This week is Christ the King Sunday. This week’s scripture reminds us that Jesus came to fulfill the prophecies, but not as anyone expected. Then, as now, people held preconceived notions about the behavior of kings and people in power. Jesus defied them all. This week, Faith in Real Life discussed the profound example of the king who humbled himself, not using his power to further his own interests, but instead to serve others.
1 If then there is any encouragement in Christ, any consolation from love, any sharing in the Spirit, any compassion and sympathy, 2 make my joy complete: be of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. 3 Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. 4 Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others. 5 Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, 6 who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, 7 but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, 8 he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death— even death on a cross. 9 Therefore God also highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name, 10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. 12 Therefore, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed me, not only in my presence, but much more now in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; 13 for it is God who is at work in you, enabling you both to will and to work for his good pleasure.
This is the last Sunday of the liturgical year, Christ the King Sunday. It is the culmination of the movement in the church year from Jesus, the man, to Jesus the Christ. As Jesus lived and taught a new way of living and loving, even his disciples did not ‘get it.’ But looking back, Jesus is revealed to be the son of God. He is Lord. He is the King of Kings. So that, ‘at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth.’ We follow the same path every liturgical year from the human to the divine.
From an ordinary secular point of view, Jesus’ kingship is unexpected and unimaginable. How humans think of kings, of power and majesty is far different than that of Jesus the Christ. Christ the King is a servant king. A troubled oppressed people sought a savior who would end their suffering and make them a mighty nation. What they got was a king who ‘did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited’, who, instead of wielding power as we know it, was willing to be helpless for our sake. This is the king we are called to follow.
So when Paul exhorts the Philippians to have the same mind and the same love as Christ, it is a call to spiritual community that overlaps with ordinary life but is often different and counterintuitive. He calls the Philippians to ‘do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. 4 Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others. 5 Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus’.
In FIRL we tried to break down what it might look like to have the same mind as Christ. Jesus emptied himself. He had power that he did not use. An omnipotent God is an all powerful God. Such a God that can make anything happen. Such a God might be frightening but it is comforting to think that such a power cares for us and protects us. But that is not the God revealed in Jesus. He never used power or coercion to get people to listen to him. That is critically important. God was and is self-limiting. Love is self-limiting. Just because he had power did not mean he used it to advance his own will. That is really incredible if you think about it.
We live in a world that values power and disdains weakness. The powerful influence and control others, the weak get pushed around. The Israelites were sick and tired of feeling second rate. So they sought a king who would give them more credibility among the nations. They sought secular authority and power when they first asked God for a king and they sought the same thing when they called for a savior to free them from Roman oppression. As the ancient Israelites, most of us hate the experience of vulnerability, much less helplessness. The desire for power is seductive and inevitable. It just doesn’t work.
The problem is that secular power never is sustainable, but living without it is often unbearable. Whether through physical size, cunning, or armaments, we seek dominance. We want to win. We want an edge. But so does everyone else. And no matter how many of those characteristics we have, we must be hyper vigilant to protect our position. Even if we do ‘win’, such a life leads to entitlement and can only be competitive and adversarial.
It is not news that men have exercised dominance over women and children for centuries. There was a time when children were presented to a father for him to decide if they would live or die. The male is, on average 20% larger than the female of our species. And for centuries that physical differential allowed men to simply take what they wanted from women. The basis of such entitlement may have changed but the exploitation of others to maintain position and power has not. It occurs in marriages, in business dealing and the world’s political arenas. Without checks, the powerful have the ability to take what they want, because they can. Jesus said no. He showed us a better way.
Jesus unequivocally rejects our human understanding of and use of power. It is not ok, in fact it is sinful, to use power to deny choice or to exploit others. Power, even the power of God, is not something to be used to advance our ‘selfish ambition or conceit.’ That’s what NOT to do. Humans needed to be taught another way.
What we are called TO do, is to be humble. Humility is not self-negation. It is not a diminishing of self. It is actively affirming another by not competing for credit. It is creating a space that accepts and validates others. It means giving up the ways you build up your own ego and trusting God. Our selves, our egos, rest with God—not how we are received by others. If you have a sense of identity that is dependent on accomplishment or approval, you must always earn it. You can’t afford to give it away. If, however, you are safe with God, you lose nothing by giving—even your life. That is how Jesus lived and it is the saving grace of the servant king.
We gather each week to worship the servant King and then we go out into the real world where humility and service, as often as not, are ridiculed rather than praised. And we return to be reminded what we believe— for it is God who is at work in you, enabling you both to will and to work for his good pleasure. Without him, humility is impossible.
God has shown us the way. He gave himself away for our sake. He has endured every hardship to show us that humility and service are the way to life. Let us worship the King.