November 25, 2018

CITIZEN’S OF GOD’S KINGDOM
Christ the King Sunday

BIBLE READINGS
John 18:33-3 
Daniel 7:9-14 
Psalm 93 (A Responsive Reading)

REFLECTION

What is the oldest Christian creed? Answer: Jesus is Lord, which means that Caesar was not Lord. If you lived under the Roman rule, such statement was extremely subversive. In the Roman Empire, Caesar was the ultimate ruler. Millions of lives depended on his decrees. His decisions affected all nations that were under his rule, stretching from Spain to the Middle East.

For citizens of Rome, Caesar was obviously their master who had full control over their life. No wonder that, for many, he was divine and worshipped as the son of god.

But the early Christians dared to be different. They dared to proclaim that Jesus, not Caesar, was their Lord, their Master. Their ultimate loyalty was to Jesus not to Caesar. Their lives depended not on Caesar’s decrees, but on Jesus’ teachings and commandments.

Not that Christians were not citizens of Rome. They were. But when the values of Rome clashed with the values of the gospel, they chose the gospel. They disobeyed rules and laws that were against their beliefs. Yes, they were citizens of Rome and was bound by Roman rules and laws. But they were, first of all, citizens of God’s Kingdom. And they had to obey the way of this Kingdom. 

British PM, Theresa May, once said that if you are a citizen of the world, you are a citizen of nowhere. Her comment reflects the kind of division that defines the world today. The world is not only divided between young and old, poor and rich, liberals and conservatives, right and left. The world now is also divided between the idea of an open society and a closed society.

An open society supports the idea of being people “from nowhere”. All are citizens of the world and their loyalty are to all people in the world. A closed society supports the idea of being people “from somewhere”. Everyone belongs to a particular country and his loyalty is to the country where he comes from or where he lives.[1]

 

Christianity falls to neither category. Christians are citizens of particular countries, but we also transcend our national identities. Christians are Australians or Americans or Germans or Koreans or Fijians, but we are more than those identities. We are ‘in’ the world, but are not ‘of’ the world. We should be loyal to our national identity, but our loyalty shall go beyond national boundary as well. 

One of the earliest writings defending Christianity from its accusers was the Letter to Diognetes. The letter was written in 2nd century and, from it, we can see how early Christians saw themselves. Chapter five of the letter talks about the manner of Christians and it says:

For the Christians are distinguished from other men neither by country, nor language, nor the customs which they observe. For they neither inhabit cities of their own, nor employ a peculiar form of speech ... inhabiting Greek as  well as barbarian cities ... and following the customs of the natives in respect to clothing, food, and the rest of their ordinary conduct, they display to us their wonderful and confessedly striking method of life. They dwell in their own countries, but simply as sojourners. As citizens, they share in all things with others, and yet endure all things as if foreigners. Every foreign land is to them as their native country, and every land of their birth as a land of strangers. ...
They are in the flesh, but they do not live after the flesh. They pass their days on earth, but they are citizens of heaven. They obey the prescribed laws, and at the same time surpass the laws by their lives. They love all men, and are persecuted by all. They are unknown and condemned; they are put to death, and restored to life. They are poor, yet make many rich; they are in lack of all things, and yet abound in all; they are dishonoured, and yet in their very dishonour are glorified. They are evil spoken of, and yet are justified; they are reviled, and bless; they are insulted, and repay the insult with honour; they do good, yet are punished as evil-doers. When punished, they rejoice as if quickened into life; they are assailed by the Jews as foreigners, and are persecuted by the Greeks; yet those who hate them are unable to assign any reason for their hatred. 

That’s why Pontius Pilate misunderstood Jesus. He alleged that Jesus claimed himself to be the King of the Jews. He even ordered that Jesus’ cross had an inscription that said, “Jesus of Nazareth: the King of the Jews”.[2]

This was a mockery. The King of the Jews was the title given to Herod the Great. In Jesus’ time, Israel had lost its independence and became a Roman province. Caesar then appointed Herod to be the ruler of this province.

By calling Jesus as the King the Jews, Pilate tried to limit the scope of Jesus’ Kingship. The King of the Jews may be ruler of the Jewish people, but he was still under the Romans. As such, in Pilate’s eyes, whether Jesus’ claim was true or false, he was still only a Roman subject.

Indeed, Pilate acted like a Roman bureaucrat. He looked for any subversive action. No other ruler should exist under the Roman Empire besides the ones that Caesar had appointed. 

Israel had already had a ruler appointed by the Romans. Another ruler besides that was illegal. He/she deserved to be punished. 

