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Sunday 20 November 2022 Christ The King/The Reign of Christ, Next Before Advent

The Challenge Of Following A Crucified King

Colossians 1:11-20; Luke 23.33-43

By Avril Baigent

Roman Catholic lay woman; Pastoral Ministry Advisor for the Diocese of Northampton; Doctoral Student in Lived Catholicism, Durham University; Chapel Homilist at Corpus Christi College, Oxford

Context: suburban congregation, or teen special service for Youth Sunday (RC churches). Christians who are regular church-goers or who know something about the Christian story, but might not know the context of Jesus’ death

Aim: to challenge our understanding of the death and resurrection of Jesus and apply that to our lives

If you lived in first century Jerusalem, Jesus might not have been the first Messiah you had seen crucified. In the time of Jesus, the city was far from being the peaceful place portrayed in the Psalms. Filled with intrigue and politics, the ruling families of the Temple competed for power with Herod the Greek/Jewish ruler of Galilee and Pilate, the Roman Governor. Throughout the Gospels we hear hints of political violence in the air. The zealots (local rebels) looked to an insurgency, while the tax collectors and other collaborators looked to the Romans to protect their way of life. In addition to this, new religious communities were springing up (like the Essenes that John the Baptist may have once belonged to) and people flocked to hear the rabbis preach repentance. Jewish scholars had calculated that the apocalyptic events predicted in the Book of Daniel were coming to a head, and there was an popular expectation that the time of the Messiah was here. When Jesus rides into Jerusalem on a young donkey, he just about starts a riot.

What kind of Messiah were they expecting? The book of Daniel prophesies a ‘kingdom that shall never be destroyed … It shall crush all these kingdoms and bring them to an end’ (Dan 2:44-5). It is clear from the Gospels that this is what the disciples expected from a Messiah, and what the religious leaders were so concerned about. So when Peter said to Jesus ‘You are the Christ’ (the Messiah), everyone knew what he meant. They really thought he was going to throw out the Romans and establish a new Jewish kingdom.

These expectations can be seen in the Gospel reading today. A crucified Messiah did not make any sense. How could he lead the Jewish people to a rebellion? He had clearly failed. The religious leaders mocked Jesus, saying ‘Let him save himself if he is the Messiah of God.’ The soldiers sneered at him, and one of the criminals hanging beside Jesus derided him. Even the form of death that Jesus was subjected to seemed to suggest that he couldn’t be the Messiah, as death by impaling was taboo in Jewish law (Deuteronomy 21:21). For the followers of Jesus this was an utterly devastating end to their dreams. They could not recognise the Messiah they had hoped for in this scourged and dying man.


In our second reading today, the letter to the Colossians, it is Paul who squares the circle. For Paul, the Messiah has not come to rule an earthly kingdom, limited in time and space to a particular group of people. No, through Jesus’ death, we have all been rescued from the power of darkness and saved from our sins. The very idea of the Messiah has been expanded to take in all people in all places and it is only because Jesus died for us that we can imagine being admitted to the kingdom of Heaven. This is why Paul says ‘I preach Christ crucified,’ a paradox and a conundrum, but the heart of Christianity (1 Corinthians 1:23).

Once our eyes are opened to this paradoxical understanding of the Messiah as servant leader, we see it everywhere in the Gospels. Suddenly we understand why, when James and John ask for the positions of power at Jesus’s left and right hand, Jesus says no. We understand why, when the disciples are quarrelling about who is the greatest, Jesus sets before them a little child as the example they should follow. We understand why Jesus washes the disciples’ feet at the Last Supper, and why they are so shocked. But we should also be aware that Jesus wasn’t just turning the expectations of the Jewish people on their heads. A crucified Christ is a challenge to us too. Remember, the Risen Jesus still had the nail holes in his hands and feet. His death is key to a new understanding of power, authority, and leadership.

On this feast of Christ the King, take a moment to consider how you think about power and authority. What status is dear to your heart, and what would it mean for you to give it up? What does it mean for us to go to the cross, not without hope or meaning, but knowing that Jesus walks every step with us? By giving up what we hold dear, we find our lives anew. We look into the face of our Risen Lord, and acknowledge him as our Messiah, our Saviour, and our King.

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