Religious, Civil, & Criminal: Luke 23
#ReligiousCivilCriminal is the Podcast for November 20, 2016. Religious Authorities, Civil Authorities, and Criminals agree that Jesus doesn’t know how to use power. Is it better to use power for yourself first? Listen to this podcast to find out.: Download it into your phone. #MSAWordfortheDay # MySpiritualAdvisor #Pharisees #Religion #CivilAuthorities #Criminals #ServeOthers #Service #Luke #CriminalAtTheCross
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For Listener Supported My Spiritual Advisor, this is Mark Kurowski with a reflection for Sunday, 11/20/2016 The Feast of Christ the King.
Please pause this audio and read Colossians 1:11-20 and Luke 23:33-43.
“You don’t know who you are messing with,” could describe our readings for Christ the King Sunday. It is ironic that we celebrate Christ the King Sunday and there is Jesus in our Gospel hanging from the Cross, in front of the leaders who put him there, the soldiers who beat him there, and the criminals who joined him there. Religion, Civil Authority, and criminal enterprise, are all there mocking, deriding and judging Jesus because all they can see is defeat.
A few weeks ago, I talked about how contingent our life is upon everything around us. Without each other, air, water, earth, and sun, we would die. Because we live a life of need, we often put God in that same frame of mind. Here it rears its ugly head again.
It is excusable even to us that if someone has the ability to save themselves to have another day here on earth, they should do so. We project our favorite parts of life here on earth into heaven because we can’t conceive that the One who created the Heavens and the Earth could do something better than our golf game, our favorite sports team, our favorite snack, our favorite pet, etc.
This past week, I had a person in her twenties approach me about how miserable she is in their job. Once again, because of our need based world view, she thought that she was not right for her recently acquired job. Surely, there must be something wrong with her that the job isn’t working out. Yet, as she talked, I could hear the dysfunction of a workplace where people were not concerned with God’s mission, but more concerned with their own earthly power. This young lady, a person of great character, who puts people at ease with her grace and kindness, was in a nest of snakes! She puts on Christ in her dealings with everyone, that is, the Christ who is gracious and kind through the hardest of times.
So, we have a metaphor here that is actually spoken of in the reading from Jeremiah for this feast of Christ the King. Jeremiah writes in a time of exile, when the leadership of Israel had made bad decisions based on expediency that landed everyone as refugees, like the Syrians throughout Europe are now. He writes that because the leaders, religious and civil, will not lead others, but serve themselves, God will have to send a righteous Branch of David’s line to serve as King.
In this Gospel, we have the religious leaders, the civil authorities, and the criminals, all groups we associate in our culture with power, misunderstanding what it means to have power. In three instances, they keep telling Jesus, “Hey, Dude, if you are that powerful, just save yourself.” They are so caught up in the idea that this life is all there is. They are caught up in the idea that having power is about self-preservation first. They are blinded by their own earthly self-aggrandizing need. This is where the letter to the Colossians comes in.
Paul is writing to people who are claiming that Christ is not supreme. To make his point, Paul quotes a hymn sung in the early church. (As a side note, this is why we ought to be careful with what we sing. It sticks with us more than what we read. Tunes get stuck in our heads, not passages of scripture, usually.) This hymn says three things about Jesus Christ. First, it says that through him all things were made. Second, in him all things hold together. Third, through him the whole universe will be reconciled, renewed.
We often emphasize one aspect of Jesus or the other when we think of him. We think of him as a human when he talks. We think of him as God when he heals or does a miracle. Yet, on the Cross, we have the clearest instance of where the two come together in a totality of clarity. Because the Word made Flesh is the master plan of the Universe, and all things are created through him, he does not have needs. He is a human being who doesn’t need power through the mystical creation, like the religious authorities do. They hold power through having claim to the mysteries of the universe. Yet, Jesus Christ is the Mystery of the Universe. It is through him all things were made. Their power is nothing without him.
Because the Word made Flesh holds all things together, he has no need to be worried about civil order and maintenance of power. No matter what the Roman authorities do to him, he is still the Power of the Universe. They can beat him to within an inch of his life and hang him on a pole at the highest point of the city to shame him, but that is like shooting a mack truck coming at you with a pea shooter. Because he sustains all things, no amount of torture is going to diminish his hold on life, even if he gives up his mortal life in the process. Their power is nothing without him.
Because he is the Word made Flesh, he has no need for evasion of earthly authorities to show his power. Criminals will mock others who rely upon law or religion because they know they can be just like the civil authorities in a lawless and reckless way. This usually breeds fear in us and causes us to put our houses up for sale and move to a different suburb, but Jesus ain’t movin. He has no need to evade the unjust punishment because it is a punishment made out of lies, untruths, and is no different that the justice that criminals think Jesus deserves because he is a sucker caught in the corrupt system. They have no power without him.
As the Word made Flesh, Jesus is not about evasion, but about renewal of all things. It is precisely his taking the rejection and punishment of the religious authorities, the civil authorities, and criminal power by going to the Cross that Jesus shows us the true nature of God. God forgives, like Jesus Christ did as he was dying on the cross! God does not need to save himself, as he is coaxed to do with mocking and embarrassment by false worldly powers. In fact, as the reading from Jeremiah proclaims, Jesus is a righteous branch who is willing to die for the good of the Father’s people, the Father’s creation. Power is true only in service to others.
The people who liked to use earthly power could not see the cosmic reality in Jesus’ death. Because he took all the power through dominance and destruction that the world could give, he transformed what it means to be a leader, a lover, and a Savior. When all other forms of power, religious, governmental, or the streets, fail us, there is only One True Power that restores the order of existence like it was in Eden, and then some. That One is Jesus Christ.
This One through whom all things are created, who sustains all things, and who renews all things, this One is the one who we place on our tongue and receive into our bodies. He is King of kings and Lord of lords and he is within you. Amen.
This audio is under the copyright of My Spiritual Advisor, Incorporated and may not be used, reduplicated, or distributed for commercial use without the express written consent of My Spiritual Advisor, Incorporated. My Spiritual Advisor, Incorporated, 2016.
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Mark Kurowski, M.Div.
Spiritual Director, Author, Blogger, Podcaster, Theologian