2 Samuel 5:1-3
November 24-25, 2001, Christ the King, Cycle C
Today we celebrate the feast of Christ the King. We celebrate the triumph of Godís Kingdom over the forces of evil at the end of time. Yet our Gospel reading today gives us the picture of Jesus dying this humiliating, excruciatingly painful death on the cross. Hardly an image of triumph to most people. And then we hear Paul tell the Colossians and us that it is this very humiliating, painful death that brings salvation to all creation. All things in heaven and earth are reconciled to God through the blood of Christís cross.
Did you ever stop to think about how Christ dying on the cross brings salvation to the world? I mean, how exactly does that work?
Of course, this is a mystery so we can never fully understand it, but we can get a glimpse of how this works by talking about it in metaphors. The classic metaphor that most of us have been taught goes something like this:
God created human beings to be in loving relationship with God and with each other. God also gave us free will so that we might respond to Godís love. But from the very beginning, humans have chosen to reject Godís love, to hurt ourselves, those around us, and the environment. Because God is perfectly just, we must be punished for these sins, and we must make restitution for all the hurt. But since we have nothing that has not been given to us by God, we have nothing with which to pay this debt. Because God loves us so much, he sent his only son to die on the cross as payment for all our debts. Since we no longer have this debt, our just God can bring us into salvation.
Isnít that pretty much how we have been taught? Metaphors like this are only as good in so far as they help us see the truth expressed in the mystery, in this case understand how God saves us and how that affects us here and now. I have found this classic explanation of how the cross brings salvation to be less and less useful over the years. One reason is that it rises out of a culture of human and animal sacrifice that we have moved beyond. We no longer regard God as a primitive judge who requires blood sacrifice to satisfy his sense of justice.
Yet there is part of that culture that is crucial for understanding the cross.
As we see expressed in the first reading from 2 Samuel, there is something in our human nature that needs a king. The people of the northern kingdom of Israel come to beg David to be their king, even though for the last seven years, they had been trying to kill him. For several centuries after leaving the slavery of Egypt, the Israelites had no human king. The Lord God was there king. But as humans often do, they wanted a king who was bone of their bone, flesh of their flesh and so God gave them Saul, and then David.
The only problem with human kings is that they are human; they are not perfect. So they never really satisfy that need that we humans have for a king, for a god. The problem with human created kings or gods is that they have no life of their own so they must take their life and power from their subjects. The coronation of a human king, the installation of a humanly created God, is always an exchange, a quid pro quo. We will give you allegiance and tribute if you protect us from the enemy.
The ancients recognized this truth and tried to feed life to their kings, who were often gods, by offering sacrifice of human life (not theirs of course but some young virgin or slave or captured enemy) or animal life. Kings throughout the ages have had to constantly conquer new areas to feed on the lives of the captured people or their resources to stay alive. God refused to let David build a temple for God because he had so much blood on his hands. At the end of his reign, he sucked his nation dry to amass the gold and silver and fine wood and artists that his son Solomon would use to build the temple.
Today the gods we create and give allegiance to suck us dry. The god of consumerism lies that it is giving us the one thing that will make us happy, or fulfilled. But the truth is, as soon as we have bought that one thing, it lies that it really is something else that we need to buy. It doesnít matter how much we have bought in the past, the only thing important to the god of consumerism is what we will buy next. And so it sucks us dry.
This is true of whether our false king or god is a government, or an ideology, or a relationship, or even a Church.
The only true king is God. God does not need anything to stay alive, so God does not suck us dry. Only the kingdom of God fills its followers with life to the fullest.
So this is the metaphor that gives me more insight into how the cross brings salvation to the world.
By sending his only Son to be human and die on the cross, God tells us in humanly understandable terms that only God is worth giving our allegiance to, only God is a king who comes to serve, not be served. In Christ, God satisfies our human desire to have a king who is bone of our bone and flesh of our flesh but who gives us life instead of draining it from us. In this story of our king dying on the cross, we understand that even in the complete emptying of himself on the cross, our king still looks around for someone who needs to be filled up, to be given life. He finds him in the second thief, and in the completeness of Christís emptying, he takes this thief to the complete fullness of paradise.
By sending his only son to die on the Cross, God has delivered us from the darkness of thinking that humanly created kings will ever satisfy us. He invites us into the kingdom of a King who comes to serve us, and even in emptying himself of human life, pours life into us.
So on this feast let us look long and hard at the cross; see there the king who gives life even as he faces death, continuing to give us life here at this table today. Then look at the kings we have given power to in our lives. May we always choose the only King who fills us with life: Christ the King.