Tag Archives: Kingdom

24 November: The King VIII, What I Have Written.

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On the feast of Christ the Universal King, we are privileged to being you the final part of Sister Johanna’s reflections on the dialogue between Pontius Pilate, representing the Power of this world and Jesus with his spiritual power.

Pilate’s final act in Jesus’ regard is as enigmatic and confusing as anything that has ever occurred in the gospels. He affixes a notice to Jesus’ cross reading ‘Jesus the Nazarene, King of the Jews.’ Why? Why can’t Pilate leave it alone now? Why doesn’t he retreat back into his palace after his sentencing of Jesus, away from all the turmoil? Why does Pilate watch Jesus’ final journey to Golgotha carrying his cross, and then turn up himself at Golgotha? The notice was nailed to the cross just before it was raised, or possibly afterwards – the text isn’t clear. Why was Pilate still there? Did he feel that he had unfinished business? Was he ambivalent about the sentence he had passed? Or did he simply want to have the last word, now that Jesus was nearly dead, and probably unable to say anything more?

In light of our reflections, it is not possible to interpret Pilate’s notice as a sincere gesture of sorrow, nor would it represent an awareness, coming too late, of Jesus’ true kingship in a religious sense. None of Pilate’s actions at any point in Jesus’ trial or crucifixion suggest that Pilate ever grasps the true meaning of Jesus’ words and person. Nor does it seem to me to be one last attempt by Pilate to make Jesus’ enemies see the incongruity between their vision of Jesus as a political usurper and the actual appearance of Jesus in all his brokenness on the cross, undergoing a criminal’s death. By now, Pilate is fed up with the Jewish chief priests (see John 19:21-22).

But I do think that the notice nailed to the cross represents a confession of sorts on Pilate’s part. Although Pilate sees that Jesus was no threat to his position as governor, Jesus was very much a threat to Pilate as a man and human being. Where Pilate was a shallow human being, Jesus in every word and action was a man of depth. Where Pilate would change his ideological position according to his assessment of its usefulness in gaining the right friends, Jesus was a man whose actions were always consistent with his public teaching and his deepest aspirations, his sense of identity and his mission. Where Pilate was confused, Jesus was clear-headed and calm. Where Pilate tried to win support from the crowd to bolster his position and reinforce his sense of self, Jesus was completely autonomous with reference to public opinion. Jesus was able to express who he was and what he stood for in brilliantly concise terms. Pilate had spent his entire life trying to play one side against the other, lying, flattering, bragging, unable to imagine his existence without the trappings of power. And yes, Pilate was power-hungry and insecure. He could never get enough power, never enough to feel whole and at peace. Jesus also had a kind of hunger. Pilate sensed it. But Jesus was not hungry for power. He was hungry for souls, he hungered to awaken our hunger for him. Pilate was out for all he could get. Jesus was there to give us everything he had, his very life, for our salvation. He longed for us to turn to him, but he never forced it.

I believe that some of this dawned on Pilate as Jesus was led away to be crucified. The sniffer-dog in Pilate began to find a kind of power in Jesus that Pilate had not imagined even existed. He realised that Jesus, because of the integrity of his being, did not have power as other men have it – because other men’s power was the kind of power that could be lost. Jesus would never lose his power because he was power. And he was power because he was truth. There was no disorder in Jesus, no ‘parts’ of Jesus that did not spontaneously cleave to and express truth. This was a human power that was much greater than any power Pilate himself had ever encountered in anyone, or would ever be able to possess himself, and he knew it.

In the end, Pilate was thoroughly frightened by this, but he recognized Jesus’ power for what it was, and knew that Jesus’ force in the world would transcend every power structure that had ever existed or ever would exist. Pilate found that this Jesus, this Nazarene, was indeed a king. He was king of the Jews, and king of much more. He was, in every sense, a threat to Pilate’s person and personality. Jesus was king as Pilate would never be. As no man would ever be. Pilate is clear now. Jesus must be crushed. This Nazarene, this king of the Jews, must die.

 

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November 21: The King V: Over to Jesus.

