The King of Justice
Psalm 72:1-7, 10-14
1 Give the king your justice, O God,
and your righteousness to a king’s son.
2 May he judge your people with righteousness,
and your poor with justice.
3 May the mountains yield prosperity for the people,
and the hills, in righteousness.
4 May he defend the cause of the poor of the people,
give deliverance to the needy,
and crush the oppressor.
5 May he live while the sun endures,
and as long as the moon, throughout all generations.
6 May he be like rain that falls on the mown grass,
like showers that water the earth.
7 In his days may righteousness flourish
and peace abound, until the moon is no more.
10 May the kings of Tarshish and of the isles
render him tribute,
may the kings of Sheba and Seba
11 May all kings fall down before him,
all nations give him service.
12 For he delivers the needy when they call,
the poor and those who have no helper.
13 He has pity on the weak and the needy,
and saves the lives of the needy.
14 From oppression and violence he redeems their life;
and precious is their blood in his sight.
In seminary, Hannah and I got into a show called The Tudors. It is pretty much a soap opera version of the life of King Henry VIII of England, whose actual life fit a soap opera pretty well. As each season progressed on, Henry became a more terrible and terrible person, murdering not just his enemies, but his own advisors, his friends, and even, most infamously, his wives.
I remember watching one episode in particular, where Henry VIII had just murdered a whole group of people for practicing a different faith, and then cheated on his wife numerous times, and then waged a huge tax on the poor of England so that he could wage more wars in France to claim some more land for himself. Following his busy and evil day, Henry then went into his chapel, and without any remorse or shame at all, asked Christ to bless him and his rule over England, as he claimed he was doing this all for Christ.
I remember watching that episode, and thinking, “Henry, who do you think you are praying to? Who do you think you are serving? Because it is not the Christ of the gospels. It is not the God of the Hebrew and Greek Scriptures.
What Henry did was make Jesus in his own image, a ruthless ruler who only cared about more power and wealth. He thought as long as Jesus’ name was proclaimed, any means was justified. In doing so, Henry ignored the real Jesus. He believed in the name, but not the real person. He ignored the real Jesus who walked and breathed, who wore our flesh, and who cared much more about feeding the hungry, healing the sick, lifting up the oppressed, then winning battles over France or wearing crowns of gold. He ignored the Jesus who sacrificed everything and told us to do the same. He ignored the Jesus who would rather spend time with one sinner, one person in poverty, one outcast or leper, than with a whole crowd of the rich and powerful. He ignored the Jesus who showed us the true fullness of love and life.
Our Psalm for today is a challenging one. It is a reality check for us, following the great comfort and hope and good news of Christ’s birth. It is a reminder that God has come into our world, but not any God, not a God of our own choosing or making. But the God of justice, the God of the poor and oppressed, the God who chooses the forgotten. And it is a reminder that God calls and challenges us to do the same, in every part of our lives, in every part of our world.
This past week, the president of the largest Christian university in the country (and the largest university in our state of Virginia) said these words:
There’s two kingdoms. There’s the earthly kingdom and the heavenly kingdom. In the heavenly kingdom the responsibility is to treat others as you’d like to be treated. In the earthly kingdom, the responsibility is to choose leaders who will do what’s best for your country. Think about it. Why have Americans been able to do more to help people in need around the world than any other country in history? It’s because of free enterprise, freedom, ingenuity, entrepreneurism and wealth. A poor person never gave anyone a job. A poor person never gave anybody charity, not of any real volume. It’s just common sense to me.
That may be the common sense of our culture, but that is not the gospel of Jesus Christ. God calls of us, especially kings and rulers and elected officials, to care first and foremost about justice and about the oppressed and the needy. There is not a spiritual kingdom that God claims and an earthly kingdom God ignores. No, God broke into our material, physical world to claim it all. To unite heaven and earth together in love. To restore and heal the fullness of each person, both spiritual and physical. Christ cared so much about this material, earthly kingdom that he walked in it, ate in it, died in it, rose from the dead in it. There are no two kingdoms. There is only God’s kingdom, where God wants all of us to treat all people, all of God’s children with love, dignity, and justice.
Meeting the real Jesus is challenging. It calls us to live very differently than the world does – not for ourselves, not for our wealth or power or acclaim or comfort – but for God, for our neighbors, and for all those whose blood Christ sees as precious in his sight.
We can respond to this calling in a number of ways. We can attack it like King Herod and fight for our own ways and powers and privileges. We can ignore the real Christ like Henry did, and instead replace Christ with an idol made in our image, and keep living the way we always have.
Or we can come, like the Magi, like the shepherds, like Peter and Andrew, Mary and Martha, Zacchaeus and Matthew. We can come to Jesus. We can lay down our treasures, our nets, our old ways of thinking and acting, and say to him: show me. Show me a new way. Show me what real love looks like. Show justice. Show me compassion. Show me the ways I have acted wrongly and heal and correct them. Show me how I can live for others. Show me new life. And show me God’s kingdom, here on earth as it is in heaven. Show me how I can live in you, the king of justice. Amen.