1 Kings 3:5-12
Matthew 13:31-33, 44-52
It’s Not Good to Be the King (It’s Better to Be a Servant)
Kings and their kingdoms may lead us to think of the figureheads of a constitutional monarchy, symbols of leadership without actual power. Kings and their kingdoms may lead us to think of the kings of legend and fantasy; or, we may think of feudal kings, endowed with divine right, their hierarchical kingdoms ruled absolutely, and often tyrannically, by the king. Kings and their kingdoms may lead us to think of these things, all of it sounding to us the empty, outdated, unfair political remnant of a bygone age.
Not so for Jesus’ listeners. For Jesus’ listeners – first century Jews living under Roman occupation and rule – talk of kings and kingdoms would bring to mind the glory days of Israel’s past. To a time when under the kingships of Saul, David, and Solomon the twelve tribes of Israel were united in a kingdom of unprecedented peace and prosperity. For a first century Jew living under Roman occupation and rule, hearing Jesus proclaim the kingdom of heaven, would bring to mind the promise of God that one day a King of the Davidic line would rise up, restore the Jewish kingdom, rebuild the temple, and usher is an new era of unity, peace, and Godly awareness.
But this was not always the case. Originally, the Jewish nation had no king, other than God. God is the King, though the Jewish nation did need a leader. So God appointed Moses, a humble shepherd, who passed his leadership onto Joshua, and Joshua on to his disciples, and so on. For most of its history the Nation of Israel was led by prophets and judges. But eventually, the Jewish people demanded a king, in order to be “like other nations”. And with some misgivings, God raised up King Saul, who, like many kings, abused his power, exercised control and authority where he had none, and lost favor in God’s eyes. So God rose up King David, again a lowly shepherd (notice the theme), beloved of God, a man after God’s own heart, King David was far from perfect. What made David unique, what made him such an extraordinary king, beloved of God in spite of his many flaws, is that no matter how great his success and wealth, David attributed all of it to God. No matter how great and powerful a king he became, David considered himself nothing more than God’s servant.
David’s son, Solomon, carries on this tradition. Reigning over Israel’s golden age, King Solomon built the First Holy Temple in Jerusalem, a home for God. He was more wealthy, prosperous, and wise than any Jewish leader before or since, including his Father David. And like his Father, Solomon considered himself nothing more than God’s servant. He prayed: “O Lord, you have made your servant king in place of my father David, although I am only a little child…. Give your servant an understanding mind to govern your people….” King Solomon recognized that, though king, he was but a servant of the true King; the King of kings. In consequence, God made Solomon the greatest earthly king, King Solomon’s kingdom the greatest earthly kingdom.
But the kingdom did not last. Beginning with Solomon’s sons the kingdom of Israel is divided. Peace ends, prosperity ends, the temple is destroyed. Wars, captivity, exile, the divided kingdom of Israel is ruled by a succession of foreign kings and their proxies. A second temple is built, but the kingdom of Israel is no more. It is fragmented, and much of it lost.
And then Jesus comes, a son of David, proclaiming the kingdom of heaven, a challenge to those in control and authority, to those who would be king. For what’s the first thing apparent about the kingdom of heaven? We are not the King.
We are not the King, though we are princes and princesses, sons and daughters, children of the King, heirs to the kingdom; but we are not the King. This seems to be what Israel forgot, which we too can forget, and which Jesus comes to remind us of: we are not the King. We are children of the King, children of a loving Father King, and the kingdom of heaven is borne out of this recognition.
God is the King, the King of kings. Not a figurehead king; not a king of legend and fantasy; not a feudal King, but a loving Father King, who shows no partiality to His subjects. We are all equal in the eyes of the King; we are all equal in the kingdom of heaven. Equal not because of strength, but because of weakness. We are all equal in the kingdom of heaven because none of us are King, and that’s a good thing.
That’s a good thing because if none of us are King it means none of us are in charge, and everyone is welcome. It does not matter who you are, what you have, where you’ve been, or what you’ve done, you are welcome and you are equal in the kingdom of heaven. Equally wanted and loved by the King. So there is no jealousy. There is no competition. Our Father is the King! There is nothing to get, nowhere to go, nothing to become in the kingdom of heaven; nothing to become, that is, except a servant of the King. The highest pay grade in the kingdom of heaven is servant. You can’t get any higher than that. Only it’s a long way to get there when you are trying to be King. We are children often trying to be King, when in fact servant is the much better deal.
Servant is the better deal because it’s the better job (a way better job than King). Servants of the king have the job of advancing the kingdom of heaven, letting people know they are wanted and loved by the King! Now, this sounds like a big deal, but in fact it’s real simple. Remember, we are children trying to be servants, and God knows that. We are children so our job is real simple: a handshake, a hug, a friendly greeting, a smile (we have plenty to smile about: we have the best job!), a few words of affirmation and encouragement, being available to other people, responsive to their needs, it does not take much to advance the kingdom of heaven, to let people they are wanted and loved by the King! We do it all the time without realizing how important a job it really is. It’s the simplest thing; it’s the small things, like a mustard seed, the smallest of seeds, our kindly acts grow into a tree that all the birds of the air can nest in. The love we communicate on behalf of the King multiplies like yeast until all the flour is leavened. And it comes back to us. When we are about the King’s business, the world is transformed; the people we interact with, different people. When we let people know by our actions that they are wanted and loved by the King, the kingdom of heaven is realized on earth, and we get paid in full. Not bad for a lowly servant! It’s real simple.
But it’s not easy. A price has to be paid. Like for one who sells all to buy a field with hidden treasure, or a pearl of great value. The price for becoming a servant in the kingdom of heaven is costly. It means, first of all, admitting we are not the King, and that’s not always easy. It’s not always easy for us to admit: “I am not in control.” “I need help.” “I don’t know.” “I was wrong.” It’s not always easy to admit these things. It’s not always easy to admit that we don’t always know what’s best, for ourselves, and for other people. It’s not always easy to admit that we need a king. Admitting these things can seem costly.
But far from being a liability, admitting, and living in, the truth that we are not the King, is our greatest asset. It’s our point of contact and identification with one another. It’s the point at which we connect; it’s the one thing we can be sure all of us have in common – none of us are King. Our King is Jesus, son of David. He has been risen up to restore the kingdom, to rebuild the temple, and to usher in a new era of unity, peace, and Godly awareness. The kingdom of heaven is here, and we all have our part to play in that. May we be worthy of the calling, and always willing to pay the price. Amen.
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