But Jesus’ Kingdom is nothing like the kingdoms of this world. His kingdom does not depend on visible things. It does not have an army or a cabinet. It does not have a budget or departments. It doesn’t have a building or a monument. It is the Kingdom of heart, of faith, of love, of conscience. 

Jesus’ Kingdom has no boundaries. It crosses all social, economic, religious, age, gender, racial, cultural, political, even geographic boundaries.

A few weeks ago, I was in Perth city with my family. We were going to one of the shops when I saw something unusual. There, in the heart of Perth CBD, a group of women were serving the homeless people. They were giving away food, clothes, and blankets.

But these were no ordinary women. These women wore a special kind of blue-rimmed white-cotton sari. The kind of sari that Mother Teresa of Calcutta, India, used to wear. Indeed, these women were members of Missionaries of Charity. This is a religious order established by Mother Teresa. Members of the group must make a vow to give “wholehearted free service to the poorest of the poor”.[3]

See, in the past, missionaries went in one direction only. Countries with strong European heritage sent their missionaries to other regions or nations. But today, countries that used to send missionaries have become recipients of missionaries from other countries. And countries who used to be recipients of missionaries have become senders of missionaries. 

It clearly shows that the Kingdom that Jesus proclaimed knows no boundaries. It calls and serves people from all kinds of places and backgrounds. 

Indeed, God’s kingdom that Jesus proclaimed may be invisible, but it’s powerful. Psalm 16 declares that God’s kingship established the creation as we know it. As such, there is a link between God’s commandment for the people and the law of nature in the world. The law that governs the sun to rise and set is linked to the law that commands us to care for the week. Both commandments are necessary for the maintaining of creation according to God’s original intention. They are the foundation of God’s kingdom.[4]

We see similar link in the book of Daniel. For the authors of the book, the earthly power and dominion depended on the heavenly power and dominion. 

Our reading today from Daniel was completed during the persecution of the Jews by Greek Seleucid Kingdom. During the period, the Jews were subjected to state terror, murder, and enslavement. Jewish identity, scripture, and worship were outlawed. The temple in Jerusalem was profaned and regular sacrifices in the temple were forbidden.[5]

The vision that Daniel received was to hearten the Jews under oppression. There was an invisible Kingdom that was not of the world, but who governed the entire world. The powerful kingdom on earth, like the Seleucid kingdom, had acted like a beast. It terrorized and slaughtered people. But in Daniel’s vision, the beast itself would be slaughtered. 

An everlasting Kingdom would be established and its King would be the “one like human being”. Other kingdoms before were characterized by violence, terror, destruction, oppression, and persecution. The new Kingdom would be characterized by justice.[6] 

For Christians, the “one like human being” in Daniel’s vision is Jesus. He is the alpha and omega, the beginning and the end, “who is and who was and who is to come”. He is “the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth”.[7]

In 1925, Pope Pius IX introduced a new liturgy in the church calendar: the Feast of Christ the King. He thought that it was necessary to have this time in the church yearly calendar. He thought that people often chose to live in the kingdom of “the world” than in the Kingdom of God. They were attracted to the growing lure of secularism in the world. [8] Christians were no exception.

Today is that day of the Feast of Christ the King. It marks the end of one church calendar year and the beginning of the new one. And as we enter the new year, we are reminded of who we really are. We are citizens of God’s Kingdom. We are citizens of heaven.

This citizenship requires no passport or certificate to prove its authenticity. Its main document is our own lives. As long as love and justice are imprinted in our life, people will know who we actually are. As long as we follow the way of Jesus, people will know that there is only one Ruler in the world, Jesus the Christ. 

Amen.
Toby Keva

[1] Adrian Pabst, "Vox Populi Vox Dei"? Examining the Religious Roots of Populism, an article on ABC website (abc.net.au), published: Thursday 23 August 2018 at 10:06 am. 

[2] John 19:19.

[3] Muggeridge (1971) chapter 3, Mother Teresa Speaks, pp. 105, 113 in an article about Missionaries of Charity in Wikipedia website.

[4] Beth L. Tanner, Commentary on Psalm 93, on WorkingPreacher.com website (November 25, 2018).

[5] Anathea Portier-Young, Commentary on Daniel 7:9-10, 13-14, on WorkingPreacher.com website (November 25, 2018).

[6] Anathea Portier-Young, Commentary on Daniel 7:9-10, 13-14, on WorkingPreacher.com website (November 25, 2018).

[7] Revelation 1:5, 8 (New Revised Standard Version).

[8] Lucy Lind Hogan, Commentary on John 18:33-37, on WorkingPreacher.com website (November 25, 2018).