Jesus Christ the King of the Universe – 24 November 2013 – Of Camelot and Kingdoms
Although he was not the first president to be assassinated while in office, John F. Kennedy’s death shocked the nation and the world. Was it because he set the stage for rethinking our nation’s role in global affairs? Was it the hope he gave to many people in the streets? Was it his charisma? While some historians argue his presidency produced nothing of lasting value the memory of JFK still has a grip on many Americans. Jacqueline Kennedy branded the White House “Camelot” to memorialize her celebrated family. Why? President Kennedy loved stories about heroes. King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table was his favorite story.
What is it about kings or queens, real or make believe, good or bad ones, that captures our imagination? Today our church celebrates Jesus Christ, King of the Universe. For many Jesus of Nazareth set the stage for rethinking life on earth. Some contest that he was a failed king whose life was cut short by execution on a criminal’s cross. This morning’s gospel focuses on those who were present at Golgotha where three groups mocked Jesus: the curiosity seekers in the crowd, the Jewish leaders, and the robbers hanging by his side.
Those robbers were not thieves in the traditional sense. They are called social bandits by some scholars. Like Barabbas who was let go, these two were known “as heroes, champions, avengers, fighters for justice, leaders of liberation.”  People who were oppressed liked these two bandits. They had a lot in common with Jesus except that Jesus was labeled King of the Jews.
The one, later known as the good social bandit, apparently experiences a conversion while hanging along side Jesus. Instead of complaining he asks Jesus to remember him. Jesus replies, “Today you will be with me in paradise.” He did not say tomorrow or at the end of the world. He said today you will be with me. Jesus is saying to the bandit that paradise is now.  One meaning for this phrase is this: We are companions with Jesus the Anointed One on an eternal journey, which will take us eventually to the full realization and experience of God’s kingdom.
Along the way there are a series of transformations that we must go through. Those life changing experiences are opportunities to imagine the possibility of that which so often seems impossible. One might say it is to dream the impossible dreams! Safety for children in schools. Nutritional meals on every table. Gender and racial equality in all sectors of life. Employment for those who are willing to work. Better parenting, improved partnerships, respectful relationships in life. All of these are possibilities within our reach.
But why was Jesus called king? Some scholars refer to him as a “spirit person, teacher of wisdom, social prophet, movement founder”  The first reading gives us a clue. The elders at Hebron believed King David was the right man to shepherd and unite the people of Israel who were split in two tribes. Kings in the Old Testament symbolized God’s kingship, one that would end every injustice imaginable. In this context we Christians would later think of Jesus as the kind of king David was — in solidarity with the people, a good shepherd.  Jesus of Nazareth was not an imperialistic king, he was not an oppressive dictator, a power mongering ruler.
The second passage today helps us understand the king of the universe in another light. The Jesus who walked on earth is the image of an invisible God. This particular manifestation of the triune Godhead is also the Christ of the cosmos who had no beginning and has no end. As part of this creative process, we who are also made in the image of God (Genesis 1:22), are living in an eternal process that has no beginning and no end.
Today’s biblical texts sound like they are about a compassionate shepherd who comes to be known as a king. They are also about transforming experiences, conversions, like the one that good robber had while hanging out there with Jesus.
As this liturgical year comes to a close we transition from ordinary time to a time of waiting. Advent is a season of great expectations. What do we expect from the shepherd king Jesus of Nazareth? What do we expect from one another?
Historian Norris Lacy wrote: “Camelot, located no where in particular, can be anywhere.”  So also, we believe, the kingdom of God — that time and place where justice and peace will reign, where the lion and lamb sleep together — is right here, right now.
1 Hobsbawm, E. Bandits, in Crossan, JD. Jesus a Revolutionary Biography (San Francisco, Harper, 1989) 142
2 Byrne, Brendan. The Hospitality of God: A Reading of Luke’s Gospel (Collegeville: The Liturgical Press, 2000) 181-82
3 Borg, Marcus. Meeting Jesus Again for the First Time. (San Francisco: Harper, 1994) 30
4 Reginald H. Fuller. Preaching the Lectionary:The Word of God for the Church Today. The Liturgical Press. 1984 (Revised Edition), pp. 529-532.
5 “Camelot” In Norris J. Lacy (Ed.), The New Arthurian Encyclopedia, (New York: Garland, 1991) pp. 66–67.