thinking theology

Neither a King

Do not let them see you as the shepherd or they will learn to follow, not question. Do not let them see you as a king or they will think that power can solve problems. Last week, we heard Mark explaining how Jesus pointed to the immanent, abiding God as the good shepherd, waiting to be given birth amongst the people. This week we hear virtually the same story from John but with a different twist.

In the gospel of John, many see the writer as lifting up a regal Christ, but another way to read this gospel is to see how John turns the question of power around. After healing and feeding the people, Jesus suspects that the next step will be to promote him as a political figure – and he turns away to avoid it. In his confrontation with Pilate, the issue of kingship arises and Jesus deflects the argument by refusing to engage in human constructions of power. He says, “My kingdom is not of this world.” To which world is he referring? I think he is referring to the world where power is brokered and human lives are bartered for profit or influence.

Jesus does not come to make life easier or less perplexing. I think his presence in the world is to teach us to ask questions, to refuse to be chattel or pawns. We must make political choices of course, but they need to be based on the gospel of abundance and generosity, of inclusivity and acceptance. We are only pawns when we allow ourselves to fight wars for the wealthy, or blame victims of expediency, the poor, the refugee, the sick, the immigrant. From Hebrew to Christian scripture, God’s prophets always teach us that God loves the poor, shelters the wanderers, shields the orphans, protects the strangers. The key words of faith are hospitality, generosity, compassion, peace.

For the gospel of John, I think we find some insight by noting the way a very human activity of Jesus is mirrored with a “divine” activity. The interaction between the human and the divine is the model of humanity that Jesus offers in this writing. It is more terrifying than walking on water because it calls for courage in the face of everything we have been taught about personal safety. It says to welcome the stranger, learn about difference, open ourselves to being wrong, to being embarrassed, to revealing our weakness, to live with the reality that there are no guarantees.

Last week we read about how God animated from within community. This week we hear an invocation of the God who comes into human life through people seeing the world in a more complex way. What is this bread that we eat? Who is this man and how does he reveal the divine to us? The presence of God enters through our interactions, our questions, and also when we learn how to be still in the middle of a storm. Jesus goes away to a quiet place to collect himself and so might we learn from this. At the heart of all our busyness, we need to create oases where we welcome the divine, who heals and reveals.

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