An Unpopular Kingdom
Author’s note: This post continues the convention of responding to the Sunday Gospel reading in accordance with the Greek Orthodox lectionary.
Today’s Gospel reading (from St Mark’s Gospel, chapter 10) never really wins prizes for being people’s favorite story. In this Gospel reading, we encounter James and John asking to sit at Jesus’ right and left hand when He ushers in His kingdom. I suspect that people tend to avoid this chapter of the Gospel because avoiding this chapter presents one way of having to surrender our expectations regarding the Kingdom of God. In this chapter, Christ says that we are not to rule over other people with self-centered authority, but we are called to serve other people. This exhortation towards serving others goes beyond even my encouragement to consider radically identifying with another person.
And it comes back to the same idea: Christ is an unpopular King overseeing a very different sort of Kingdom.
We have many assumptions when it comes to Christ and His Kingdom. We assume that Christ operates much like an earthly king, demanding allegiance, loyalty, retribution, and homage. But we often fail to consider where our analogies rooted in our worldly experience break down, especially as we encounter Christ who is Love, who is Meekness, who is Good, who is Life, and who is Truth. We forget often the nature of Christ’s Incarnation and how it relates to His Kingdom.
Christ’s Incarnation reflects His willingness to intimately and radically identify Himself with the fullness and totality of our human condition. Christ came down to be with us, to touch us, to weep with us, to be present with us in all of our circumstances. To some extent, we too can strive to be present with others around us in the same way Christ made Himself present to us. We can offer gifts of touch, consoling words, money, and presence.
We struggle with the question behind the question posed by James and John. They asked to sit at the right and left hand of Christ; more generally, we ask Christ “So if I do all of these things… if I learn to be loving, meek, merciful, compassionate and present… then what is in it for me?” Okay, so maybe you don’t ask Christ this question, but I know I ask it quite often. In many ways, it is not out of malice or spite, but out of simple exhaustion. “Lord, I am exhausted. This loving, mercy, and compassionate thing is really hard work. Tell me why I am doing it all again.” But it does not change that I often find myself battling exhaustion without a lot of encouragement, particularly as I try to focus on serving.
It would be so, so, so much easier to try to assert that others should be serving me, that others should be honoring me, that others should be worshiping me. But Christ, the one human who has the ability to make this assertion did not. As a matter of fact, today’s Gospel directs us to His singular purpose of giving His life as a ransom for many. While clearly today’s Gospel reading points us to Christ’s ultimate act of love on the Cross, today’s Gospel reading uses a sense of the pointed continual to show us that Christ serves us all throughout His life. He never stopped caring, He never stopped serving; He never stopped loving. And so Christ uses His entire life to show us a more excellent way.
I think it is easier to serve others when motivated out of love rather than out of duty. People do very strange things when operating in accordance with love that would wear just about anyone else out. Yet, when drawing on the well-spring of Love, even the most impossible tasks become bearable. Not only do these tasks become bearable, they become something we look forward to with anticipated joy.
Christ’s unpopular kingdom of untiring service, deep identification, and bottomless compassion draws deeply on the inexhaustible aquifer of God’s love.
May Christ our true and living God bring us always to drink pure Love itself so that we can find ourselves living in the Kingdom of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.