Because He Can
#BecauseHeCan is the podcast for November 24, 2019, What is true power? Jesus shows us. Listen here FREE and find out more: Download it into your phone. #Luke23 #IUBasketball #IU #Crucifixion #ChristtheKing #Servant #Leadership
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For listener supported My Spiritual Advisor, this is Fr. Mark Kurowski with a reflection for Sunday, 11/24/2019, Christ the King Sunday.
Please pause this audio and read Luke 23:33-45.
Humans exert power by destruction and deprivation. Jesus Christ the King, Son of God, exerts power by creation and restoration. Humans show their power by killing. Jesus Christ the King shows his power by rising from the dead.
When I was a freshman at Indiana University Bloomington, the main campus, I was very excited to get season tickets for IU basketball. At that time, Bobby Knight was still the coach, and they would go on three years later to win the National Championship. Dr. John Ryan was the 14th President of Indiana University at the time. He was a kindly looking balding, white haired, ageless man who was the same age in 1983 as I am right now: 54 years old.
Anyway, I missed fewer games on the basketball schedule than classes on my other schedule. My tickets were high up in the stands. Assembly Hall has this annoying upper level that arcs downward so that if your seats are under the upper level, you cannot see the score board. You have to lean forward and down to see the score of the game if you want to see the video hanging from the ceiling. I was spending money foolishly on tickets instead of buying food at the time. I had not matured yet.
So, there I was sitting at a basketball game in the “I cannot see the scoreboard” seats. There is an open seat next to me up there and this man in a suit and tie comes and asks if I mind if he has a seat. He is some old dude with white hair. So, we are watching the game and he begins to ask me old guy questions. “What year are you?” “What is your major?” “What do you like about being at IU?” “What have you found to be the hardest thing here?” Stuff like that.
We carry on the conversation between me yelling when IU does something great. Anyway, we get through the conversation and the first half is coming to an end and he says he is going to get going. He turns to shake my hand and the training from my mother kicks in as I turn to shake his hand. I say, “I am Mark Kurowski, good to meet you.” He says, “I am John Ryan. Good to meet you,” then he turns and leaves. I had been sitting next to and talking to the President of Indiana University the entire first half of the game and didn’t even know it.
In Hebrew, Greek, and Latin, above Jesus on the Cross were the words, “Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews.” It was meant to mock him. In the language of the religious people, the common people, and the government, was a sign that was meant to show how powerless Jesus was, how impotent of a “king” he was. It was to be a warning to anyone who wanted to take on Rome and lead an insurrection.
The process of Crucifixion was especially cruel. In my retreat for men, I lay out the physiology of the tearing of the flesh by the whips with pieces of metal and glass on the ends; the physiology of a body in shock, wounded, that was made to carry the cross beam upon which you would be nailed, and then hung; the physiology of the asphyxiation of hanging from your hands causes when crucified; and finally, the cardiac arrest that happens when the CO2 levels go through the roof and make your heart literally burst. We clean up the crucifixes for our churches. Truly, it was a bloody, cruel mess.
It was gruesome on purpose. That gruesomeness was normally put on the highest hill in town. It was to serve as a reminder to anyone who dared mess with Rome. If it were a billboard it would show the dying body and have this motto, “Rome: because we can.”
Humans show power by destruction and deprivation. Humans show their power by killing and burying. So, from the perspective of the religious leaders, the common criminal/common people, and the ruling authorities, the mockery of “Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews” is appropriately worthy of mockery. Jesus put up no defense and did nothing to get his followers weapons or anything that even looked like an earthly King. Unwittingly, the Romans put a sign up that declared to all in every language a truth they didn’t realize was true. They were actually a freshman kid, watching a game, with the President of the University and they didn’t even know it.
For people who are transactional, the responsibility to the God of the universe is folly. There is only responsibility to the self. Emperors and Kings are notoriously transactional. They create laws which they circumvent when they need to benefit themselves. They apply laws when they serve themselves. It would not make any sense to them that a King would not circumvent anything but instead sacrifice himself so that his subjects would be served. It is beyond the thinking of humans that a king would exert power through creation and restoration for the benefit of his subjects.
The arrogance of humanity can only see things from a human point of view. We humans, on a small planet, in a large solar system, in a giant galaxy, in a ginormous universe, among vast expansive universes, outside of the living God, think that if it is not about death and destruction, it cannot be about power. No power, no kingship. So, the religious authorities, the soldiers, and the one criminal can only see through what they believe to be possible. They mock Jesus saying, and I paraphrase and augment for effect, “You, a king, cannot save yourself! Ha! How can you save many?”
What they do not understand is that God, from outside the universe, condescends into the universe through a woman, a manger, an insignificant town, and a small religious group of people, to reverse the act of Adam. Adam and Eve’s act is to discount God, think that they know better than what God has instructed them. They feel compelled to do that which God has told them not to do. They exert their power, to disobey, destroy, and deprive. Yet, the God-man who comes through a woman, a manger, an insignificant town, and a small religious group of people, is one who is obedient, even to the point of accepting that he must die. It is not that he is not able to save himself, it is that out of obedience to the living God he cannot save himself in order that he would, of his own free will, save us all. In his humanity, Jesus becomes obedient even unto death, death on a Cross. He submits his human will to divine directive: he must die so many may live.
Just as God created the Garden of Eden and placed us in it with all that we needed to thrive, Jesus restores humanity by sacrificing himself for our sins. He exerts his divine Kingship by giving up his own life for his creation. The one who is King is not king because he can destroy and deprive, but because he can create and give life abundantly. He is King not because he can mock people in their execution, but because he can say, “Today, you will be with me in Paradise.” He is King because after the religious authorities set him up to die, the common people let him die, and the government kills him, he defeats death, apathy, and jealousy. He defeats the greatest power we humans can throw at him with the power of God, the power to forgive, the power to have mercy, the power to restore; the power to love.
So, the sign which was meant to mock is the sign that told the truth. Jesus Christ is King of kings. He is truly Christ the King. He is the king who serves. He is the king who self-sacrifices, gives until he dies. He is the king who restores life by rising from the dead and then invites us to join him through Baptism. He is the King of kings, Lord of lords. Loud Hosannas to his name! 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, 2019.
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Mark Kurowski, M.Div.
Spiritual Director, Author, Blogger, Podcaster, Theologian