I’ve been watching the TV series, White Queen, set in mid-15th century England. I’m not recommending it, but if it’s anywhere close to historical, being a King was about the last thing I would wish on anybody. Or a queen for that matter. It was mostly about Machiavellian power plays to see who could depose who fastest. Being King consisted mostly of battles, often with your own brothers, and using your own children for political ends.
Traditionally this Sunday is known as Christ the King, or the Reign of Christ for the more politically correct. I kind of like the traditional Christ the King designation because it’s more subversive. Granted, for centuries, the rule of Christ was identified with the rule of the emperor—thus imperial religion. It’s why the early desert fathers headed for the deserts and mountain caves. They apparently actually read their bibles, where Ezekiel and Jesus and Paul make it crystal clear that the rule of Christ is an exercise of power as love, not force.
Jesus’ primary metaphor, the Kin(g)dom of G_d, was likewise subversive. To enter this kingdom was to exit Caesar’s. When the author of Ephesians has Christ sitting on a throne high and lifted up—above all principalities and powers—it’s an affirmation in the words of Lenny Kravitz, that love rules. And that the only legitimate exercise of power is the non-coercive way of the open heart.
Much of progressive Christianity, to its credit, is focused on political and economic justice, and this is in line with Ezekiel and Jesus’ vision of the king’s privileging of the weak sheep, and the judgment of the strong ones, who butt their way into the trough because they can. And in the 21st century, counted among the weak sheep are non-human species and bio-systems. It’s not only wrong to lord it over the weakest and most vulnerable. It’s stupid. It’s not eco-logical. It’s eg0-logical.
Whether it’s the human poor or Earth herself who is being butted out by the strong, ultimately, in an ecosystemic worldview, this unnatural arrangement will bite all of us in the butt. This is nature’s judgement or wisdom’s judgment. Not an external G_d threatening to punish, but cosmic and natural wisdom exercising the way of nature. Time to smarten up, and if Matthew gets a little dramatic on the details of this judgment, I say whatever works to wake us up.
But this ecological and social justice must be enacted by mellow, loving hearts. Doesn’t mean we can’t be fierce. But justice without love becomes political ideology. It tips over into hatefulness, appearing as misanthropy (“the world would be better off without this cancerous human presence”). It is accompanied by deep pessimism and cynicism about the future, which ultimately is paralyzing. All these styles of being human are ultimately excuses for not engaging other humans as if we all matter, as if we are beyond redemption. Cynicism is a cop out.
This is where an evolutionary perspective is critical. It gives us faith that while the trajectory of core human values such as compassion, empathy, and love of one’s enemies is far from a straight line of improvement, it’s undeniable that at the leading edge of the human species, a remnant is functioning as though Love rules. This leading edge of our species is not an illusion and it’s not an aberration. It’s where evolution in the human realm is going and wants to go further. The evolutionary perspective assures us that the coming of peace is a reality, as Kravitz affirms in the video below. Sure, we can focus on the depravity of humans. But it’s a choice. We can also choose to situate ourselves at the leading edge, working for change, but ultimately, being exemplars of what wants to emerge through open, loving hearts.
It seems obvious to me that those who situate themselves in the lineage of Jesus are part of that remnant, whose response to the repeated crucifixion of all that matters most, is to be the broken-hearted ones who trust that Love will be raised up again and again and again, because that is the nature of Reality. Love rules. That’s what the Reign of Christ is all about.
Ezekiel 34:11-16, 20-24
34:11 For thus says the Lord GOD: I myself will search for my sheep, and will seek them out.
34:12 As shepherds seek out their flocks when they are among their scattered sheep, so I will seek out my sheep. I will rescue them from all the places to which they have been scattered on a day of clouds and thick darkness.
34:13 I will bring them out from the peoples and gather them from the countries, and will bring them into their own land; and I will feed them on the mountains of Israel, by the watercourses, and in all the inhabited parts of the land.
34:14 I will feed them with good pasture, and the mountain heights of Israel shall be their pasture; there they shall lie down in good grazing land, and they shall feed on rich pasture on the mountains of Israel.
34:15 I myself will be the shepherd of my sheep, and I will make them lie down, says the Lord GOD.
34:16 I will seek the lost, and I will bring back the strayed, and I will bind up the injured, and I will strengthen the weak, but the fat and the strong I will destroy. I will feed them with justice.
34:20 Therefore, thus says the Lord GOD to them: I myself will judge between the fat sheep and the lean sheep.
34:21 Because you pushed with flank and shoulder, and butted at all the weak animals with your horns until you scattered them far and wide,
34:22 I will save my flock, and they shall no longer be ravaged; and I will judge between sheep and sheep.
34:23 I will set up over them one shepherd, my servant David, and he shall feed them: he shall feed them and be their shepherd.
34:24 And I, the LORD, will be their God, and my servant David shall be prince among them; I, the LORD, have spoken.
1:15 I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love toward all the saints, and for this reason
1:16 I do not cease to give thanks for you as I remember you in my prayers.
1:17 I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know him,
1:18 so that, with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints,
1:19 and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power for us who believe, according to the working of his great power.
1:20 God put this power to work in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places,
1:21 far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the age to come.
1:22 And he has put all things under his feet and has made him the head over all things for the church,
1:23 which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.
25:31 “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory.
25:32 All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats,
25:33 and he will put the sheep at his right hand and the goats at the left.
25:34 Then the king will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world;
25:35 for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me,
25:36 I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.’
25:37 Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink?
25:38 And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing?
25:39 And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?’
25:40 And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.’
25:41 Then he will say to those at his left hand, ‘You that are accursed, depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels;
25:42 for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink,
25:43 I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not give me clothing, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’
25:44 Then they also will answer, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not take care of you?’
25:45 Then he will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’
25:46 And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”
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