Sunday, November 25, 2018


My kingdom does not belong to this world.”
John 18

About this time of year, in 1989, six Jesuit priests were dragged from their beds at their university on the edge of San Salvador and shot through their heads with high-powered rifles. Their cook and her fifteen-year-old daughter were also killed. The head of the Jesuits working in Central America told reporters, and I quote, “They were assassinated with lavish barbarity. They were tortured before they died. They even took out their brains.” What did they do wrong? They were outspoken advocates for the poor and the politically abused. They wanted change and the fear of change threatened the powers to be in El Salvador of that time. Why did they remove their brains? Jesuits are known for their intelligence. You have to be smart to become a Jesuit. Their murders removed their brains from their skulls to make a joke, as if to say, “We’ll show these “smart alecks” who’s boss!”

Jesus, of course was not a Jesuit, but he was treated the same way for the same reason. In his first public sermon, Jesus had said that he too had come to “bring good news to the poor, to proclaim liberty to captives and to set the downtrodden free.” This message made Jesus immensely popular with the poor and outcasts of his world, but it attracted the wrath and hatred of the political and religious powers-to-be.

Jesus never wanted to be a “king” in the worldly sense of that word. He rejected that idea in the desert, when it was proposed to him by the devil, before he went public with his ministry. He shunned any talk of it when it November 25, 2018came up, and it came up quite often. However, those “in power” would not believe that he didn’t want their power. They never trusted him. Jesus was so popular with the little people, those in power had become paranoid about him possibly trying to become a king and about their loss of power.

When Jesus was arrested, they too made a joke. Their joke was about him being a “king.” They dressed him in a ratty old red robe, the color of royalty. They put a “crown” on his head, a crown of thorns, mashing it into his skin and hair. Then they took turns genuflecting in front of him, laughing their heads off at their own joke. For a “throne” they nailed him to a cross and placed a sign over his head that read, “This is the King of the Jews” for passers-by to laugh at.    Ha, Ha! Big joke!

(Point to the crucifix) Behold our king! That certainly doesn’t look like any other king I have seen! Our king, innocent and without sin, is the brunt of sick jokes. Our king looks like a total failure! Our king was abandoned, even by most of his closest friends. Absent are the things we normally associate with the kings and queens of this world: power, deference, pomp and prestige. Our king is bathed in blood, sweat and tears.

It doesn’t make sense to us today and it didn’t make sense to the people who were there back then. When they were waving their palms and welcoming Jesus into Jerusalem a few days before, they had no idea that things would turn out this way. They had their plans for Jesus and this was not part of them. They had plans for a political revolution, palaces and powerful positions to be filled in a new kingdom. They knew Jesus could escape if he wished. He had saved others, he could have saved himself if he really wanted to. They could not comprehend the fact that he willingly chose such a fate. No wonder they dropped him like a hot potato!

Why would Jesus willingly accept such a fate? He could have gotten around it, he could have escaped and he could have avoided all the pain. Either Jesus was the ultimate masochist or there is a point to all this. What is the point?

Besides being the ultimate act of fidelity to God, accepting even death on a cross, Jesus wanted to teach us a fundamental life lesson: the secret to happiness. He wanted us to know that we do not solve problems by running away from them or waiting them out, but through facing them head-on. When we avoid problems and seek comfort at all costs, the evil within us and around us grows. When we confront our problems, we can shrink them and finally conquer them. That’s what Jesus did when he was faced with poverty, disease, rejection, hatred, corruption and even death! He stood up to all of them. He even beat death itself.

Whether it is a pattern of sin in our own lives, a lump in our breasts, a marriage that isn’t working, a spending pattern that is destructive, an addiction to drugs, food, alcohol or sex, an impending death, we triumph over those problems by facing them, by embracing them and looking them right in the eye. Denial and avoidance simply feed the problem. There is no new person, without the death of the old person. There is no cure without admitting the disease. There is no change without the pain of letting go of the way things are now. There is no gain without pain. There is no resurrection of any kind, without some kind of dying.

That is what the cross means. Our crucified king has promised us that if we are victorious over small things, we can be victorious, because of him, even over our own deaths and “reign” with him forever. Our crucified king challenges us today, in the words of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, to “Faint not, nor fear, but go out to the storm and the action…freedom will welcome your spirit with joy.”


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