Sunday, October 28, 2012

The Kingship of our Lord Jesus Christ

Colossians 1:12-20 / John 18:33-37

Jesus answered: My kingdom is not of this world. If My kingdom were of this world, My servants would certainly strive that I should not be delivered to the Jews; but now My kingdom is not from hence.

In the mines of Bolivia, one may be shocked to find devotions, gifts, and offerings made to El Tío, "Uncle," an image bearing a terrible resemblance to classic Christian images of the Devil. While an image of the Cross may be found at the entrance to the mine, within the mine's darkness, past the point where the light of the sun can be seen, there will be a terrible idol of a horned figure, his mouth filled with terrible teeth, ready to receive the offerings of cigarettes, coca leaves, and alcohol, his hands open for gifts of the same, his erect member a sign that his cravings are both universal an insatiable. Once every year, he is honored not with the intoxicants the miners use to both remain awake and to drive away the body- and soul-breaking work, but with the blood of llamas, which blood he is left to consume in private, while the miners feast on the cooked meat of the llamas above.

Derived from pre-Columbian beliefs, El Tío is said to possess the wealth that lies under the hills and mountains, but also to possess an unending and terrible appetite. Appease him, and he might just let you return to the surface, perhaps even laden with the riches of the world below. Fail to give him due honor, and he may withhold the precious metals on which the livelihood of those on the surface depends. Even worse, his cravings may turn away from coca and the blood of llamas to the lives of men.

As devout as these Catholic miners may be, in the folklore of the highlands of Bolivia, the kingdom of God extends only where the heavens can be seen. While God may reign over all that dwell upon the earth, the dark and dangerous world beneath the surface belongs to El Tío. Once within the mines, there is none other who will answer your prayers than this terrible spirit, no appeal to God and his saints that will be heard. El Tío may have no place in Church, but Jesus Christ has no place in the deep and life-consuming darkness beneath the mountains.

We may react in many ways to the Bolovians' practice of honoring a god whom, by their Christian faith, they no is due neither honor nor even belief. Whether we see this as a people's best symbolic way of negotiating the life of the mines, without which their communities would have nothing, but which consumes even the lives of their children for very little in return, or whether we worry that this shows how much more work the Church must do in catechesis and in action on behalf of the poor, we likely imagine that we are not guilty of making the same error. That is, we probably congratulate ourselves in knowing that there is nowhere, whether in heaven, on the earth, or for that matter under the earth, where Jesus Christ is not the universal and sovereign King.

Yet, if this were so, if Christians across the world really believed in the universal sovereignty of Jesus Christ and acted in light of that confession, might we not rightly imagine a world far differently ordered than it is today. Indeed, thinking even only of the miners of Bolivia, would a world that understood Christ's kingship have had such cravings for silver, tin, and lead, that those boom towns that grew up around the mines would have consumed so many lives, and continue to do so even today? Do not far too many of us who bend our worldly knees at the name of Jesus resemble far more than we might like to imagine the image of the insatiable Tío, terrible and terrifying in our unsated and unsatiable hungers and desires? Do we not demand so much to be made cheap and plentifully available to us that others throughout the world must feed our hungers if they would eat at all, yet barely manage to thrive on what little we give them?

This is the challenge we who bear the name of Christian must face. As Jesus reminded Pilate, so he reminds us: My kingdom is not from hence. In saying so, he does not mean to imply, as the Bolivian miners imagine, that there is a limit to the extent of his kingdom. Rather, he means that the demonic and unending cravings of the world, so aptly imaged in the figure of El Tío, share nothing with the abundance of life poured our in the redemption of sins we have in Christ's blood, in the reconciliation and fellowship we share in his sovereign rule. El Tío divides and consumes; Jesus Christ united and gives abundance of life. Whose image do we bear? In whose service do we pledge our lives?

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