Thursday, March 31, 2011

His Kingdom is Not of This World

Pietro Lorenzetti, "Entry of Christ into Jerusalem," c 1320
Among the many questions masterfully addressed by Pope Benedict XVI in Holy Week: From the Entrance into Jerusalem to the Resurrection, his recently-released second volume in a series reflecting on the person, life, and mission of Jesus of Nazareth, is whether Jesus was a Zealot, a political revolutionary who sought to overthrow the Roman government and free His people from their oppressive occupation.

Immediately following His Messianic entrance into Jerusalem upon a donkey while His followers acclaim and proclaim Him as the One who "comes in the name of the Lord" (Matthew 21:10; Mark 11:9-10; Luke 19:38), Jesus' first deed is His "cleansing of the Temple" (Mark 11:15–19, 11:27–33, Matthew 21:12–17, 21:23–27, Luke 19:45–48, 20:1–8 and John 2:13–16), an act certain biblical scholars have typically viewed as one of "violent revolt", and which they conclude demonstrates, in the preceding Messianic context, that Jesus was a Zealot-- and that it was in His claim as "King of the Jews" for which He was ultimately crucified by the Romans (14).

But as Pope Benedict argues, "Jesus' whole ministry and His message-- from the temptations in the desert, his baptism in the Jordan, the Sermon on the Mount, right up to the parable of the Last Judgment (Mt 25) and his response to Peter's confession-- point in a radically different direction" (15). In fact, Jesus' ride into Jerusalem upon a donkey (a symbol of the poor and of poverty) renders Him as "the new king of peace" and expresses "an entirely different image of kingship" (15-16) than what was expected by those who looked to Jesus as the one who would restore the Davidic kingdom to Israel by conquest.

In response to Pontius Pilate's question, "Are you the king of the Jews?" Jesus replies, "My kingdom is not of this world" (John 18:33, 36). It is in these words that Jesus in fact proposes to Pilate, and to us, "an entirely different image of kingship," and it is paradoxically in Jesus' passion and crucifixion that He is crowned and enthroned as the king He attests He was born to be (cf John 18:37).

But how is it possible, not only to understand, but to embrace this paradox offered to us by Jesus, and thus this "entirely different image of kingship," especially through the eyes of this culture in which we live, where, first of all, the concept of kingship or any other form of autocratic rule is both foreign and undesirable to us? Yet perhaps our own culture in fact can offer us the answer, by way of analogy.

During the late 1960s and early 1970s, at the height of the Vietnam War protests, a popular sentiment rose up: that rather than sending countless soldiers to fight, to kill and be killed, in this war or any war, wouldn't true justice be served if instead the leaders of each nation, those possessing and exercising the power to declare war, met for hand to hand combat, letting the result of that battle alone determine the victor?

Isn't this exactly what Jesus did for us as King when He ascended His throne, the Cross, through which he won for us the final victory over Satan, sin and death in His resurrection? Isn't He then the only one who ever gave us all that we cry out for-- a justice born out of mercy-- in offering and giving Himself for us, and in teaching and empowering us to do the same for one another in His Name?

How is it then that we who know what true justice is, we who live in a world where people are right now rising up against rulers who deny them this true justice for which they long, can yet ignore, even reject Jesus and His claim over us as our King, instead yielding to the temptations offered by "all the kingdoms of the world in their magnificence" (Matthew 4:8)?  The Lord's kingdom is not of this world.  Thanks be to God! His kingdom is greater than any power, than any kingdom on earth, because its world, its dwelling place, is in fact in our very hearts (cf 1 John 4:4), the hearts that He made after His own image and likeness (cf Genesis 1:26-27)-- if only we would let Him reign there! For in His reign there is true and lasting peace, and freedom from all tyranny-- the true glory and magnificence which He created us to enjoy forever, and which no passing worldly kingdom can offer, even for a moment!