Who Or What Is Your King?
“We have no king but Caesar.”
That was the epically cynical reply of the Pharisees to Pontius Pilate when he, in an attempt to save a man he knew to be innocent, asked whether they wanted him to execute their king.
Unfortunately for them, it was also an accurate reply. For them — the corrupt and decayed collaborators with the Roman occupiers — maintenance of their political power and social prestige was what they cared about, and that depended on Caesar.
The young man in question — a former carpenter and itinerant preacher — had challenged that social order and suggested that the Pharisees and their followers needed to make God (and what He wanted for them) their king. Small wonder the Pharisees turned him over to the Romans.
This weekend, we celebrate that young man’s execution and resurrection from the dead.
Seven hundred years before all this happened, the great prophet Isaiah wrote about this itinerant preacher and his terrible moment on Good Friday: “He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, acquainted with grief. Like one from whom men hide their faces. He was despised, and we esteemed Him not. But he has borne our griefs, and he was wounded for our transgressions. He was bruised for our iniquities, and the chastisement of our peace was upon him.”
He was born to obscure parents in a remote outpost of the Roman empire. His foster father was a carpenter. His mother wasn’t much more than a girl. He was born in a stable. Thirty-three years on, he was — despite the governor’s awareness of his innocence — executed for crimes against the regime after his friends had betrayed and abandoned him and the assembled mob had howled for his blood.
His followers were a handful of mostly illiterate Jews who had never been more than 50 miles from where they were born.
Despite all that, his message of hope and love and optimism — that God loves us and wants us to be happy in this world and the next — has proved powerful beyond all measure. That simple message and the simple messengers chosen to deliver it — shepherds, fishermen, all of us — is so persuasive that no one has yet been able to extinguish it.
Those of us fortunate enough to have heard and believed in the message have been given a great gift. We should freely share it. There are people all around us who are hungry for hope and optimism. Many of them are only dimly aware that we celebrate what they seek.
At the same time, there are still too many who seek salvation in things like power, money, fame, or pleasure. There are even those who seek salvation in the politics; who imagine that the world would be right if we could only elect the right people and institute the right policies.
That’s nonsense. Government doesn’t solve problems. Occasionally, government throws taxpayers’ cash at problems or kills a nation’s enemies, but that’s about it. Problems are solved more often by individuals changing the hearts and minds of others.
Remember that a government executed Jesus, and governments all over the planet from that moment up until today have tried to stamp out his message. Christianity and the world are always in tension. The secular world — especially the political world — wants you to be cynical, wants you to focus on all the wrong things, and tries its best to create hopelessness every day.
God’s message of hope and optimism — the resilience of truth, the ultimate victory of good over evil, the possibility of redemption and salvation for all, even those who may not yet believe — delivered and remembered each Holy Week — endures precisely because it is the antidote to the pathologies we see around us and in us.
The simple lesson of his execution on Good Friday and resurrection on Easter Sunday is that God cares about each of us, loves each of us, and wants each of us to be happy. He wants us to live lives of meaning and beauty and to recognize that whatever travails we have are temporary.
All you need to do is be clear about who or what is really your king.
Michael McKenna is the president of MWR Strategies. He was most recently a deputy assistant to the president and deputy director of the Office of Legislative Affairs at the White House.
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