What Kind of King?

What is life in the kingdom of God like? What does it look like to live under the reign of God? These questions are central to the missional life of a congregation. The witness of the Christian community is the life of a people who are living under God’s reign: living by a different set of assumptions about the way the world is, about what success means, about the what the future holds, and what a “life well lived” looks like.

As we move in Holy Week, the picture of life in the kingdom of God comes into sharp focus. The kingdom of God is embodied in Jesus Christ. While life under the reign of God is a pervasive theme in both Old and New Testaments, Jesus gives it a name and a face. And the events of Holy Week are the climax of that embodiment. We begin on Sunday, with the Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem.

The lectionary text for this Sunday is Mark 11, and several themes emerge in this text that shed light on life in the kingdom. In the first part of this text, Jesus gives the disciples instructions for retrieving a donkey. They are to go into the village, find a colt tied in the street, and bring it back. If anyone asks, they are to simply say, “The master needs it, and he will send it back.” So the disciples obey, and when the people ask and are given Jesus’ answer, they say nothing more. There is no doubt who is in charge of these events; everyone obeys the command of Jesus, from disciple to stranger, even this strange instruction to borrow a donkey.

Jesus mounts the donkey and rides down the road, on a bed of clothes and branches, as the people shout the ancient text, “Hosanna! Blessings on the one who comes in the name of the Lord![a] 10 Blessings on the coming kingdom of our ancestor David! Hosanna in the highest!” Here indeed is the entry of the king of Israel, complete with the ancient symbols and the ancient text, fulfilling the ancient promise. Yet, the kingship he symbolizes is a reign of peace. Jesus entered the city as a king would enter in peace, not in war. He came not on a horse, but on donkey. He fulfilled scripture, but not the expectations of the people. Fulfillment is a strong theme of this text, and of all the events of Holy Week. Jesus is fulfilling God’s promises to Israel and through Israel to the world; God in human flesh is fulfilling the covenant made between God and Israel, in perfect faithfulness and obedience.  

Then, as strangely as it began, the episode ends. Jesus enters Jerusalem, goes to the temple, looks around, and then returns to Bethany because it is late in the evening. And presumably the donkey was returned; the parade was over.

More than perhaps any other text in the gospels, in this event Jesus signifies his own kingship, in the symbol and language of God’s people. This is the “open secret” by which community of Christ’s followers, then and now. That Jesus of Nazareth is the King of God’s Kingdom, that he is the fulfillment of God’s promise, that his life is the clue to the future. Moreover, the shape of our lives as those who live follow Christ is of service and obedience to his will. However, we must watch closely, for his will is not our will, and his way is not our way.

 

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