The reasoning of the tempters at the foot of the cross and the tempter in the wilderness is simple: “The “Son of God” could not, should not, and ought not die.”
The reasoning in heaven is equally simple: “The “Son of God” can, needs to and, will be obedient.”
These two view will eventually have a wreck at the corner of Kingdom and World. The Gospel story for today is that wreck. - PK
Christ the king Sunday is not that old. It seems to have been created by the Franciscans for whom it had spiritual and theological overtones but was made a feast only as recent as 1925 by Pius XI in the encyclical Quas Primas. Pius’ motivation was a growing sense of nationalism in Europe following WWI.
In a European mind, the ideal or spirit of “king” is yet alive and well, even though on face value though many Europeans would argue it. The idea of Government as the “accepted powerful other” is a staple of European politics. The monarch was raised and trained to be the one who would make weighty decisions for the common folk who accepted that someone else was in charge of a significant portion of their lives. If it had not been for this type of decision power, Lutherans might have faired differently during the 16th century but the peace of Augsburg makes sense in Europe - not in America which is made up of the minority views that could not let the king define what they believed.
In true form to the traditional training of the prince to eventually take the throne, most German politicians have PhDs and the most efficient way to get rid of them is not the ballot box but rather a close investigation into their theses to root out possible cases of plagiarism. In the last decade that has derailed a few political careers in Germany. But, the PhD is to say to the common folk: “Here is one who has gained the expertise and approval to run a part of your life.” Americans of all stripes will bristle at the “run your life” phrase but that is part and parcel the job of a king: One who truly does know better.
The connection of that thought: There is one who truly does know better, to our Colossians lesson would seem obvious. Christ, was present at the creation, through him and for him all things were made. He knows where all the levers are, he knows the dangers and possibilities of creation. No one can claim to know how the universe works and disagree with him. No one can argue about the purpose of human life with Christ, one can only listen because he was there at creation and he knows it first hand. He does not have to philosophize or theorize. He simply knows.
This was one of Bonaventure’s, a Franciscan, arguments with Aquinas. Christ was incarnate from the beginning. Adam’s sin did not make it necessary for Christ to become incarnate. He already was. He was king from and to all ages, not a Prince - a lessor royal - in training, pushed into action by circumstances. Christ Jesus came to his own, both in the sense of his own creation and his own possession. The Incarnation was not a repair job brought on by the sin of Adam for which one now owed the mechanic who was sent to fix this vexing problem but who knew otherwise little about the working of the universe. Jesus Christ was not a single purpose tool.
This incarnate presence of Christ was important to the Franciscans spiritually as well. If indeed he was incarnate in and through all and if in that incarnate self all things held together, moved, breathed and had their being, then all things living need to be considered holy unto the Lord (Zechariah 14:20) of the universe and ought to be treated as such. Field and stream held great treasures but they were the monarch’s and one took them only by permission. Creation is the Lord’s possession and one is obliged to respect it even more-so.
These two thoughts might guide us this week. The death of Christ is more profound than often told. It is not merely Jesus dying for our sins. It is the king of Glory, the King of Kings, the sovereign of the Universe, the reason for Being, that is dying on the cross between two thieves. He came to his own and they did not receive him. Have you ever told the Lord how things work here on earth? Have you ever tried to instruct the almighty? I would point those who would confidently answer “yes” to the book of Job, especially the 38th chapter and following. But that confident “yes” also comes from one of the criminals Jesus is executed with. He is certainly happy to tell Jesus what he ought to do right then. The other one has it right, he asks that the King do mercy for him whatever that mercy might be, trusting that Jesus might know best how to do this.
The spur gear does not tell the engineer why it is orbiting inside the internal gear. It has no idea what a tire is or how its own actions affect the wheels. No, the engineer knows best what oil ought to be in the transmission. It is his design, even if it has suffered abuse by the grind of daily life. Sin does not absolve the sinner from listening to the Creator even if the creation is no longer exactly what was created in Charity. To live with a King as your sovereign, instead of yourself, requires that you live conscious of the King’s mind and ways. To be ignorant of them is dangerous. What the sovereign holds precious you ought to respect.
At the same time, no part is unimportant. The wheel does not turn if the spur gear has disintegrated. All parts are lovingly designed by the King, a loving eye envisioned them. Not only that but: Deus non ex machina est.(God is not outside the machine) The assumption of a continued incarnate presence linked to the preciousness of all life ought to lead one to a life of reverence of all things living. St Francis was known to pick up worms in the middle of the road and move them to the side lest they be run over. I dare you to remember that image when you drive down the road on a wet spring or early fall day and the road is flush with worms. Do you swerve for woolly worms scampering across the road in Fall? You will now . . . They are the Lord’s, you know. As are you.