Observing Monkeys

by | Nov 26, 2018

John 18:33-37

Jesus and Pilatef

There is a popular youtube channel, one which is a few years old now, but still pops up on my social media from time to time. It is called ‘Convos with my 2-year-old’. In it the creator re-enacts conversations between him and his 2-year-old daughter, but with a grown max taking the role of his daughter. One of the episodes, for example, the child walks into the sitting room and starts asking her father: ‘why are you so little?’ ‘What are you talking about, I’m 6 ft tall, that’s above average height.’ the father says. ‘Yeah, I know but, just, stand up…’, which the father does. ‘Stand, stand up on your feets.’ ‘Yes, I’m standing.’ ‘See, your head, doesn’t even touch the roof… I mean you’re big, but you’re still just so little.’

Last week I was on in Worcestershire with 14 other clergy from across London who are around a year into their post. It was a mixture of presentations, small groups and time to reflect and pray. One of the presentations was about unconscious bias
During it the speaker was talking about mirroring. This is like the behaviour which is seen when Monkeys or Apes begin to mirror the humans observing them.
It’s seen as a form of communication.  The same thing can be seen being done unconsciously by people wishing to show empathy for somebody. Studies have actually shown that even if we aren’t mirroring actions, we tend to mirror one another’s feelings. This mirroring behaviour is heightened when we are part of a minority group, and if we are part of a dominant group or in a position of authority this mirroring of feelings is diminished. One might say that this kind of reduced empathy is necessary when it comes to making difficult decisions. But it is also fair to say that it is a handicap if somebody in authority is actually wanting to remain in touch with those they are responsible to or to be aware of the impact of decisions they are making, or how they are being heard when they speak.

Today is the feast of Christ the King, so we read this Gospel story of the conversation between Pilate and Jesus, where Pilate is trying to understand why it is this carpenter from Galilee has been brought to him for execution.  A conversation in which, at times, Pilate might be feeling like he is talking to a two year old. He asks: “Are you the King of the Jews?” and then after Jesus answers the question with a question, Pilate eventually asks, “What have you done?” To which Jesus answers that his kingdom is not from this world – Pilate must have had a glimmer of hope, finally he’s getting somewhere, “So you are a king?” he asks. But again – “You say that I am a king.”  You can almost hear Pilate grunting with frustration.

The problem is that they are speaking at cross-purposes. The two ideas of what Kings are is so different. Earlier in this text Jesus says, “If my kingdom were from this world, my followers would be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Jews. But as it is, my kingdom is not from here.” It would be easy to hear this as being simply that Jesus’ soldiers are held up in heaven and can’t get there until tomorrow. But this is the same Jesus who has just told Peter to put away his sword, because that is not the point. Jesus’ kingship is not about overpowering those who disagree with him.

In the Old Testament the people pleaded to God for a king for generations. They wanted the importance, the power, the relevance of a king. Perhaps they felt that a King would have save them from being slaves in Egypt. Perhaps they felt that a King would keep them from making mistakes. Eventually, when God grants their wish,and they get Kings We get the stories of Saul, of David, of Solomon, and many others who fail to live up to the needs of the people or the expectations of God. Far from a period of power and peace and obedience. This is a period full of failures on a grand scale. One which is paralleled in the wars we see today, led by those who wish to hold onto power at all costs.

And then the prophets, like Daniel, who we hear from in today’s reading, tell of true Kingship. Not human kings but the kingship of the God of creation. This is a power so great it can only be described in the image of an Ancient one with streams of fire flowing out from his presence. And yet one who is like a man is appears before him, and shares this almighty kingship. In Revelation this same image is used for Christ. The son of man – God made human.

And here the crucial point about Christ’s Kingship is made. This is not a Kingship wielded with extreme power. The Kingship that Christ demonstrates, by his very birth, by his life and by his death, is a Kingship embedded in vulnerability and in humility. This is a Kingship which is expressed at Christmas in the Birth of a child and at Easter by the Cross – a sign of failure for some, but a victory over even death.

The Kingship which Christ exercises is one which  remains in solidarity with the poor and the lonely. This is the power of Christ, not simply that he is God, but that even though he is God he chose to live among us. To suffer with us. And this is what we are called to do as well, to empathise with those in need, to care, to show the compassion which Christ shows again and again, to share the Love which God has for us all. The love of a King, but not of a King found in grand palaces and leading armies onto fields of battle. Love of a King who was with us when we were created, who will be beside us through the best and worst of life. A King who came to live among us by being born in a stable and died among thieves. This is the king we follow, one whose reign is eternal and whose justice is full of Grace and mercy. A king who would put aside his power, that we might truly know the power of his love.

The Reverend Robin Sims-Williams

Weekly Services

Sunday Mornings

8.00am Said Eucharist in the lady chapel
10.00am Parish Eucharist with choir and Sunday School

Weekday Services

Said Eucharist on Wednesdays at 11.00am
Evening Prayer 
Monday through Thursday at 5.30pm

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