Reflection for Nov. 25, 2018 (Reign of Christ Sunday)
2 Samuel 23:1-4/ John 18:33-37
Not of This World
Today, let’s talk about monarchy. I don’t usually think we belong to the queen, but then sometimes, it hits me by surprise; like when we sang God Save the Queen at the Remembrance Day Ceremony. Do you all know the words to that song? I don’t! Anyway, when we learn about kings and queens from history, we can see that some monarchs are dubbed “great”. In the Korean history, we have the Great King Sejong. We have some other kings who are dubbed “great” for being military heroes, but Great King Sejong, who was not military at all, is considered the best king Korea has ever had. He is most famous for developing the Korean alphabet designed to be easy enough for anyone to learn. Of course, he didn’t do it himself; he commissioned scholars to do it. He also encouraged and supported scientists, among whom was the son of a slave woman, which, as you could imagine, was a scandal at the time. But the king saw how brilliant he was and didn’t care about his background. This man ended up inventing so many things, including a device that measures rainfall. I find it noteworthy that among the “great” kings in our history, King Sejong, and not any of the great military heroes, is considered the best one. His reign was driven by his love for his subjects rather than by his vain desire to conquer and become a hero. Unfortunately, a monarch that actually cares about his or her subjects seems rare. Thus is the way of our humanly world, I guess.
Speaking of great kings, we read King David’s last words today. We might think that, as a powerful monarch, he may have had all the reason in the world to be arrogant. It is normal for a powerful monarch to feel arrogant. But as a king anointed by God, he was able to give credit for his prosperity to God. Don’t get me wrong; he wasn’t perfect. Sometimes, he did forget who anointed him and put him on the throne. Once he was so blinded by lust for a married woman that he had her husband killed in battle. But the important thing is that he was humble enough to accept it when the prophet Nathan rebuked him for this evil deed. He did remember that he was God’s servant, and repented his evil act. Even as he spoke his last words, he gave glory to God, who taught him to fear God and rule with justice. He professed that those who fear God and rule with justice is like “the light of morning, like the sun rising on a cloudless morning, gleaming from the rain on the grassy land.” A lot of our kings and queens from history might have been selfish and had a strong sense of entitlement, and guess what? Most kings from the history of Israel were the same. But David, the one king in Israel that is considered the ultimate role model and ideal king for God’s people, reminds us that God reigns with the principle of justice.
Then how about Jesus that we are honouring today as king? He wasn’t really a king in the mortal world, of course. He was from a poor family and the man who raised him was a carpenter. If some of his followers hailed him as king, that was because they believed him to be the one sent by God from King David’s line to restore the nation of Israel. And because of these people, his enemies mocked him by calling him king when he was captured and executed. So, we come to the gospel scene where Pontius Pilate interrogates Jesus and asks him if he is really the king of the Jews, as people say. And this is how Jesus answers; “My kingdom is not from this world. If my kingdom were from this world, my followers would be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Jews. But as it is, my kingdom is not from here.” Because we have certain ideas in our heads when we hear the word “king” or “kingdom”, we tend to put Jesus in that box; but if we pay close attention to his teachings and how he responded to Pilate in today’s scene, we will know that Jesus is not in any way being put into the same category as the human monarchs. Calling him king is a metaphor people could understand back then because they lived in monarchy. This metaphor may not make much sense to us now, because even the British queen doesn’t have the same power monarchs used to have in the old days. The metaphor king means he was considered the most important and the most praise-worthy person like the kings of old days.
But this so-called “king” taught that the first will be last and the last will be first. He proclaimed that he didn’t come to be served but to serve. As he claims in today’s gospel text, his kingdom is not of this world. In fact, his kingdom has reverse values from our earthly kingdom. In his kingdom, the poor, the weak, and the marginalized are lifted up and valued. Humility, compassion, and equity are its core principles.
We are followers of this so-called king. Today is the last day of the Church year, and we end our Christian year by proclaiming the reign of Christ, the kingdom that is not of this world and that has reversed values from this world. The cycle will begin again next Sunday, and we will start waiting for the special baby to be born. But before we start the new year again, we remind ourselves that the reign of God for which we are called to work is all about compassion and equity. Advent and Christmas are good seasons to remind us of the nature of God’s reign because we donate to the food bank, the Gifts With Visions projects, and others. These are some of the ways in which we can participate in bringing God’s reign on earth by treating the poor and the vulnerable as beloved children of God. Therefore, as we end one Christian year and begin another, let us reclaim our identity as the disciples of the man who rejected the values of his world and proclaimed God’s countercultural reign of justice. As we prepare for the seasons of Advent and Christmas, let us focus on how we can give and share to live out God’s kingdom values instead of being lost in the commercial Christmas culture. Let us receive the abundant blessing of Christmas by giving hope and joy to others, because this is what we do in the reign of Christ, in the kingdom of God.
Rev. Sunny Kim