people," and so it, too, is self centered.
We have gotten so used to this brand of selfishness in our leaders that we take it for granted. How often do you hear our own democratically elected representatives referred to as crooks or liars? Just today I read an editorial that described our politicians as "sociopaths and deviants." Hyperbole? Maybe not when you consider the likes of Eliot Spitzer, Anthony Weiner, and Toronto Mayor Rob Ford. We take political scandal for granted. We accept it as the norm. How else could you explain the culture of depravity that exists in most capitals across the globe?
In 1887 the British Lord Acton wrote a letter to Anglican Bishop Mandell Creighton in which he stated, "Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men." And so we accept this truism. We assume that even those well intentioned politicians who promise to clean up the government will become corrupted by office once they assume power. I have jokingly said that anyone who wants to be President of the United States should automatically be disqualified from the job. There is great wisdom in how our Church chooses her popes. No one "runs for pope." Indeed, some of the best popes in history have been drug kicking and screaming from the monastery to the Chair of Peter.
But if absolute power corrupts absolutely, what are we to make of Jesus? Just listen to how St. Paul describes Christ today. "The image of the invisible God... firstborn of all creation... thrones or dominions or principalities or powers... all were created through Him and for Him... He is before all things... He holds all things together... He is head of the body... He is the beginning... firstborn of the dead... in all things He is preeminent... in Him all the fullness was pleased to dwell..." Can you imagine a better description of complete and utter power? As King of the Universe, Jesus Christ has all authority in heaven and on earth. Why is He not also the most corrupt in heaven and on earth?
Jesus teaches us a different lesson about authority. Jesus teaches us what true Kingship looks like by taking our idea of authority and standing it on its head. In today's gospel reading we read of our King crucified like a common criminal, under a mocking sign proclaiming Him "King of the Jews." People tease and taunt Him. "If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself."
If you are king, save yourself. Isn't that what we see so many modern day kings doing (whether they go by the name of president or prime minister, senator or mayor, etc.)? It's all about saving themselves, saving their own image, reputation, fortune or seat of power. This is not just a modern malaise. Look at the example of Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor who recognized Jesus' innocence but was too cowardly to resist the calls of the mob to crucify Him. Instead he washed his hands of the whole affair and sent our Lord to the cross. Unlike Jesus, his primary concern was saving himself.
Jesus exercises a different kind of authority. Jesus is a king in the line of David, and when God establishes David as king He says, "You shall shepherd my people Israel." Along with his throne, God gives David a job description. He is to be a king by being a shepherd. Shepherds are rather humble fellows. Theirs is not a rare or glorified position, but it is a vital one. People depended upon sheep not only for wool for clothing, but also meat and milk. Sheep were the lifeblood of the community. A shepherd was expected to take care of his sheep, despite personal hazard. He would stand out with his flock for hours on end, keeping eye out for predators, making sure no lamb got lost. He was, first and foremost, a caretaker.
This is how God describes the role of a king. "You shall shepherd my people." He takes a position of ultimate power and authority and He flips it on its head. He makes it so that only a humble man can yield that authority properly. The antithesis of Jesus' kingship is Lucifer. Lucifer was the brightest of the angels, beloved by God. Yet he suffered from the sin of pride. As great as he was, he would not serve. The English poet John Milton puts these words in Lucifer's mouth in Paradise Lost. "It is better to reign in hell than to serve in heaven." And so he does.
In contrast we have Jesus. "I am the Good Shepherd," He says, "The Good Shepherd lays down his life for his sheep" (Jn 10:11). He is willing to leave the 99 to seek after the one that is lost, risking all to bring the lost lamb back to the fold (Lk 15:3-7). Jesus's humility and His sovereignty are not a paradox. This is not a contradiction. This is the key to understanding authority in Christ.
Jesus is not King of the Universe despite being the Good Shepherd. Jesus is King of the Universe because He is the Good Shepherd. Jesus is not King of the Universe despite being the Sacrificial Lamb. Jesus is King of the Universe because He is the Sacrificial Lamb (Jn 1:29). Jesus is not King of Kings despite being humble. Jesus is King of Kings precisely because He humbled Himself by becoming obedient until death -- even death on a cross (Phil 2:8).
When God blesses us with authority in this world, we have a choice. We can use that authority with pride. We can choose to save ourselves. We can say with Lucifer, "I will not serve." Or we can use that authority with humility. We can choose to sacrifice ourselves. We can say with Jesus, "Thy will be done."
Pray for all those in authority, that they exercise it with humility, giving of themselves in love for the good of others. Only in this way can their kingship be a participation in the kingship of Jesus, the only King to whom you or I must bend our knees. May we be citizens of His Kingdom, His alone, and His for all eternity.