What Kind of King?

A Homily for Christ the King

Texts: Ephesians 1:15-23; St. Matthew 25:31-46


Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus, our Lord and King, ruler of Heaven and Earth. Amen.

Let’s step back a few weeks in the lectionary – about five weeks ago, which is around three chapters before today’s reading. Some Pharisees and supporters of King Herod come to Jesus with a trick question: is it right to pay taxes to Caesar? Jesus asks to see a Roman coin and says, “Whose image is this, and whose titles?”

Picture it: a silver coin a little smaller than a quarter with the rough image of the emperor stamped into it – and not one but several titles surrounding the rim. Throughout the empire, images of Caesar proclaimed his glory through a series of lofty names:

Princeps Civitatis – First Among the Citizens
Princeps Senatus
– First Among the Senators
Pontifex Maximus – the Chief Priest of the Roman Imperial Religion
Imperator – the Conqueror
Pater Patria – Father of the Nation
Divi Filius – the Divine Son
Augustus
– the Exalted

This is how the emperors saw themselves – and made sure their subjects saw them this way too. From temples and government buildings to the very coins in used to buy bread and wine, the empire proclaimed Caesar’s glorious lordship far and wide.

By comparison, today Jesus shows us an image of himself sitting in judgment – not as an imperial official but a shepherd sorting sheep and goats. He identifies himself not with emperors, senators, kings, or those possessing wealth and noble status, but with the hungry, the thirsty, the stranger, the naked, the sick and the imprisoned. In other years, we mark today with other images of the low-born Jew: standing trial and proclaiming a Kingdom not of this world, or nailed upon the cross rather than seated on a heavenly throne. (These scenes will play out in Saint Matthew’s gospel in just a few short chapters after today’s text.) Taking these three scenes together, we see Caesar’s apparent victory over this seditious rabbi: a show trial and brutal execution deemed too horrible for Roman citizens. This is the punishment reserved for those who would judge the rich and powerful, who would threaten the aristocracy: used as a public spectacle of Rome’s violent authority over conquered people, crosses lining country roads to remind folks what happens to those who get “uppity.”

What kind of king is it that we worship who is apparently subject to other rulers – who could be arrested, tried, tortured, and executed? What kind of king is this who claims not lofty titles but instead kinship with “the least of these”?

Indeed, this seems like foolishness, like utter weakness. Forget Imperator or Augustus, Jesus’ claims pale in comparison even to modern leaders! He’s not His Royal Highness or His Majesty as our relatively humble modern monarchs style themselves, not a commander-in-chief nor the Right Honourable as our more modest elected heads of state claim. He leads commands no army, has no cabinet of secretaries. And unlike the more lavish powers in our age, those celebrity moguls and pop icons, Jesus boasts no mega-mansion, no carefully-orchestrated bespoke wardrobe. He has nowhere to lay his head, and his executioners cast lots for his clothing. By the time he ascends to the cross, his adoring public has put away their palm branches, and their numbers are reduced to just a small handful of faithful followers. If public stature is to be believed, even B-list celebrities and local politicians tower over the One who identifies with the homeless and the naked.

Or so it would seem.

If the order of this world stands, if the powers and principalities of this age have the last word, if the person with the most stuff or the ruler with the fanciest titles wins, then there is no hope.

But that is not how this story ends! The last word belongs to God, not the powers of this world. The last word is the Resurrection!

The Resurrection is proof that Jesus of Nazareth, son of Mary and Joseph, is the Christ, God’s Anointed, the Only-Begotten Son of the One, True, and Ever-Living God, the Son of Man who comes riding in the clouds. He is the Prince of Peace, the King of Kings, the Lord of Lord, God-with-us. He is the One through whom all things are made, light from light, Very God from Very God.

The Resurrection is proof that Jesus Christ has been elevated, as Saint Paul writes, “far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the age to come.” Caesar can make up all the titles he wants, presidents and general can award themselves shiny medals, CEOs can try to buy the world, but at the last, it is Jesus Christ who is now, always has been, and ever shall be the King of All Creation. The Resurrection is proof that Jesus is Lord, and he will sit in judgment of those who wield authority in this age.

 In the Resurrection, the powers of this age are turned on their head. In the Resurrection, we see that God’s weakness is stronger than our strength and God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom. In the Resurrection, we see that the poor and the weak, not the rich and powerful, shall inherit the earth. The homeless, the refugee, and the immigrant shall be welcomed in, and those who live in gilded mansions or would turn away the stranger shall be cast out. The powerful shall be made humble and the lowly shall be exalted.

Jesus is Lord, and our Lord has called us – members of his body – to be stewards and to proclaim his coming Kingdom. Not to seek for ourselves positions of wealth, privilege, and power, but to serve the poor, the hungry, the naked, to welcome the stranger and visit the sick and the imprisoned.

Would you seek greatness? Would you aspire to might? Would you gain the world? Then give it all up and serve our Lord in the least of these, his kindred. Amen.

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