Our strong roots in democracy don’t give us particularly good background for understanding the biblical concept of kingship. Living as we do in one of the first countries to reject rule by a monarch in favor of a federation of independent states, we balk at the idea of locating all authority in one person. From its beginnings in the Hebrew Scriptures, though, we see that the concept that eventually came to be know as the “divine right of kings” didn’t entirely escape the flaws of humanity creeping into the institution. Today we hear the story of the great King David. Chosen by God while still a shepherd boy watching his father’s flocks, anointed by Samuel, David is now acclaimed by the people as their king.
The ill-fated monarchy of his predecessor, Saul, gives us some important background to the early days of the monarchy in Israel. The people came to the prophet Samuel asking for a king because all the neighboring countries were ruled by kings. They seem to have forgotten that God was the only king they needed. Samuel told them an elaborate parable about the trees in the forest wanting to name one of their number ruler over all, with disastrous results. But God tells Samuel to give the people what they want, and the results prove Samuel’s words to be true. Now the people are acclaiming David because of his military prowess. I suspect that when they repeat God’s words: “You shall shepherd my people Israel and shall be commander of Israel,” they’re putting far more emphasis on the second part of that phrase. The notion of a strong military commander was mighty appealing.
Throughout Christian history, the notion of Christ as king has jostled somewhat uneasily along the concept of an earthly king. From the very beginning, when Caesar was pro- claimed as divine, Christians asserted that they followed the one true God, a greater king and ruler. And even before that, in the Gospels themselves, Jesus often had to remind his followers that his reign as the Messiah was much different than the military leader they sought.
In today’s reading from the Gospel of Luke, the people jeering at Jesus frame their abuse in terms of Jesus not using his power to save himself. This was one of the temptations in the desert, the temptation to use his power for his own glory. Once again on the cross, he overcomes it. The Lord’s kingship is simply not about earthly power, military or otherwise. As his followers, we need to remember this.
In 21st-century America, we elect our leaders by popular vote. While we no longer rely on the notion of the “divine right of kings,” we are nevertheless called to bring our faith to bear on the decisions we make in choosing those who will lead us and set public policy. We need to remember that our God is a Prince of Peace, and not a pagan god of war.
Each time we pray the Our Father, we say, “Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” It’s been said by Franciscan Father Richard Rohr and others, we can’t say “Your kingdom come” unless we also say “My kingdom go.” Today’s feast reminds us to let go of egos and power and the idea that might makes right. The well-being of our country and per- haps the whole world depend on our willingness to elect leaders who will live the Gospel message and not simply say “Lord, Lord.”