Christ the King
I was at a meeting recently where it was said that the only thing that unites the country at the moment is the importance of Remembrance Sunday and the Queen. On most other things there seems to be splits and bearing that in mind across the Deanery there were very moving services on Remembrance Sunday and I decided to buy season one of the Crown for my Mum for Christmas.
At St Mary’s we have a film club and this week with Christ the King in mind we watched Cromwell that told the story of the English Civil War and in particular the struggle of personalities between Charles 1st and Oliver Cromwell.
To some Charles 1st is remembered as a martyr and to others as a person who could not be trusted and who continually worked against the will of parliament and people.
History is a subject of many interpretations, but I think that all would agree that he died with great courage as he left “a corruptible crown for an incorruptible one.”
Yet the interesting thing that the film brings out very well is that both believed that they were absolutely right.
Charles was put on trial and judged by his peers in parliament and he constantly asked them by what authority were they doing this.
He refused to recognise the validity of the trial and refused to make a plea as this would give the proceedings a legitimacy he did not recognise.
He was shaped in his mind by the idea of the divine right of kings to rule and he was responsible only to God.
Despite some similarities between Jesus and Charles 1st cannot be stretched too far on this Christ the King Sunday.
The main link is that they were both put on trial and both given the same sentence.
The most obvious difference is that Charles made numerous errors of judgement and could not be trusted on his word.
Duplicitous and corrupt being one of the terms used to describe him at his trial.
In the trial of Jesus the main theme running through is that he was innocent of the charges and Pilate does not know what to make of him.
“Are you the King of the Jews,” is the incredulous question that Pilate asks when Jesus is brought before him.
Pilate would have most likely felt disdain for a peasant from Galilee and the Jewish people as a whole.
Likewise, Herod was the recognised King so most likely he must have believed that Jesus had led some revolt against him.
Yet, the conversation that they have starts to takes an unusual course.
Again most likely Pilate may have expected Jesus to beg for mercy and in some accounts we are told that Pilate would have been happy with having Jesus whipped then realised.
Yet, Jesus does not beg and asks Pilate if he asks the question whether he is a King because others have told him or he believes it himself.
Pilate makes the obvious point that he is not a Jew, it is his own people that have turned him over and again the question is asked “what is it that you have done?”
It is then that the most almost obtuse answer is given that the kingdom that Jesus has it “not of this world,” and it is for this that he was born and came into the world.
The readers of the Gospel of John have already been told the true identity of Jesus in the opening chapter.
In the “beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God.” He is God incarnate or the “Word made flesh.”
So now we have the mystery of Jesus “the word made flesh,” being judged by a Roman official in Jerusalem, but it is not Pilate who is in control of proceedings as everything that it taking place is in accordance with God’s will.
Pilate is mystified and asks Jesus, “What is truth?”
This maybe the most important question in the trial as Pilate seems conflicted in trying to understand who Jesus is and why he has been sent to him.
I think that the issue of truth is something that we can all struggle with.
This is nothing new as seen in the English Civil War both sides were convinced that they were right and God was on their side.
In so many issues that we face today and in particular as we hear the arguments for key decisions being made about the future, various arguments are presented that seek to convince us that they are the best for the country and the future of Europe.
The big question is how we know what truth is and maybe there are a few insights from the passage today.
I think that the first thing is that truth is not found by bullying, force and intimidation.
Pilate and the authority of Rome understood power and how it worked.
Jesus’ response to being on trial is nonviolent and the kingdom that he speaks about does not rely on force.
Secondly, one of the most challenging aspects of today’s society is that truth is almost ideological.
You have to believe everything and have no doubts.
Jesus in responding to Pilate asks questions and subtly challenges his perceptions and worldview.
By the end of the passage it is Pilate who asks what the nature of truth is and it suggests that at the very least there are different ways of understanding the world.
Thirdly, we live in a world where truth is what you want it to be. If you don’t like something you can call it fake news and dismiss it.
Truth has integrity and it is something that we should actively seek as I don’t think that there is any virtue in ignorance or to put it another way even making ignorance a virtue.
We should be seeking truth and that may involve changing our minds and being open to new ways of seeing the world.
Jesus speaks of “listening to his voice.” This is at the heart of prayer and spirituality and as a church it is something we should take seriously.