Below is the second of a two-part devotional I contributed to the book Ordinary Time. The scripture these devotionals are based upon are from the Hebrew Scripture texts for Sunday, November 26, 2006--the day we celebrate Christ the King.
Yesterday we considered David’s deathbed vision of the just ruler. It was a vision that swept us into its beauty, a vision of infinite possibility. With David we could see the bright morning sun dazzling the grass with brightly jeweled water droplets. We delighted in the cloudless sky of a new day.
But we also faced with David some of the hard realities of his life and reign. We heard a cry in his question: “Is not my house like this with God?” In the facing of death it is difficult to turn our backs to life. In the facing of death, we must also honestly face the realities of our lives. For David that meant acknowledging in some sense the failures of his reign. God did not find David’s house to be a vision of infinite possibility. But God was with David and continued to prod him into visions of justice.
David’s vision on his deathbed seems to be one more place where the narrative of the monarchy is undercut by a strain of subversive critique. In the beginning of 1 Samuel, the people beg Samuel for a king to govern them. They wanted to be more like the other nations. It was not enough for them to be in relationship with the Great Liberator, the Saving One. No, the people wanted flesh and blood. Someone who could “go out before us and fight our battles.” (1 Sam 8:20) Memories of a pillar of fire and cloud could no longer suffice.
God warned the people through Samuel of all the ways they would live to regret allowing a king to rule over them. The king will take their sons to be soldiers and their daughters to be cooks; he will take their vineyards and olive orchards and grains; he will take their slaves; he will take their cattle and donkeys. Even so, the people persisted in their desire. And God, with regret, granted their desires. We will make the best of it, God seems to sigh, “Listen to their voice and set a king over them.” (1 Sam 8:22)
But the biblical narrative retains this voice of critique in connection to the reign of kings over God’s people. Sometimes the critique is between the lines. Sometimes it’s the violent shout of the raging prophet.
The voice of critique urges us to recognize that centralized power will inevitably lead to corruption. It will inevitably become the hard-hearted power of Pharaoh or Caesar.
The critique is no less real today. Even now, we can be certain that centralized power will take our sons and daughters to be soldiers. It will not protect the weakest members of our society. It will abandon the disinherited to the rising waters of poverty and starvation. Centralized power will lie to protect itself. It will speak as if it were God.
But the power as the world conceives of it is not power as God conceives of it. “God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong.” (1 Cor. 1:27)
This coming Sunday we will celebrate another king, one who comes from the line of David. It is in this king that we will see, finally, a realization of God’s vision of the just ruler. For this king, the crucified Christ, is one that offers infinite possibility.
This king is no king. This lord is no lord. He is a king that stymies the powerful. He is a lord that does not rule over. His power makes no sense. His power leads him before Pilate and to the cross just beyond. His power leads him into death. And his power disrupts death’s grip.
As we discovered yesterday, David’s vision of the just ruler is a beautiful vision that attracts us to it with its warmth and bursting energy. It is the beauty of life-giving possibility. The charisma of the Christ, the Just Ruler, is irresistible. We wish to bask in the light of that cloudless morning.
Notice that in David’s vision, the just ruler does not do anything, does not rule by controlling anything. Rather, the just ruler evokes a response, a heart-leaping response. Indeed this is not power as the world conceives. (Truth is, it’s the undoing of the world’s power!) The power of the just ruler, of the Christ, is one that makes us want to say, “Yes!”
What barriers do we put up that keep us from basking in the light of God’s cloudless morning? What is our limited view of power that keeps us from opening ourselves to the infinite possibility of “Yes!”
Bedazzle me, Infinite Light, with visions of justice that draw from me my “Yes!” Open me to the possibilities of your power available to all. Give me the eyes to see your compassionate Spirit at work in the world, like water-jewels sparkling in the morning sun. Grant me the living faith to bask in you.
-Jennifer W. Davidson