 

Readers who are picking up these posts for the first time may wish to scroll back to Sunday 17th to catch up. We are looking at the dialogue between Jesus and Pontius Pilate in John 18:1-19:22. Today we are reflecting on John 18:33-38.

If Pilate pleases the crowd he may gain their support, and that could be useful in the future, possibly. This is always in the back of Pilate’s mind. Jesus has just told Pilate that his kingdom is not of this world, and Pilate has retorted, ‘So then! You are a king’? In answer, Jesus volleys the question right back to him: ‘It is you who say that I am a king,’ Or, the words of Jesus could be fairly rephrased as, “It is you who are so determined to misunderstand my words about kingship.” Jesus’ statement exposes Pilate’s power-obsession.

Pilate can’t quite believe Jesus when he implies that worldly kingship and power are not what define him. Again, the sniffer dog is alert in Pilate. If that is true, there must be some other power that Jesus has that has caused this furore. What would that be? Jesus answers this implied question. He now solemnly gives the reason for his very existence, and explains the nature of his power and kingship: ‘I was born for this,’ Jesus says. ‘I came into the world for this, to bear witness to the truth, and all who are on the side of truth listen to my voice.

Truth is indeed powerful, but Pilate has never seen enough of it at work in a human being to realise just how powerful. We, the readers of the text, can see that Truth has frightened the religious authorities enough to turn them into murderers. But this is not something of which Pilate has any real understanding – or not yet. On the contrary, Pilate bursts out, ‘Truth?? What is that?’ Or, he might just as well have said, What use is that? Who really cares about truth? Almost no one! Certainly not this group of Jews, for whom Jesus seems to be challenging a religion that they think has been good enough for a very long time. But at least Pilate realises now that Jesus will never be a rival to any political power on those grounds. Yes, Pilate is smug now, thinking that he has at last sussed it. He is incredulous that such a fuss is being made over a man who is little more, in his estimation, than a harassed philosopher. This man Jesus does not deserve the death sentence.

Pilate is exasperated as he goes out to the dais and makes his pronouncement to the crowd, ‘I find no case against him.’ The accusations against Jesus seem unfounded to Pilate, and the mob-violence bizarre. Few authorities in charge of keeping order in their district would feel indifferent about such a situation. Nor is Pilate indifferent, but neither is he a moralist. He merely wants to regain control. Pilate probably wonders: does all this strange hate come from only a small but vocal minority? A few pushy crackpots? What about the rest of the people? So Pilate offers the saner majority (if such majority exists) a chance to swing this situation. Pilate says to the crowd, ‘According to a custom of yours, I should release one prisoner at the Passover; shall I release this king of the Jews?’

It would be easy to idealise Pilate here for this seeming reluctance to sentence Jesus, but let’s consider: does Pilate care about Jesus for any religious reasons? No. He has already made that clear. He is a political animal. He just wants to end this crazy religious feud and restore order. He sees that Jesus is a nobody: not rich, not influential, not ambitious; Jesus knows none of the right people. His only claim is that he knows truth and who cares about that? In Pilate’s mind, Jesus is rather a freak, but no more than that. The sniffer dog in Pilate has temporarily gone to lie down. But he will soon be alert again.

 

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November 20: The King IV, Over to Pilate.

 

Nigerian carvings sourced by Rupert Greville: a question of power.

Do you ask this of your own accord or have others told you about me? This is the first question Jesus puts to Pilate (John 18:33), in answer to Pilate’s question, ‘Are you the king of the Jews?’ In the dialogue between Pilate and Jesus, as we said yesterday, the two men are motivated by completely opposing preoccupations. For Jesus, the dialogue is about truth and freedom. For Pilate, power is the only thing he cares about. But, the question Jesus asks places Pilate at a disadvantage already. If we are looking at power, Pilate has already lost some. He is suddenly the one who must answer a difficult question, not Jesus.

