"For I was hungry, and you gave me something to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave me something to drink; I was a stranger, and you invited me in; naked, and you clothed me; I was sick, and you visited me; I was in prison, and you came to me." -Matthew 25: 35-36
One of my favorite philosophers is Homer…Simpson. This eternally middle aged man from Springfield is full of nuggets of wisdom…and donuts. One of my favorite teachings of Homer occurred during a time when he inexplicably found himself floating down a river in a cheery-picker. With no visible way out and his daughter Lisa calling for him as she ran along the shore, Homer clasped his hands and looked up to heaven. “I’m not normally a praying man,” he confessed, “but if you’re up there, please, save me, Superman!”
I think that the words of a man far wiser than me are appropriate for this final week of the church year. Yesterday marked the last Sunday after Pentecost, the last Sunday in what we often call Ordinary Time, which is also referred to as Christ the King Sunday, or, in some churches, Reign of Christ Sunday. The historic reason for such a day is that this is the last Sunday of our church calendar, and so we exit the year with a reminder of Christ’s kingship over all of creation, over time and space, forever and ever, world without end.
But what do you think of when you think of the kingship of Jesus Christ? What images pop in your head? What exactly does it mean for us to have Jesus as our king, and what does it mean for Jesus to be our king?
For some, I’ve noticed, it’s like Homer, who clasps his hands in his hour of need, looks up to heaven, and calls out for Superman. After all, isn’t that what a king is suppose to do? Isn’t a king suppose to save his people, rescue them, protect them from the enemy?
It’s easy to think that way. But if we really listen to Jesus as he tells this parable in Matthew’s gospel we hear a very different definition of kingship. In this parable, which is meant to invoke images of the final judgment, the king—Jesus—tells those gathered before him that he was hungry, thirsty, a stranger, naked, sick, and in prison. And those who fed him, gave him something to drink, welcomed him, clothed him, took care of him, and visited him are blessed, and those who did no such thing are not so blessed.
Does this sound like any king you know? Does this sound like the soverign that rules over the universe? Hungry, thirsty, a stranger, naked, sick, in prison? Doesn’t sound like any king I know or can think of? And that’s the same reaction the king’s assembled subjects have in the parable. When did we see you in those states, they ask. When could we have possibly offered you help? You! Our king! For them the idea of seeing a king in any of those states, all vulnerable, all wounded and weak, is antithetical to the very idea of sovereignty, of what a ruler should look like. The king’s response: you saw me in those states when you saw anyone else in those states. When you helped them, you helped me.
And here is what makes our Lord Jesus Christ unlike any sovereign that has ever ruled and will ever rule. This is what makes the Gospel so radical. The very principles of nearly every single civilization that has ever existed are turned on their respective heads in the person of this Jesus. Kings are seated on thrones in palaces, they eat at banquets and are clothed in splendor. Not this Jesus. Not this king. He rules from the gutters. His clothing is tattered. He covers himself with a newspaper when he sleeps on the park bench. He reaches his hand out to us and asks us to help him. This, brothers & sisters, is our lord Jesus, our king. And we encounter him every single day.
Our king is not some kind of Divine You Up There, distant and unknowable. Our sovereign is not like Zeus, Poseidon, or any other deity that came before, sitting on a cloud far above us pitiful humans. Our Lord is not a superhero who swoops in and rescues us from the muck that we get ourselves into. The power and the majesty of Jesus Christ is that his kingship is about relationship, relationship with the people that he loves so much. Because it is in such relationships that we see him, that we praise him.
Do you want to see the face of Jesus? Go outside and walk around until you come to a “street person.” Look that person in the eyes. That’s Jesus. Our king and sovereign Lord is known to us in the sorts and conditions of every human being, especially those that are so very easy for us to forget and ignore. To serve them, to respect their dignity, to love them is to bring our king the kind of praise and worship that he deserves. It is the kind of praise and worship that he commands of us. King of Glory. King of Peace. We WILL praise thee.