Readings for “Christ the King:” Dn.7:13-14; Ps. 93:1-5; Rv. 1:5-8; Jn. 18:33b-37 http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/112518.cfm
Last week, the great spiritual teacher, Marianne Williamson announced that she is considering throwing her hat into the ring as a Democratic candidate for the U.S. presidency. Marianne, you remember, is probably the foremost teacher of A Course in Miracles(ACIM), which she describes as basic Christian mysticism.
I was heartened by Ms. Williamson’s announcement, not only at the prospect of her running, but because of the way her candidacy promises to change political conversation within the Democratic Party and nationally, where “devout” Christians have transformed Jesus into a harmless national mascot.
Even more proximately, Marianne’s announcement connects directly with the spirit of this Sunday’s readings for the feast of “Christ the King,” where Jesus distinguishes his kingdom from that of “the world.” Marianne’s candidacy will surely get us discussing that distinction.
So, let’s consider Williamson’s announcement and then its connection with today’s readings.
Here is her formal declaration of exploratory candidacy:
Do you see what I mean about changing political tone? Williamson’s words stand on its head the sad realities of Donald Trump’s “Make America GreatAgain” campaign.
We are no longer a country “of the people, by the people and for the people,” she says. Instead we’ve become a country of the few, by the few, and for the few.
In the face of that hard reality, we must return to our founding principles and to the spirit of the abolitionists, women suffragists, and of the civil rights movement. This will entail not only quantitative changes in our circumstances, but qualitative changes in our souls. It will mean becoming activists exercising the responsibility of engaged citizens committed to taking our country back to its original principles and truths which even the Founders of our nation did not dare implement.
It will be so interesting to see how all of that comes off in the debates between Democratic candidates. I’m betting that Marianne’s unusual emphasis on the deeply spiritual will strike a sympathetic chord reflected in what she calls “true American exceptionalism” rooted in ethical principle –the perfect antidote to Mr. Trump’s faux patriotism rooted in violence.
In fact, the differences between Marianne and the Donald represent mirror images of those between Jesus and Pontius Pilate depicted in today’s gospel reading.
Consider the narrative.
There, John the Evangelist has Jesus declaring the non-violent nature of his kingdom during his interrogation before the Roman governor. Standard interpretations of the scene (such as in Mel Gibson’s “The Passion of the Christ”) present Pilate as a spiritually sensitive intellectual. He’s a seeker looking for a way to set Jesus free. However, he’s too weak to assert his authority in the face of powerful and hateful Jewish leaders.
Problem is: that picture is profoundly at odds with the historical record. There Pilate’s character is described as consistently devious and cruel – the way many of us would describe Donald Trump. Philo, Flavius Josephus, and Tacitus, all tell us that Pontius Pilate was an absolutely brutal man.
As scripture scholar, John Dominic Crossan says, the “trial before Pilate” was probably pro forma at best – possibly even a fabrication of the early church to shift blame for Jesus’ death from the Romans to the Jews. After all, by the time John wrote his gospel in the final decade of the first century, Christians were anxious to court favor with Rome. In the meantime, they had been excommunicated from Judaism, and had nothing to lose by alienating Jews.
So, Pilate reduced Jesus to a victim of torture and capital punishment. And that’s really the point. I mean our faith tells us that Jesus was the kind of king who reigns in the Kingdom of God where everything is turned upside down. Jesus’ kingdom, God’s Kingdom, is truly “not of this world.”
That’s also the message of A Course in Miracles– which is (as I said) basic Christian mysticism. Again and again it states that the world’s wisdom stands 180 degrees opposite the Wisdom of God.
Crucially on that score, Jesus distinguishes the non-violence of his kingdom’s citizens from the violence of empire. The guiding ethic in God’s Kingdom is not an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. It is forgiveness. Or as Jesus put it, “If my kingdom were of this world, my followers would be fighting to keep me from being handed over . . .” No, in the Kingdom of God, non-violence reigns.
What are the implications of that type of kingship for military budgeting, for post-9/11 perpetual war, and nuclear weapons-modernization? Marianne will insist on spelling them out.
As for the personal character of Jesus’ kingship . . . In the eyes of Roman imperialists, Jesus represented the dregs of humanity. He was a Jew – a people the Romans despised. He was poor and probably illiterate. He was unemployed and traveled about with slackers who had given up gainful employment. At least one of his companions (Simon the Zealot) was a self-declared insurrectionist. Jesus was known as a glutton, drunkard and companion of sex workers. And he was irreligious. The holy men of his own people had excommunicated him and accused him of being possessed by the devil. Some king indeed!
What are the implications of that type of kingship for U.S. policies on immigration, torture, prison reform, and concern for the poor? Marianne will help us face those too.
Moreover, according to today’s first reading from the Book of Daniel, this king as “Son of Man” refuses to support empire. Instead, he will stand in judgment over all of them from the Egyptians to the Romans and beyond even to American Empire. Such regimes are beastly – a lion, a bear, a leopard, and a 10-horned monster with iron teeth.
In contrast to such horrors, Daniel promises that God’s kingdom will finally be headed by a human being – “one like a Son of Man” – or by “the human one” as some translations put it. Revealingly, “Son of man” is the title gospel-writers have Jesus adopting and applying to himself. He is a humanist, not a beast. His highest value is love of God expressed in love of neighbor – especially of widows, orphans, immigrants and refugees.
Watch the stunned silence of self-proclaimed Christian candidates when during their debates Marianne contrasts Jesus’ wisdom with their insane “realism” which would have us fight unending wars, modernize our nuclear arsenal, exclude immigrants, and equivocate about the dangers of climate change.
And yet, Jesus’ mystic followers from John the Evangelist to A Course in Miracles call us to reject such policies.
As the great Catholic theologian, Karl Rahner, put it, Christians will either become mystics or all of us will all cease to be. Marianne Williamson agrees.
To repeat: it will be interesting to how her candidacy plays out. At the very least, it will change the conversation.
Please encourage Marianne Williamson to run!