Though I haven't owned a TV in years, I am enjoying Netflix's The Crown which, fortunately for me, is downloadable on my computer. Having grown up in both England and in a British colony, I have always been fascinated by the British royal family, especially as Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip spent the early years of their marriage in Malta. While the historical drama has its critics and while its depiction of the royal family is hardly flattering, nevertheless, Queen Elizabeth II comes across as a monarch who clearly serves God and country, placing her people -- including those of the British Commonwealth-- before herself. What we see in her portrayal is a ruler who holds herself accountable to God and who is conscious of herself at all times as a role model and figurehead.
Perhaps the pandemic is driving my addiction to this series, or perhaps it is the current political situation here in the United States; or maybe it is the fall of Theodore McCarrick, former prince of the church, whose sexual misconduct was covered up by other clerical princes. Watching The Crown, I see a ruler who understands her station in life but never exploits it for personal advantage; she commands respect, not just because of her position but because she herself has integrity and expects it of others. This queen may be wanting in warmth, but as a servant-leader, she is inspirational.
When leaders serve their own interests and inclinations instead of the people, they bring ruin and destruction; when their narcissism feeds on power, their actions and policies become especially malignant. Elected or appointed to office, national and religious leaders have the responsibility to set the highest moral standards and to demand that those around them also behave in an exemplary way. To grasp at power and to refuse to relinquish it, or to use one's position to exploit and abuse the vulnerable violates the reality that all authority comes from God. It is especially sad when such rulers are surrounded by fawning enablers who know better yet prefer to remain silent.
Then the king will say to those on his right,
'Come, you who are blessed by my Father.
Inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.
For I was hungry and you gave me food,
I was thirsty and you gave me drink,
a stranger and you welcomed me,
naked and you clothed me,
ill and you cared for me,
in prison and you visited me.’
Then the righteous will answer him and say,
'Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you,
or thirsty and give you drink?
When did we see you a stranger and welcome you,
or naked and clothe you?
When did we see you ill or in prison, and visit you?’
And the king will say to them in reply,
'Amen, I say to you, whatever you did
for one of the least brothers of mine, you did for me.’
When Jesus informs Pilate that his kingdom is not of this world (Jn 18:36), he is not suggesting that there is another geographical location where his power and authority are recognized, but, rather, that his dominion exists in a different dimension of reality. His is not a territorial kingdom but a kingdom based on Love, Truth and Justice. Unlike the kings of this world, Jesus needs neither a palace, nor a throne, nor courtiers, nor an army, and not even a crown. In many ways, he is an "un-king" --humble of heart, servant of all, friend of the marginalized... A collage of scriptural images illuminates his kingship and all that it means: the Child born into poverty, the infant refugee escaping Herod's clutches, the compassionate healer, the itinerant preacher, the bold prophet, the social outcast, the crucified teacher... This king fearlessly takes on the establishment, forgives sins, heals the sick, washes his disciples' feet, enters Jerusalem not on a warhorse but on a farm animal, a donkey. His only crown is fashioned of thorns; his only robe is a purple cloak of mockery; and the only homage he requires is that we love our neighbors for his sake, reaching out to the hungry, the sick, the imprisoned, as well as to foreigners.
What does it mean to be a "subject" in such a kingdom? In the first place, it means re-aligning our way of thinking so that Christ's values become our values. If we are driven by the desire to get ahead, have more, be recognized, and dominate others, then we need a radical mind-shift. If we imagine that following the risen Christ will bring power, privilege and prestige, then we need to think again. The kingdom of Jesus demands that we let go of our egotistical perspectives and instead of feeling entitled to place of honor, rejoice in raising up the marginalized, inviting them to come in from the cold and to take their place at the Feast.