John 18:33-37 NRSV
Jesus has been arrested for his actions and his teachings and has already been questioned by Caiaphas, the high priest. Because the sad truth is, that in this world, when you love all people and teach others to love all people, there will always be some people, probably religious, who will want to kill you. It is now Pilate’s turn to question him.
“Are you the King of the Jews?”
Jesus is the King. But as he told Pilate, Jesus is a different kind of King, for his kingdom “is not from this world.” He adds: “If my kingdom was 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.”
And, if we are honest, this makes those of us living in this world very uncomfortable. But that is Jesus. He comforts the afflicted of this world and afflicts the comfortable of this world. Whether we like to admit it or not, the truth is, we have grown rather fond of the kings and kingdoms of this world.
We prefer the kingdoms in this world that “would be fighting” to keep Jesus “from being handed over to the Jews.”
We prefer “an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.” We prefer “You’ll have to pry my gun from my cold dead hands.”
We prefer “It’s not our job to judge the terrorists. It’s our mission to arrange the meeting.”
We prefer “I hear you, and the ones who knocked down these buildings will soon hear from all of us!”
We prefer “the statue of Liberty…shaking her fist.”
The truth is that we prefer answering violence with more violence. We believe combating hate with more hate. We believe in fighting for what we believe, even for Jesus.
We believe in coercing our convictions, imposing our opinions, forcing our beliefs, and we don’t care who it offends or even destroys in the process.
We prefer a kingdom where we say it loudly and proudly that “we eat meat; we carry guns; we say Merry Christmas; we speak English, and if you don’t like it, get the heck out.”
We prefer a kingdom where we do unto others as they do unto us.
We prefer a kingdom where we love and help only those who we believe deserve our love and help.
We prefer a kingdom where people know their places and have earned those places.
We prefer a kingdom where people put the needs of their own before the needs of a foreigner.
We prefer a kingdom where we love ourselves, while our neighbors fend for themselves.
Jesus is implying that there are two types of kings. There are the kings of this world, and then there is the king from another world. And Jesus is asking Pilate and Jesus is asking you and me: Who is your king? Who do you say that I am? Am I your King? Is your king from another world or is your king from this world?
One king offers safety and comfort;
One king promises persecution, saying if you follow him, people will rise up and utter all kinds of evil against you.
One king offers security;
One king demands risk.
One king endorses greed and prosperity;
One king fosters sacrifice and promotes giving it all away.
One king caters to the powerful, the wealthy and the elite;
One king blesses the weak, the poor and the marginalized.
One king accepts only people of like-mind, like-dress, like-language, and like-faith;
One king accepts all people.
One king is restrictive with forgiveness;
One king is generous with it.
One king controls by fear;
One king reigns with love.
One king rules by threat of punishment;
One king rules with the promise of grace.
One king governs by imposing;
One king leads with service.
One king throws rocks at sinners;
One king defends those caught in the very act of sinning.
One king devours the home of the widow;
One king offers her a new home.
One king turns away the refugee;
One king welcomes the refugee, for he, himself, was a refugee.
One king destroys his enemies with an iron fist;
One king dies for his enemies with outstretched arms.
For one king’s throne is made with silver and gold;
One king’s throne is made with wood and nails.
One king wears a crown of rubies and diamonds;
One king wears a crown of thorns.
So, of course the powers that be, the kings of this world, arrested the king “whose kingdom is not from this world.” Of course they tortured this king, spat on this king, mocked this king and crucified this king, this king from a foreign realm. Of course they tried to bury this king and seal this king’s tomb up with a stone.
But hate could not defeat this king. Bigotry could not stop this king. Religion and patriotism could not overthrow his throne. This king would rise again. But not the way the kings of this world rise. Despite the desires of his followers or the lyrics of their songs, there was no thunder in his footsteps or lightening in his fists. There were no plagues, fire, brimstone, or flood. There was no shock and awe or violence of any kind.
For this king understood what, sadly, few since have understood, and that is:
The ultimate weakness of violence is that it is a descending spiral, begetting the very thing it seeks to destroy. Instead of diminishing evil, it multiplies it. Through violence you may murder the liar, but you cannot murder the lie, nor establish the truth. Through violence you may murder the hater, but you do not murder hate. In fact, violence merely increases hate. So it goes. Returning violence for violence multiplies violence, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.
Reverend Doctor Martin Luther King Jr.
Consequently, this king arose from the darkness of the grave, powerfully, yet unobtrusively; mightily, yet unassumingly; leaving room to recognize him or not to recognize him, leaving room to believe in him or to doubt him, to reject him or to follow him. This king drove out the darkness, not with more darkness, but with light. This king drove out the hate, not with more hate, but with love.
So, how do we live in these dark days of November 2015?
It all depends on who your king is.
This past Monday, Antoine Leiris, who lost his wife in the attacks in Paris, proclaimed to the world which king he chooses to serve. He shared it in beautiful tribute to his wife on Facebook, promising to not let his 17-month-old son grow up in fear of ISIS.
Friday night you took away the life of an exceptional human being, the love of my life, the mother of my son, but you will not have my hatred…
I do not know who you are, and I do not wish to…
If this God for whom you kill so blindly has made us in His image, every bullet in the body of my wife will have been a wound in His heart…
So I will not give you the privilege of hating you. You certainly sought it, but replying to hatred with anger would be giving in to the same ignorance which made you into what you are. You want me to be frightened, that I should look into the eyes of my fellow citizens with distrust, that I sacrifice my freedom for security. You lost. I will carry on as before.
The good news is that our king does not have to be Pat McCory and our King does not have to be Barak Obama.
If we choose, our king will never be Donald Trump or Ben Carson, and our king will never be Bernie Sanders or Hillary Clinton.
For their kingdoms, like all of the kingdoms of this world, are flawed and dark, and the peace they offer is temporary. Their reigns are fleeting.
If we choose, our king is and will be the one whom the prophet Daniel speaks:
As I watched,
thrones were set in place,
and an Ancient One took his throne;
his clothing was white as snow,
and the hair of his head like pure wool;
his throne was fiery flames,
and its wheels were burning fire.
A stream of fire issued
and flowed out from his presence.
A thousand thousand served him,
and ten thousand times ten thousand stood attending him.
The court sat in judgement,
and the books were opened. As I watched in the night visions,
I saw one like a human being
coming with the clouds of heaven.
And he came to the Ancient One
and was presented before him.
To him was given dominion
and glory and kingship,
that all peoples, nations, and languages
should serve him.
His dominion is an everlasting dominion
that shall not pass away,
and his kingship is one
that shall never be destroyed.
Daniel 7:9-10, 13-14