Thought for the week - 26 November 2023
When I was a little boy we used to play a game called king of the hill. We’d run outside find a dirt pile, a bin, even on one memorable occasion a septic tank – anything we could climb up on. The first of us to the top of the rock or dirt pile would claim his kingdom and shout, “I’m king of the hill.” The rest of us would charge the kingdom. Some tried pulling the king down. Others tried pushing the king off the hill. We all wanted to take over the kingdom.
Each attack on the king was in some way an unspoken demand for proof. “If you’re really the king, prove it. Defend yourself. Show us your power and strength. Save yourself and your kingdom. Because if you don’t I’ll take it for myself.” Each one of us wanted to climb up and yell, “I’m king of the hill.”
It was a great game. We had a lot of fun. There is a problem though. You see we grow up but we never stop playing the game. We become adults and the game became a way of life. Our dirt piles became success and money, power and control, reputation and popularity. For some the dirt piles became our families, our children, or the fairy tale of living happily ever after. Others climb the dirt piles of being right, holy, or patriotic. Often our dirt piles became ways of thinking, political parties, or social groups or even, sadly, our churches.
The adult version of king of the hill is about filling our emptiness, fighting our fear, and ultimately establishing some type of order and control for our lives. And looking at the stats of young men committing suicide, there is a lot of empty space to fill. What began as a child’s game has become the reality of our lives. For many of us life is a constant scrambling to establish and maintain our little kingdoms, to convince ourselves as much as anyone else that we are okay, we are enough, we are the king or queen. That is a hard way to live because there is only one way down. Do you know why toxic influencers like Andrew Tate are popular? Because every young guy wants to fill the void by being King.
Today, the Feast of Christ the King, celebrates and reminds us that playing king of the hill does not have to be the final reality of our lives. Life can be different. Christ the King invites us to stop playing the game. If we choose to stop playing the game it means we must give up our little kingdoms. Today we will again pray, “thy kingdom come.” It rolls off our tongues with ease and familiarity. But I wonder if we really know what we’re asking for and do we really mean it?
The leaders, the soldiers, one of the criminals on Calvary– they all want the same thing. They want to see proof that Christ is the king. They want to see evidence of his kingdom. We all do. After all if Jesus is really the king, the one to rule our lives, and if we are supposed to believe that – then let him prove it. “Save yourself if you are the Messiah of God. Save yourself if you are the King of the Jews. Aren’t you the Messiah? Then prove it. Save yourself and save me.”
At one level I think we want to see Jesus come down from the cross. We want to see his wounds disappear. We want to see something spectacular, something beyond the realities of our ordinary life. At a much deeper level, however, these demands are about more than just Jesus saving himself. At a deeper level we are crying out: “Save yourself and us from our own unbelief. Save yourself and us from our need to control. Save yourself and us from the fear that this little pile of dirt I call my kingdom is all there is to my life. Show me. Prove who you are.”
But he won’t do it – at least not in the way we usually want. Instead he offers us the kingdom. He invites us to share in his kingship. That happens in the silence of deep love. The leaders are scoffing at Jesus. He responds with silence. The soldiers are mocking him. He responds with silence. One of the criminals derides him. He responds with silence. All are demanding proof. None are getting what they ask for. He is silent.
In that silence the other criminal begins to understand. This realization underlies the criminal’s cry, “Jesus remember me. Remember me not because of what I have done or left undone. Remember in spite of those things. Remember me not because of who I am but because of who you are.” His cry to be remembered is the cry of one who has emptied himself of everything, has let go of every last kingdom, and whose very life and existence are entrusted to the God who remembers. That is the reign of Christ and that is why His throne is the tree.
The reign of Christ does not mean we now have all the answers, that everything is fixed, that there is no more pain, or that every problem has been eliminated. He does not fix our lives. Instead, he enters into the reality of our ordinary existence. We are remembered and right there, in the reality of our everyday life, in the midst of our pain, in the midst of our dying, in the midst of our brokenness, in the midst of our guilt Christ the King says to us, “Truly, I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”