On a recent visit to the United States, I attended a downtown Anglican cathedral on several Sundays. These were early mornings and the normally busy weekday streets were quiet, matching Wordsworth’s description of London two hundred years previously: “Dear God, the very houses seem asleep, and all that mighty heart is lying still.” But looks were deceptive because outside the church were armed police officers protecting us which I was told was the same for every place of worship in that city. These are troubling times.
Tomorrow’s liturgy has the theme, Christ the King and one wonders what on earth are we talking about. How can we think of Jesus Christ having authority in a world that is tearing itself apart by trampling on every value he stands for?
Tomorrow’s Old Testament reading from the book of the prophet Ezekiel is addressed to a people exiled in Babylon, the prophet himself among them, where he blames their own leaders for what has happened. He accuses them of an abuse of power, lining their own pockets while neglecting the needs of the country. “The weak you have not strengthened, the sick you have not healed, the injured you have not bound up … and with force and harshness you have ruled them.” It is easy to dismiss such commentary as old hat, yet we were reminded in a recent controversy in the UK that neglecting and demonising the poor and vulnerable is politically popular. Former UK home secretary Suella Braverman had stated that homeless people living in tents had made a “lifestyle choice”. She was not without support.
While Galbraith was addressing complex political and economic issues at an academic level, what he was saying was consistent with the practical teaching of Jesus
Ezekiel may have spoken long ago (6th century BC) but the same warnings are heard from contemporary prophets such as Dr Kenneth Galbraith, one of the leading economists of the 20th century, who has been described as “the voice and conscience” of his profession. In 1992 I attended the launch of his book titled, The Culture of Contentment in New York’s Anglican cathedral when he pointed a finger at contemporary political leaders. He argued that our world is restless and dangerous because of the fundamental unfairness of economic systems that sustain the interests of a self-satisfied elite who were indifferent to the needs of those he describes as “the functional underclass.” He hoped his book would enable people “in some small measure understand the present discontent and dissonance and the not inconsiderable likelihood of an eventual shock to the contentment that is the cause.” He said that while wealthy and secure people could be concerned about social issues, they expected politicians to resolve them without cost to taxpayers meaning themselves. It’s an argument we often hear.
To acknowledge Jesus Christ as King is to accept that his teaching points the royal way of love to genuine peace with justice for everyone
While Galbraith was addressing complex political and economic issues at an academic level, what he was saying was consistent with the practical teaching of Jesus detailed in tomorrow’s gospel. “I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me … Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family you did it to me.” These are the “functional underclass” Galbraith was speaking about whose desperate needs and feelings of resentment are the cause of much of the unrest and instability facing the world today.
To acknowledge Jesus Christ as King is to accept that his teaching points the royal way of love to genuine peace with justice for everyone. Sadly, and too easily, self-interest takes too many of us in the opposite direction.
“If Socrates would enter the room,” said Napolean, “we should rise and do him honour. But if Jesus Christ came into the room, we should fall down on our knees and worship him.” And that from an emperor, who, some would say was, one of Europe’s greatest leaders.
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