Foundry United Methodist Church

Rev. DeeAnne Lowman, Associate Pastor




Law and Order

Sunday, November 26, 2006



John 18: 1-10




Today is Christ the King Sunday, the last Sunday on the liturgical calendar.  Next week, we begin the anticipation of a baby born to humble beginnings, and the stories of those who were seeking the infant king.  But for today, we are subject to the story of Jesus’ arrest.  Why do we need to hear this, as we prepare ourselves for the rush and hustle of the holiday season, which began at 12:01 on Friday morning with the broadcast of the first Christmas carol?  Why can’t we just head right to the babe in a manger, and skip this painful part of the story, at least until Palm Sunday and the week before Easter?  There is something we need to remember before we charge into the seasons of Advent and Christmas.  The infant king grew to be a man we all have decided to follow, so let’s remember his earthbound end before we celebrate his star-blessed beginning.


The arrest of Jesus at the Garden of Gethsemane is cited in the other three gospels: Matthew 26, Mark 14, and Luke 22.  Judas led the arresting group composed of Roman soldiers and some temple guards sent by the chief priests and the Pharisees. It is only in John’s account that the arresting mob went backward and fell to the ground after Jesus answered that he was, indeed, Jesus of Nazareth (John 18:6). 


I have often wondered what that was about.  What force, what energy could have had such power as to back them up and knock them on the ground?  Well, John would have his readers believe it was the Holy Spirit, sent to perhaps test Jesus and see if he was really willing to go the distance.  After all, with the guards on the ground, couldn’t he have escaped?  Sure he could have, especially since one of his guys had a sword with him. He didn’t try it, and waited for them to get up.  Then he asked them a second time who they were looking for.  Again, they said, Jesus of Nazareth.  Jesus said, “I told you that I am he.”  So again, he had an opportunity to deny who he was to save himself.  Instead, he was concerned for the others in the garden.


This is not exactly the kind of king anyone was looking for that night. Tells everyone in a loud clear voice who he is… TWICE, doesn’t escape when he has the chance, and yelled at one of his men for cutting off the ear of one who was sent to arrest him – this isn’t the kind of king that the people of God were hoping would lead them out of despair and raise them up out of where they were.  But it was the kind of king that Jesus was sent to become.


Jesus did have some characteristics of the kind of king people wanted.  He took great pains to address the socio-political issues of the day:  hunger, segregation, poverty, illness, and gender bias to name a few.  Jesus was political, but he wasn’t a politician.  To be part of the faithful politic of the day Jesus would have been expected to ignore those who needed help, and he didn’t seem to have that in him. Suffering within the community was the responsibility of the community as far as Jesus was concerned.


There is a great deal of scholarship to suggest that while Jesus represented an on-average peaceful presence, the people who followed him may have had more militarist motives in mind. We know from this passage that Simon Peter was brandishing a sword, and he used it to cut off the ear of one of the guards sent to arrest him.  Only one of the versions of this story that’s found in all four gospels – actually has Jesus healing the ear of the guard.  (It was Luke the Physician…not too much of a surprise.)  Jesus may not have approved of such weapons, but he didn’t send away someone who didn’t disguise the existence of them.


Just like those who followed him then, I have a tremendous urge to compartmentalize Jesus into the kind of king that works for me.  I want a king who is all about taking on the systems and political powers of the day so that things turn out the way I think they should, and not have me give up anything of my own to accomplish such a change.  I want a king who protects little children and rescues cats from trees and is kind to the elder on the Metro, and takes down the lofty from their thrones.  I want a king who rescues ME from the messes that I make of things, and I want a king who stays out of my business and lets me do as I please.  I want a Jesus king who gets the bad guys, and one who doesn’t notice when I might be one of them. 


The story goes that Judas is the one who betrayed Jesus in the garden.  The story I want to believe is that Judas was trying to push Jesus into being the kind of king he needed – that he thought the world needed.  Was he hoping that Jesus would escape, or that he would just leave town after a close brush with the law?  I think he wanted a Jesus who would round up the criminals and try them for their crimes.  Judas wanted someone to act with the kind of power and authority that he could recognize – a “Law and Order” king who ruled with strength and provided governance and regulation.  I don’t know, but I don’t think I’m that far off from Judas sometimes. 


I was recently talking with a 30-something about the kingship of Jesus, and he said that the notion of Jesus as king is lost on him. He doesn’t think of Jesus as king or lord because kings and lords nor longer have any power in his world.  They are ornamental or ceremonial, and that doesn’t match the image of Jesus that he has.


I didn’t take the opportunity to ask what his image of Jesus is, but it was clear that king and lord didn’t work for him.  That does not bother me.  Perhaps Jesus as king as we understand king is somewhat dated.  In America, we have a tradition of disdain for kings and kingdoms.  Our nation’s history and law and order shunned leadership by monarchy, thus escaping oppressive regimes and repressive forms of governing. In America we are as distanced from the image of “king” as we are from the image of “shepherd.” Popular theology is more intrigued with the image of Jesus as CEO—a leadership role, to be sure, but hardly comparable to that of a king with a kingdom.


So that 30-something is right on… It is odd to think that the 21st Century church is continuing a festival centering on Jesus' image as king. The notion of king is either oppressive or impotent.  What does it mean for us to give to Jesus power and authority in our lives? 


I once had an encounter with a pretty committed non-church person.  He’d grown up in the church and knew all the bible stories.  He had been taught to fear God, and that God was much like Santa – knowing when he was naughty or nice.  He’d walked away from the church when he was 18 and never really looked back.  When the conversation got around to Jesus – he furrowed his brow and said, “Well, that Jesus.  It seems like he really wants your whole life, not just the part I would take to church on Sunday.”  My first reaction was to say, “Exactly!” for I had seldom heard even the most devoted church folk articulate a relationship with Jesus so powerfully.  But I restrained myself and asked him if that’s why he didn’t go to church – too much to give up. He said no, that it wasn’t that he couldn’t give up what Jesus might ask him to give up. He just wasn’t sure he’d ever find a church where anyone else would give over his or her life completely to Jesus, and he didn’t want to be the only one. His fear was simple: in giving up his life and lifestyle to live as he understood Jesus taught people to live, he would be alone. 


Perhaps the mistake we make as a church is forgetting to tell the rest of the story.  Jesus as earthly king didn’t really work and wasn’t really accepted – he was misunderstood, misrepresented, and mistreated.  Jesus wasn’t, in fact, the kind of king anyone was looking for. But the story doesn’t end with the arrest, conviction, and execution of Jesus.  It ends with the hope of new life in Christ Jesus, or rather it continues for all of us with the resurrection. The kingship of a risen Christ is of the one who beat death, who triumphed over evil, who collaborated with God to bring hope to a hurting world – that’s my kind of king.  That was Judas’ kind of king.  That was even the kind of king that Herod and Pilate feared Jesus would become.


The mark of an efficient leader is one who teaches others the way to lead, and gets out of the way.  Jesus lived as an unusual king who gave it all away.  The only authentic way for Jesus to be considered a king was to leave his kingdom in the hands of the people he taught and led.  He was a king who gave life meaning for those who encountered him –those he healed, those with whom he ate, those who were deemed unacceptable.  So his kingdom – God’s reign on earth – is up to those of us who strive to live as a faithful disciple of a reluctant king.