“A strong nation, like a strong person, can afford to be gentle, firm, thoughtful and restrained. It, [they] can afford to extend a helping hand to others. It’s a weak nation, like a weak person, that must behave with bluster and boasting and rashness and other kinds of insecurity.”
The above words come from our 39th president, Jimmy Carter and by the picture that accompanies them on Face Book, these are words that he perhaps said many years ago when he was, in fact, president. They are interesting words to consider on this Sunday that uplifts the “kingship” of Jesus, our brother and model for human living.
It is good to consider in this light whether Jesus ever claimed this title for himself and the answer is, “No!” The title of “king” is something from the earliest days after Jesus’ death, which we, his followers claimed for him. Even during his earthly life time, his followers had the wrong idea about the meaning of his coming. They wanted a “Messiah” who would best their enemy, the Romans and because of that notion, they often missed his words and actions which were more about love and turning the other cheek.
Former President Carter’s words reflect a leader who understands that to lead, truly lead, is a multi-faceted task and that strength is shown with a combination of gentleness, firmness, thoughtfulness and restraint. This, my friends, is wisdom. I believe we could say that Jesus’ leadership was about all of these traits too with the addition of mercy, kindness, justice, and of course, love.
So why then, the Church hierarchical’s insistence on “kingship” for Jesus, our brother? The source of this feast is fairly new in the time frame of our lives, dating back to only, 1925, when Pope Pius XI established it, declaring that, “People had thrust Jesus and his holy law out of their lives.” His contention was that Jesus’ laws for life should play a role in public affairs and politics and unless they did, we could never hope for, “peace among nations.”
Now this in itself might be a good reason to establish such a feast day when many “in the known and accepted world” of the time were considered Christian and other faiths, while there, were not given the importance that they are today.
Today, with a much broader view of what constitutes faith and religious practice, celebrating a feast that speaks of “kingship” in a world that does not deal with kings per se, except perhaps, “wannabes” in certain places, seems, out of place.
Would we not do better to uplift the traits that Jesus actually modeled in his own life among us on this day, as we bring to a close one Church Year and move into the next, than to give him titles that he never claimed nor wanted for himself?
But in all fairness to those kings who ruled well over their people in past times, we might say, that a true king was one who cared about the people and knew that “service” was the true mission of a good king.
I can only imagine that Jesus didn’t choose “kingship” for himself because he realized the tendency among humans to misconstrue the true meaning of king as servant, for power, and power over, and he simply was never about that.
In the first reading today from Samuel, the prophet reminds David that his role as ruler of Israel is “to shepherd” his people and David, beginning his life as a shepherd, would understand the meaning. Jesus, in his earthly life among us was crucified primarily because he tried “to shepherd” all the people—those in high positions, but more so, those in low positions, calling all to justice, to being their best selves.
When you are a person in power, with power over others, there is always the possibility of abusing that power. Those in power when Jesus lived physically upon the earth didn’t want to be told by an itinerant preacher that their leadership was a gift from God to serve their people rather than themselves. And the same phenomenon seems to be going on in Washington these days as far as “leadership” goes—serving the rule of party—self, rather than the rule of law, what is just and right.
Probably a truer statement was never made concerning the true meaning of leadership and what this call is all about than Jesus’ action on the cross recounted in today’s gospel. We read that the crowds were tormenting him, “You saved others, why can’t you save yourself, if you are the Messiah?” The position of being called to serve others, as messiah, as priest, as president is never, ever about how it can help those people as individuals, but about a larger calling of service for others and Jesus knew this.
Again, this is interesting to consider as we remembered this last week the assassination 56 years ago of our 35th president, John F. Kennedy. While not a perfect president or individual, as president he never sold out his country for personal gain.
So, with all of this in mind, friends, I come back to my premise in the early paragraphs of this homily—that we dispense with a title Jesus never claimed for himself giving him instead one that speaks more clearly of the impact that he had upon his world, that of brother, that of friend, of one who knew the life we lead as human beings and chose to journey with us as “friend” showing us as succinctly as possible how much we are loved by God. Amen? Amen!