Kings and Kingdoms – Arnel Aquino, SJ

Luke 23:35-43, Christ the King


When the Jews heard Jesus of Nazareth preach, “the Kingdom of God this, the Kingdom of God that, the Kingdom of God the other” they thought­ they knew what he was talking about. Jews were familiar with “kingdoms,” two, in fact: the kingdom of Rome, an autocracy, and, the kingdom of Israel, a theocracy. For many generations, Jews served two kingdoms that co-mingled tenuously and sometimes, riotously. They served two idiosyncratic kings. So when Jesus came preaching the Kingdom of God, the Jews envisioned “kingdom” and “king” based on their image of Caesar, and his puppet, Herod.

Today, you and I are also familiar with “kings” & “kingdoms,” Pinoy style. We think of Ilocos Sur, for example, and say, “Ah, kaharian ni Chavit Singson;” Tarlac, “Kaharian ng mga Aquino;” Davao City, “Ah, ang gingharian ni Digong.” But even in our smaller communities, we joke with the words, “king” & “kingdom,” too. Like, in a major Church renovation under the auspices of a wealthy benefactor, and that benefactor throws his/her weight around, parishioners whisper, “Itong simbahan, kaharian ni X.” I’ve been to parishes, too, where certain sacristan mayors have served there for decades that even the young parish priests dare not cross them in the sacristy—which has become the sacristan mayor’s turf, his “kingdom.”  Or when someone heads the construction of a new building, taking control of its design, specifications, funders, who gets an office there, who doesn’t—people mumble, “Ay, kaharian ‘yan ni X.” In many schools, too, did you know, that there are particular departments & offices also labeled, “Kaharian ni ganito, ni ganyan”? Even specific classrooms are known as “Kaharian ni alam-mo-na,” and the “kings” have dibs on those classrooms!

So, whether seriously for the Jews or jokingly with us, a “kingdom” is a well-delineated turf. And that turf is dominated by someone with enormous power and sway, who guards and protects it fearsomely, and often egocentrically. At kapag nabansagan nangkaharianang isang teritoryo o posisyon, the unwritten warning goes: “This turf has a king and it ain’t you. The king calls all the shots here. Speak, suggest, or protest…at your own risk. Otherwise, put up or shut up.” For Jews yesterday and for us today, “kingdom” lets off that familiar odor of exclusivity, sanction, and forbiddance. And that odor exudes from the “king.”

Well, the Jews and Romans mistook Jesus as declaring himself king of this “Kingdom of God.” Why do you think they mocked him by crowning him with thorns and robing him in purple and taunting him to save himself or to summon his militia and rescue him? But Jesus’s “Kingdom of God” was radically different from the usual conception. He never defined the phrase, “Kingdom of God,” though. But he did not spare words describing it by telling parables: the sower, the mustard seed, the treasure in the field, the pearl of great price. Jesus did not spare gestures that showed the Kingdom of God either: by healing, raising the dead, exorcising demons, comforting. In effect, Jesus was also describing and acting out what a true King was like, and that King Jesus was describing felt surprisingly comforting, healing, empowering. It didn’t leave you feeling discriminated and banned, or threatened and browbeaten, or condemned and punished; no. The “King” behind the Kingdom of God was nothing like Caesar or Herod, but a King who welcomed everyone regardless of gender, social class, or profession; a King who granted royal pardon to even the most scandalous of sinners; a king who wasn’t greedy with his power to heal and exorcise, but even shared it with his friends—everything that Caesar and Herod were not. But Jews and Romans who did not understand Jesus thought he was hatching plans to overthrow them. So, they crowned him, robed him, and nailed him on a “throne.”

Thank God the people who talk and act as though they were king of this and king of that—thank God they’re really not the kings of our lives. The people who dominate us, try to control us, who act as if they own us just because we owe them, thank God they’re not the kings of our lives despite their claim that they are. People who threaten us with “divine justice” and the furious fires of hell, and invoke their authority to label us sinners and judge us as condemned because we’re not the “regulation gender,” the “regulation union,” the “regulation religion”—“regulation,” from the word, regula, meaning “rule;” and regula, from the word, rex, “king”—thank God they’re not the kings of our lives. And those who want to be kings forever, and ensure it by massacre and genocide, and by amassing wealth in plain sight of the poor, the hungry, and the disenfranchised—thank God their kingships end, and that their kingdoms vanish as they do.

Jesus came into our lives and showed us what the real Kingdom and the real King are all about. There is a King, indeed, and thank God it’s not any of us. That the Son of God himself is King, a good news King, a welcoming, healing, forgiving King—thank God for that. Jesus is the King, our king, the one, the only King.

Ysh’a h’notsri, w’melekh h’yehudim; Iesus Nazarenus, Rex Iudaeorum; Iesous tes Nazaret, Basileus ton Iudaiown;” when Pilate ever hung that label above Jesus’ head and wrote “Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews” 3 times over, in Hebrew, Latin, and Greek, Pilate did not know how right he was.

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