Rabbits and Ducks – Christ the King 2015

duck god

I came across a cartoon recently in which two armies are drawn up for battle, and the general is saying, “There can be no peace until the enemy renounce their Rabbit God and accept our Duck God”. On the banners of both sides is an image that looks like a duck facing left or a rabbit facing right. I suppose it’s intended to point up the ridiculousness of religious warfare. To the atheist, it must seem utterly futile to fight over whether the imaginary sky-fairy looks like a duck or a rabbit, especially when it’s the same image seen from different angles.

But very few wars are simply about religion. In most cases, they are essentially about power and control, and who shall exercise it; and that is seldom an indifferent matter. What is more, duck and rabbit may well represent different ways of life, different sets of ideals and values; again, these things matter. None of us, whether we believe in the duck or the rabbit or not at all, can avoid the question about ultimate values and fundamental allegiances.

jesus and pilate

In today’s Gospel, Pilate asks Jesus if he is a king; and is told that Jesus has come into the world as a witness to the truth. Here “truth” means ultimate reality, fundamental value – in other words, what we call “God”. As truth and God are not obvious in this contradictory world, they must be discerned and testified to.

We Christians want to affirm that Jesus is our King. Our fundamental truth, our basic reality is Jesus and what he stands for and what he discloses and embodies. Not Pilate, preferring expediency over justice. Not Caesar, with his legions of soldiers to prove that “might is right”. Not Caiaphas and his exclusive piety. But what values does Christ the King represent?

geza vermes 1

Like the duck which is a rabbit which is a duck, depending on how you look at it, so the face of Jesus is subject to change and interpretation. This is partly a question of our knowledge. To understand the historical Jesus, we need to locate him in the world of 1st century Palestine; and the more we learn of that time and place, and the religious currents of Second Temple Judaism, so our image of Jesus will change. Is he essentially an apocalyptic prophet, falsely predicting the end of the world? Is he a Messiah figure? Is he a primitive sort of rabbi? Is he a wandering holy man wonderworker? How would his contemporaries have experienced him, what category would they have placed him in?

The image changes too in relation to our own situation and pre-occupations. So in the mid-19th century, Jesus might come across a liberal Protestant English gentleman. 100 years later, to the oppressed masses of South America, Jesus  is a socialist revolutionary. in 1950s Ireland, “Christ the King” would be code for a sheltered and repressed society, ruled in many ways by the king’s representatives, the bishops. What is Jesus in our present society? A symbol of conservatism, or a pioneer of creativity?

So it seems that in presenting Jesus to the world we must reflect the data in the Gospels on the one hand, but to some extent must project our own needs, wishes, hopes and fears on the other. What aspect of Jesus do we want to emphasise? There is the image in Revelation of the “King of kings and Lord of lords”, leading the armies of the saved into battle. There is the severe teacher, demanding that his followers should “take up the cross”. There is the compassionate one, taking the part of condemned sinners. There is the inclusive one, reaching out to the suspect and the unwanted. What image we see of Jesus, and what image we will present to the world, will depend on how we relate these perspectives, and that will depend on what we project onto him – our best ideals, our prejudices, our hopes, our fears.

christus rex

We will not go far wrong if we let the Cross be our benchmark, with all it has to tell of humility, patience, compassion, forgiveness, and mercy. It is on the Cross that Jesus receives his kingly title and fulfils the role of which he spoke to Pilate: to testify to the truth.

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