Scripture for Sunday, 20 November: Jeremiah 23:1-6; Psalm 46; Colossians 1:11-20; Luke 23:33-43
On the church calendar yesterday (19 November) was Mechthild, Beguine of Magdeburg, a 13th century mystic. The Beguines were women from a wide variety of backgrounds whose response to Christ’s promised reign was to involve themselves in it by renouncing power and wealth, and working to aid the poor and needy. Their way of life displeased the church leaders, and they were deprived of spiritual freedom and suppressed. Why? Probably because they were outside the control of the religious authorities – a characteristic that they shared with Jesus, which landed him on the cross with a couple of criminals for companions.
The terms “king” and “kingdom” are semantically challenging in today’s world, but are intended to convey the idea that Christ’s rule outranks any allegiance to any human dominion. And as the Beguines took to heart, Christ’s rule turns convention on its head. Jesus was all-embracing, eschewing boundaries of station or background. In this, he followed faithfully Jewish tradition, with repeated prophetic calls to submit to and follow the spirit of God’s will, and to care for the downtrodden.
A fascinating aspect of Christian and Jewish scripture is that it does not glorify the victors: it presents the faithful as a mixed bag of flawed and fallible people, whose failures are as important as their successes. This is because we take as our ultimate standard the rule and supremacy of God, and as Christians, we respect and uphold Jesus, as Christ, in the highest place amongst humanity.
Sometimes clergy are chastised for being too radical, yet that is the role of leadership modelled by Jesus. The Beguines understood his teaching: to overcome boundaries of class and status; to collaborate to care for the poor and needy; to submit to be subjects of one primary ruler, Jesus. Can we do the same?