Christ the King Sunday
Then Pilate asked Jesus, “Are you the king of the Jews?” He answered, “You say so.” ~ Luke 23:3
On Tuesday evening, PBS aired “Twenty Days in Mariupol,” a Pulitzer Prize winning documentary by Ukrainian video journalist Mstyslav Chernov. When Russia invaded Ukraine, journalists fled and Chernov stayed behind. Who would document the truth of the Russian war on Ukraine? “We need to record everything?” Chernov said.
Jennifer and I watched an elderly woman mourning and wailing from the destruction of her home. She lost everything and could not understand why it happened. “What kind of person would do this to other people?” Jennifer asked.
We watched as paramedics rushed civilian children, women, and men— casualties of Russian bombings–into a Ukrainian hospital. The cries of the people were haunting. Blood was everywhere. Video showed doctors and nurses frantically working to save lives and then footage showed the same medical personnel mourning the loss of life surrounded by carnage.
“What kind of leader could do this to other people?” Jennifer asked indignantly.
Our hearts sank when we saw a young couple weeping hysterically while holding their deceased eighteen-month-old son. The mother wailed, “Couldn’t you save our son?” I thought about changing the channel. Chernov said, “We constantly heard, felt, and smelled pain.” He and his crew risked their lives and continued filming because they knew the world needed to see the repercussions of the horrors of war on the most vulnerable.
Chernov documented a bombed maternity hospital and mass graves. After each devastating scene, Jennifer said, “What kind of human being could do this to other human beings?”
“Being there and seeing the city indiscriminately destroyed and women, children, and men being killed, and their homes being destroyed was just devasting,” Chernov said. When footage of the bombed maternity hospital became public Putin replied, “It’s fake news.”
Who could order the slaughter of innocents? Is there a different way to be a king? A leader?
Shane Claiborne writes in Jesus for President, “King Herod the Great spilled blood over the land through slavery, slaughter, and war. Feeling continually threatened by his sons’ insatiable appetite for wealth and power and jealous pursuit of the throne, Herod killed his own kids. He even had one of them drowned in the royal pool.” King Herod died just after Jesus was born around 4 BC., and his remaining three sons fought for the throne.
The Roman emperor divided the kingdom among Herod’s sons. A Jewish Lives Matter movement formed and “the Jewish people sent a delegation to protest, declaring they had enough of the Herod clan. Herod’s son Archelaus hunted down and slaughtered this group of Jews,” writes Claiborne.
Herod’s other son, King Antipas left his wife and married his brother’s wife Herodius. John the Baptist, Jesus’ cousin, had a few choice things to say about this, and people flocked to the desert to hear John’s message of repentance: have a new mind, live differently. “People went to the wilderness to get Rome out of themselves, to purge themselves of empire,” says Claiborne. King Antipas felt threatened by John the Baptist’s popularity and had him beheaded. Claiborne writes, “The message was unmistakable: if you mess with the king, you’ll find your head on a platter. Everything in Herod’s world was about flaunting power and wealth and dominion—and crushing the enemies of the establishment.” If someone criticized or questioned the king, they would be destroyed.
Is this ancient history or today’s news? Who do we pledge our allegiance to? What kingdom do we subscribe to? Do we embrace the way of the Prince of Peace?
Jesus was born in the middle of a world ruled by violent, capricious kings. Clairborne says, “Jesus was a new kind of commander in chief.” Richard Rohr writes, “Jesus did not come to dominate or control” or kill. He did not come to impose his will, but to show us a third way.
Walter Wink in his book Jesus and Nonviolence writes, “There are three general responses to evil: (1) passivity, (2) violent opposition, (3) the third way of militant nonviolence articulated by Jesus.” Turn the other check, love your enemies, forgive on another. Put our swords away.
To practice Christ the King’s Third Way, Wink says we must “find a creative alternative to violence, refuse to submit or to accept the inferior position, shame the oppressor into repentance, stand our ground, force the Powers to make decisions for which they are not prepared, be willing to suffer rather than to retaliate, be willing to undergo the penalty for breaking unjust laws.”
What kind of king and way of life do we pledge allegiance to today?
May we pledge allegiance to the cross rather than the sword. May we pledge allegiance to the banner of love above any flag. May we pledge allegiance to the refugee king from Nazareth and his third way.
Blessings and peace,