The kingship of Christ does not resemble the power of many human kings. Throughout history, human kings have used threats of violence and concentrations of wealth to put their desires into effect. This was even the case in Israel. When the early Israelite nation demanded a human king in place of God, Samuel warned them that the king would take everything they valued and treat them as slaves (1 Sm 8:10-18). This only intensified their determination. Summaries of David’s reign (1 Chr 29:10-22) indicate that, at first at least, the trade-off was worth it. David’s power and wealth allowed him to respond effectively to Israel’s enemies. The ensuing peace allowed for an increase in prosperity. Royal power, for all its depredations, provided a sense of security and a full stomach.
‘For this I was born and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth.’ (Jn 18:37)
What human expectations do you place on Christ’s kingship?
How can you conform yourself to Christ’s truth and speak that truth to others?
“My kingdom is not of this world.” A kingship like David’s is exactly what Jesus resisted. When, after the multiplication of the loaves, the hungry crowds tried to make Jesus king, he fled into the mountains (Jn 6:15). When they caught up with him again, he tried to explain that God gave him such abilities not to accrue security and wealth but to reveal a plan for human salvation (Jn 6:26). The crowds found his explanation, which we now call the Bread of Life discourse, so bizarre that they quickly forsook him.
Jesus pushed his contrast with human kingship even further at the Last Supper (Jn 13:12-17). When he washed his disciples’ feet and then ordered them to do the same, he subverted centuries of carefully constructed hierarchical thinking. Kings come to be served, not to serve. Their ability to make others see to their needs was an essential symbol of their power: Do what the king wills and he will make you wealthy; resist him and suffer the consequences.
This whole structure rested on fantasies of superiority. Kings took manifest pleasure in inspiring fear. They sometimes performed arbitrary acts of generosity, cynically hoping to inspire devotion without actually meeting the needs of their people. This was the opposite of everything Jesus stood for. When he washed the disciples’ feet, he toppled these human delusions. His humility in fact threw into high relief the real source of his power—the ability to speak true words that required no enforcement to have effect.
People obeyed Jesus not out of fear or greed but because he told them the truth. What Jesus said about God and human life, about generosity and forgiveness, about love and sacrifice was so intuitively true that his followers obeyed him without reservation. The disciples learned when they preached the same truth that people likewise trusted them to lead.
In John’s Gospel, the deepest truth is that we must love one another the way God first loved us. Acting and preaching out of this belief gave Jesus’ words their power. At our baptism, Christ clothed us with his own royal nature. Building our lives around the same divine love will give our words the same power to heal, to deliver and to save.