And Pilate is not prepared for it. At this stage, if Pilate had been an entirely different kind of man, he might have used Jesus’ question as a springboard to ask himself: “Do I ask this of my own accord? Do I want to understand this man and his message?” In our text, Jesus pays Pilate the compliment of suggesting that such questions might be important to Pilate. But Pilate does not budge from his habitual mind-set. Rather, he exposes his superficiality by retorting testily, ‘Am I a Jew?’ Here, Pilate implies that it should be obvious to Jesus that he has no spiritual leanings towards Judaism or any of its tenets. He goes on to attempt to regain the upper hand in the conversation by declaring, ‘It is your own people and the chief priests who have handed you over to me.’

Pilate is feeling the loss of control that comes when a situation does not make sense. He is flummoxed. Jesus has been handed over by members of his own religious group. Why? Like a sniffer dog looking for drugs, Pilate gets a whiff of a level of power in Jesus that he cannot quite identify. Clearly, Jesus has some power or he would not be so threatening to the chief priests. He demands that Jesus explain: ‘What have you done?’ he asks.

Jesus cuts to the only thing Pilate could possibly care about. He doesn’t answer Pilate’s question by talking about his actions, as Pilate seems to want, but about his authority. He talks about his ‘kingdom’. He says: ‘Mine is not a kingdom of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my men would have fought to prevent my being surrendered to the Jews. As it is, my kingdom does not belong here.’ Jesus uses the word ‘kingdom’ three times in this brief passage. I imagine Jesus pronounced the word with that emphasis one gives to an expression being employed in a way that differs from its common usage. This subtlety was lost on Pilate. ‘My kingdom’ is a phrase Pilate understands in one way only: worldly power, riches, domination, influence, kudos. He takes note, and questions Jesus again, and surely with a sharp edge of incredulity: ‘So then! You are a king???’ [emphasis mine].

Pilate is not listening. Jesus is trying to say the exact opposite, that he is not a king in Pilate’s sense of the word, that the word ‘kingdom,’ in Pilate’s sense, does not apply to him, for he has no wealth, no soldiers, no public support of any kind. He is trying to say to Pilate that his ‘kingdom’, if the word must be used, does not operate according to the standards of this world, and it is no threat to Pilate.

But something else is being said, also. While Jesus wants Pilate to know that he desires nothing that Pilate has, Jesus is not afraid to imply that he is lord of a realm, a ‘kingdom’. It exists on a deeper level than the stage of worldly success and domination. But Pilate is out of his depth and doesn’t get it at all. Jesus is too subtle for him, too deep – and too brilliant. This world, this stage of success and domination, is the only world Pilate knows. Pilate is, again, feeling a loss of control over the whole dialogue.

He is trying to cover his confusion now, I suspect. He has no wish to appear ridiculous and precipitate to the public in his handling of this awkward situation. It is still not clear to him what the real issues are. His reputation will not be enhanced by the passing of an unjust sentence – he knows this. So, the question of Jesus’ identity needs to be answered. Is Jesus really the usurper that the Jews are making him out to be?

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18 October: Qualities for mission.

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Yesterday we looked at some of the practicalities of following a mission: the structures and rules that make personal commitment possible. What are the personal qualities of a good missionary? I think this prayer, that springs from the Lord’s prayer, goes some way to defining them: confidence, idealism and love, but also closeness to the Father, so that his love will be visible to the world. May our hearts beat in time with the Lord’s!

Father in Heaven, God of men and women,

So far away and yet so near:

Give me the confidence of a child,

The idealism of a dreamer

And the love of a saint.

Let your name be in me and beside me.

Wherever I may be,

may your Kingdom Come:

A new world with heavenly colours.

Let me be an icon of your friendship.

And give to the heart of the world the rhythm of your heartbeat.

Amen.


This prayer by Erwin Roosen appeared in the Dutch Dominicans’ website, ‘Preek van de Week’ on 28 July.

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April 29: Sussex Folk Through a Poet’s Eyes.

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Edward Thomas, The man that loved this England well,1 wrote about The South Country before he became a poet. Wandering through Kent, Sussex, Hampshire, he recorded what he saw and felt along the way. Here he is in a Sussex village near where the poet Shelley was born; he has just been discussing the romantic poets.

