November 20, 2016, The King and the Maiden – Mtr. Kathryn Boswell
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The King and the Maiden
Suppose there was a king who loved a humble maiden. The king was like no other king. Every statesman trembled before his power. No one dared breathe a word against him, for he had the strength to crush all opponents.
And yet this mighty king was melted by love for a humble maiden who lived in a poor village in his kingdom. How could he declare his love for her? In an odd sort of way, his kingliness tied his hands. If he brought her to the palace and crowned her head with jewels and clothed her body in royal robes, she would surely not resist-no one dared resist him. But would she love him?
She would say she loved him, of course, but would she truly? Or would she live with him in fear, nursing a private grief for the life she had left behind? Would she be happy at his side? How could he know for sure? If he rode to her forest cottage in his royal carriage, with an armed escort waving bright banners, that too would overwhelm her. He did not want a cringing subject. He wanted a lover, an equal. He wanted her to forget that he was a king and she a humble maiden and to let shared love cross the gulf between them. For it is only in love that the unequal can be made equal.
The king, convinced he could not elevate the maiden without crushing her freedom, resolved to descend to her. Clothed as a beggar, he approached her cottage with a worn cloak fluttering loose about him. This was not just a disguise – the king took on a totally new identity – He had renounced his throne to declare his love and to win hers.
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Way back in the days when the kingdom of Judah was on the decline, spiritually and morally and politically, Jeremiah the prophet issued a rebuke to the rulers who had failed God’s people. “Woe to the Shepherds who destroy and scatter the sheep of my pasture!” The term “shepherd” in the Old Testament isn’t talking about a spiritual leader, like we call a pastor a shepherd; it refers to a king, a political ruler. But Jeremiah wasn’t talking about the invading king of Babylon who was about to sweep in and defeat the armies of Judah and destroy the Temple and carry the citizens of Judah into captivity. He was talking about the long line of faithless kings of Judah who had led the people of God further and further into injustice and idolatry, so that it had become a nation that had no compassion for the poor or the helpless or the stranger, but bowed down to the false gods of wealth and power.
“Do you think you are a king because you are a great businessman and have great wealth?” he asked them. “Didn’t your father eat and drink and do justice and righteousness? Then it was well with him. He judged the cause of the poor and needy; then it was well. Is n’t this what it means to know me? declares the Lord. But you have eyes and heart only for your dishonest gain, for shedding innocent blood, and for practicing oppression and violence.””
Jeremiah is called the “weeping prophet” because he was sent to Judah in her last, tragic days: to expose her injustices and idolatries – to foretell the ruin and disgrace of his own homeland. But God also gave Jeremiah a message of hope. Through Jeremiah, God promised that he was going to raise up a good Shepherd, a good King, to rule his people with righteousness and wisdom. “I will raise up a righteous branch for David,” Jeremiah proclaimed, “Judah will be saved and Israel will live in security. And my king will be named “The Lord is our Righteousness.”
When Jesus came, and proclaimed to the people, “I am the Good Shepherd,” he was announcing the fulfillment at long last of Jeremiah’s prophecy. Here he was, the descendant of David, raised up by God to rule his people Israel with wisdom and with justice, the righteous Shepherd of all Israel.
We all love the image of the Good Shepherd – I know I do. I look at our beautiful window above the altar and I look at the lamb held so tenderly in the arms of the Shepherd, and it gives me a feeling of immense comfort. But it is important to understand that when Jesus proclaimed himself the Good Shepherd of Israel, he wasn’t identifying himself with the simple peasants that watched over their flocks in the Judean countryside, as we might imagine. He was proclaiming loud and clear that he was the true and righteous King of Israel promised long before by God himself.
Growing up in 20th century America, raised with the idea that democracy is the only real and proper form of government, we don’t have a very good understanding of Kingship. For one thing, any notion of a human being possessing absolute authority over a whole nation is nothing short of terrifying. History tells us that never goes well. When we read in the Old Testament about the long line of increasingly corrupt kings of Israel and Judah it’s just exactly what anyone would expect from a human monarchy. We know the saying “Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” That pretty much says it all.
But God’ himself promised that the day would come when he would send a good Shepherd, a Righteous King whose rule would bring justice and not tyranny, a true King who would care for his people and not exploit them, a King of righteousness – and this is the most important part – a King of righteousness who would make his people righteous, toon– “He will be named ‘The Lord is our Righteousness’.”
This true King would rule, not out of a desire for power or wealth, but out of love for his people. God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, the long-awaited King, the one Good Shepherd.
The story that I read is all about a King and his passionate love for the Maiden. It’s an allegory, which is a story in which each character represents something or someone in the real world. We can easily recognize who the King in the story is supposed to represent. We know that Jesus Christ is the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. But I think it isn’t until we read this story in the context of the story of Jesus’ Passion and Crucifixion, as we did this morning, that we begin to fully understand who the beloved Maiden is.
It turns out, the Maiden, so deeply loved by the King that he renounced his whole kingdom to win her love – the Maiden is the soldier who tortured and mocked Jesus, and cast lots to see who got his robes.
The Maiden is the soldier who drove nails into his hands and feet because he was following orders.
The Maiden is the criminal who made fun of Jesus for his weakness – and the Maiden is the criminal who begged for his mercy.
The Maiden is the crowd who stood silent and unmoving, not lifting a finger to help or comfort him as he was led to his death.
The Maiden is the priest who catcalled as he went by, the Pharisee who quietly congratulated himself on being rid of a great nuisance, the Scribe who counted out thirty coins to reward Judas for betraying his friend.
The Maiden is Judas.
The Maiden is you.
The Maiden is me.
And he, Jesus, is our King, the King over the great, messy, undeserving multitude of us, so crazy in love with us that he took off his robes and renounced his royal privileges and walked the same dirty, painful, time-bound road as we walk, even to his death – just to seek our hand, to woo us and make us his Bride, pure and spotless and joyful and whole. And to bring us home.
Today, on the Feast of Christ the King, we celebrate two things. We celebrate that Jesus Christ is indeed our great and glorious and perfectly good King, yesterday and today and forever.
And we also celebrate the great and most joyful and entirely inexplicable mystery that we are his beloved. That he gave his wealth and his privilege and his very life, that he emptied himself, making himself nothing, out of his passionate and abiding love for us, unworthy and unlovely as we know ourselves to be.
All glory and praise and honor and love be to our King, now and forever. Amen.