“And this is the name by which he will be called: ‘The Lord is our righteousness’ ” (Jer. 23:6)
Christians, says political scientist and theologian Glenn Tinder, “are obligated to obey political authorities, but not to take them seriously.” The claim may seem poorly timed in the wake of yet another election, with its bold claims of a new day in Washington and its accompanying expenditure of tens of millions in dollars and thousands of hours in airtime. But today is Christ the King Sunday, a feast founded as Pius XI’s great liturgical protest against the all-consuming political ideologies of the last century. Today we boldly proclaim that all human authority is limited, partial, provisional; that all knees must finally bow before the glorious Ruler of all, Christ in majesty.
Jeremiah certainly did not hold his own king above criticism. Indeed his deeply satirical oracle marks him out as a kind of Old Testament Jon Stewart. King Mattaniah of Judah was a young, cowardly puppet of Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon, yet the emperor had forced a bold throne name on him — Zedekiah,
“the Lord is righteous.” Mattaniah/Zedekiah had hardly proven worthy of the title. “Scattering the flock and not attending to them” was how the prophet described his error. He launched a foolhardy plan for revolt in place of the religious reforms so badly needed. Jeremiah prophesied that God would soon put Mattaniah in his place. He would raise up a true and holy king in his place, a shepherd who would gather together the exiles scattered in the wilderness. And yes, his name, “the Lord is our Righteousness” — a Zedekiah, God himself come to reign.
The political authorities are just as ironically and tragically blind when faced with the Righteous Lord, hung before them on the cross, unjustly condemned. As Joel Green notes, the leaders’ taunt “let him save himself if he is the Messiah of God, his chosen one!” is actually a masterful piece of New Testament Christology. It confesses the great claim at the heart of Jesus’ purpose: that the Messiah and the Servant are one, that God has come to redeem his people by suffering for them. Yet to them the words are but a joke, something beyond serious consideration. Only the penitent thief can see that this man commands the gate to Paradise. He alone can recognize the true King, and offer him the proper homage.
Look It Up
Read Psalm 132. How does the thief’s prayer “remember me” relate to this psalm’s message of God’s faithfulness?
Think About It
Paul describes Christ in the epistle text as the one who has defeated the powers, those who according to the baptismal liturgy “corrupt and destroy the creatures of God.” How do you see the powers at work in our political system?