It is striking how much political language is contained in the words about God and in the ways that God’s purposes are conceived. The opening prayer for today’s Mass is a case in point. It refers to Christ as the ‘king of the universe’, who will ‘restore all things’ so as to set his people ‘free from slavery’, that we – God’s subjects – might then ‘render service’ to his ‘majesty’. Kingship, restoration, liberty; service; majesty – these are all words with clear political resonance. We can readily add other politically charged words to the list, like ‘Lord’; ‘ruler’; ‘judge’; ‘saviour’; ‘messiah’; ‘almighty’. Like ‘heavenly hosts’; ‘a royal priesthood’; ‘the kingdom of God’. Like ‘commandment’; ‘justice’; ‘authority’; ‘liberty’.
When you stack up all those words and phrases, it might come as a bit of a shock to realise just how politically charged are the ways and purposes of this God of ours, whom we worship. Our shock, however, needs to hear this political tone, for Jesus owned it and measured his life by it: “Yes, I am a king. I was born for this, I came into the world for this.” So, what is going on here? Why a politically charged God who establishes a politically charged kingdom? The answer lies in seeing that there is an order in which we are to hear this language. It is the order where, in the first place, we are to hear a description of how God envisages our humanity in him, such that it shapes the way in which we live among ourselves.
This is not the common-place understanding of our day-to-day experience – it is not the language of law and order, or transactional arrangements, or party politics, or government policy. Rather, it is the language that gives shape to how we are to live out our humanity in relation with God. It is the language of our commonly shared relationship that God wants for us. As Jesus said to Pilate, “Mine is not a kingdom of this world… it is not a kingdom of this kind.” It is a kingdom, a reign, a rule by which people may live together as God made us to live.
This is why the language of Jesus is also the language of forgiveness, of mercy, of fraternity, of the little and the poor and the wounded and the sinner. (All words with political overtones.) It is why Jesus did not assume an authority built on a power to dominate others. He assumed an authority that would allow him to embrace the humiliation of the cross, that his death might be the model for our living together as a people under God’s sovereignty.
In the worldly environment we spend so much time in, it is a good thing to remember that the ins and outs, the good and bad, of daily politics is concerned with immediate solutions and expedient options. The rabble outside the door is momentary, not eternal. Our calling is to take a different way. As we will pray in today’s Eucharistic Prayer, Christ’s kingdom is
an eternal and universal kingdom,
a kingdom of truth and life,
a kingdom of holiness and grace,
a kingdom of justice, love and peace.
Again, note the politically charged resonance in our prayer. Yet also note the different reality these words point to compared to the language we might hear in our day-to-day political discourse. God’s political language might be located in this world, but it constantly points us outwardly towards a world that embraces God’s greater horizon. Jesus came, as he himself said, that we might have life in him. This is the shape of his kingdom – one where our deepest needs can be met and life is given. Might we not seek his kingdom first?
Feature image: 'Christ Before Pilate' by Mihaly Munkacsy (1881). Courtesy of WikiArt.