Edward Thomas died this month in 1917, leaving a wife and family.

Note how he values the two villagers, Robert Page and his presumed descendant, as equally worthy of consideration as the poet.

In a churchyard behind I saw the tombstone of one Robert Page, born in the year 1792 here in Sussex, and dead in 1822 — not in the Bay of Spezia1 but in Sussex. He scared the crows, ploughed the clay, fought at Waterloo and lost an arm there, was well pleased with George the Fourth, and hoed the corn until he was dead. That is plain sense, and I wish I could write the life of this exact contemporary of Shelley.

That is quite probably his great granddaughter, black-haired, of ruddy complexion, full lips, large white teeth, black speechless eyes, dressed in a white print dress and stooping in the fresh wind to take clean white linen out of a basket, and then rising straight as a hazel wand, on tiptoe, her head held back and slightly oh one side while she pegs the clothes to the line and praises the weather to a passer-by. She is seventeen, and of such is the kingdom of earth.

And bearing in mind all those saintly women, Agnes, Agatha, Eanswythe, Tydfil, Mildred; we should perhaps affirm that ‘of such is the kingdom of heaven.’ Despite his melancholy, Edward Thomas can lead us to the gate thereof this Eastertide.

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So too could William Blake, who also lived in Sussex. Surely this little engraving shows the cliffs and downs of nearbyBeachy Head?

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1 WH Davies’ description of his friend. The poet Percy Bysse Shelley was born in 1892 and died at the Bay of Spezia in 1822.

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Journey down, to then be lifted up.

 

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I am writing this at the beginning of Holy Week, the week in which Christians around the world recall the journey Jesus made into Jerusalem, and ultimately to his death on Good Friday and through to his Resurrection on Easter Day. It is a journey that takes him into Jerusalem, riding upon a donkey, that in itself being a sign of peace. He goes onto washing the feet of his closest friends (a job normally undertaken by a servant), before sharing a meal with them, and asking that every time they break bread and share wine together they do so ‘in remembrance of me’. During the meal he is betrayed by a close friend, and eventually arrested, before being brought before the High Priests, is flogged and then Crucified. For many this they thought was the end, Jesus was dead, only to discover that Jesus was in fact alive, he had risen from the dead on that first Easter morning. The tomb was empty, Christ had Risen! And was witnessed by over 500 people on 12 separate occasions.

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In our Baptism we die with Christ, so that we might be born again with Christ, a new life with him, and in doing so in the knowledge that in believing in Christ we too will have this eternal life (John 3:15). I often look at what nature tells us. In the autumn, when nights are drawing in we plant seeds into the cold dark soil, only in the spring to find an abundance of new life that has emerged from the darkness. Likewise, with the dawn chorus, when it is still dark, the birdsong announces a new day and ‘the light shines in the darkness, and darkness has not overcome it’ (John 1:5).

As we approach Easter, we do so in the knowledge that we have to journey down, to then be lifted up; we have to walk with Christ through the depths of Good Friday, to be raised up high on Easter Day with our heads held high.

Like a mother hen protecting her young, Christ died that we might live, and by believing in him we too have that eternal life, and all in the knowledge of God’s grace and unconditional love for each and every one of us.

Wishing you all a Blessed Holy Week & Easter.

Rev. Jo Richards April 2019

Rev. Jo Richards is the rector at Saint Mildred’s Church in Canterbury, where L’Arche have our garden project.

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14 April: Stations for Saint Peter, VIII: the third fall: Get behind me, Satan!

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Scripture references: Matthew 16:13-23, Get behind me; Luke 23:28, John 19:20-22, crowds watching.

Peter recalls when Jesus said that he would be killed, and Peter tried to stop him from going to Jerusalem.

It was a struggle to keep sight of Jesus on the way to Calvary. Not that he could make any speed, weak as he was, and with the soldiers, the crowds watching him go by, the hundreds who seemed to be following him.

I heard he had fallen, even with Simon on hand to help. I saw blood on the stones as I came up behind. Always I was behind him.

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‘Get behind me, Satan!’ he once said. And now it comes to this: what was God thinking of?

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And now it comes to my turn. Lord I am behind you, but not far behind now!

Jesus, remember me, when you come into your Kingdom!

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8 April: Stations for Saint Peter, Jesus takes up his Cross.

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Scripture references: Matthew 27:27-31, John 19:12-19; You will be led where you do not want to go: John 21:18-19.

You will go where you do not want to go

Jesus is left with no choices – he is forced to take up his Cross. there is nothing Peter can do now. Some weeks later, back by the Lake, Jesus would tell Peter: when you grow old you will stretch out your hands and somebody else will put a belt about you and take you where you would rather not go.

A prison in Rome!

No, I don’t want to be here, waiting for the soldiers to take me away. Will it be the lions or the gladiators or the cross? There’s only one way out of here, but I do know where I’m going!

Jesus, remember me, when you come into your Kingdom!

Let us pray for all prisoners awaiting death. May Jesus walk with them and welcome them into his Kingdom.

Jesus, remember me, when you come into your Kingdom!

 

 

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2 April. Before the Cross XVIII: Bathed in the Light of God

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This painting , Worship by Jun Jamosmos, speaks of an ideal of praise and worship: uninhibited, uncomplicated and undistracted. Each worshipper, bathed in the light of God, faces a blood spattered cross, reminding us of the “mercy seat” in the holiest part of the temple. Jesus, depicted here with a banner over his shoulder, is present among them as they worship. They recognise that they have been restored through the loving act of the Father, giving his son to die. The Spirit of God is present too, symbolised by the dove, and so the whole Trinity interacts with the people of God.

The picture is as much about individual response to God’s presence as it is about corporate worship; individual healing and the work of God among all his people, everywhere – his kingdom, on earth as it is in heaven. Men and women, old and young, all meet with him in their different postures, and with their different needs.

The jars remind us of God’s abundance. Perhaps they allude to the story of Elisha and the widow, who, having a little olive oil in the house, was told to collect as many jars as she could find. God miraculously filled them as she poured out the little she had of her own.

Our small act of faith in choosing to worship – even sometimes with a “downcast soul” – is as nothing compared to the grace we receive as we meet with him. These worshippers are “standing under the tap” while God pours out the abundant blessing always meant for his people:

The Lord bless you and keep you,

The Lord make his face shine upon you and be gracious to you,

The Lord turn his face toward you and give you peace.

Tomorrow’s posting, “The Presence” is a reflection on God’s dwelling among his people down the ages, and upon how, wherever he truly is might be regarded as a “temple”.

Rupert Greville.

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March 16. Before the Cross III: the Centurion, 2.

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The second part of Rupert’s reflection on the Crucifixion.

The Centurion by Rupert Greville.

Luke’s Gospel records that it was on seeing the signs that followed Jesus’s death that the centurion declared him to be “a righteous man”. It seems likely to me that he might also have witnessed the conversation between the two thieves and Jesus, and that if he had heard it, he would not have been unmoved by Jesus’s extraordinary compassion.

We led him out beyond the city gate

Onto the hill, where women wept for grief,

And mockers jeered and spat with studied hate;

We nailed him there, with either side a thief.

 

Our dismal task, on raising up the three,

To watch them writhe and die in sickening pain;

But now a thief, bound fast against his tree,

Enrolled himself in this Messiah’s reign.

 

A merciless morning sun in that place of death

Had welded wounds to wood; scourged back with torn skin

Glued, then prised away each laboured breath;

Now all was dark. He turned his face to him.

 

He spoke as one who knew him, one who cared,

And promised paradise with him that very day;

In shameful death he blessed! I stood and stared,

Seized by the power of what I’d heard him say:

 

Words of life. But I Rome’s servant sworn –

A lifeless soul, unmoved by death or pain:

That cold indifference died, and hope was born

There on that hill and in this man we’d slain.

Rupert Greville is a member of the L’Arche Kent Community.

The print that illustrates yesterday’s post and today’s can be found in the public domain at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. 

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