(Jer 6:9–21 & John 6:1–15)
I love a good coincidence. This week I got an email from my union about a national day of action against benefit sanctions. Earlier this week the media reported Frank Fields MP’s attack on the DWP and Iain Duncan Smith for the ‘sanctions’ culture in the state welfare system. Not only, from September 2012 ‘til September 2014, were more than 668,000 ‘sanctions’ handed down which led to people having no income for four weeks, more than 370,000 for three months and 2,000 for three years, but the DWP did not even have data about what happened to these people. These people who are some of the most vulnerable in our society.
In Jeremiah, the prophet’s image of God is as a very particular kind of king. The Lord is the disappointed law-giver; the angry overlord who punishes the rebellious people for their unfaithfulness, their wrongdoing, their contravention of their Lord’s law. This Lord is set far and above all the people, absolutely and unquestionably knows what is best for them and has laid down strict instructions for them to follow. Would you want to live as this Lord’s subject? Would any of us put up with him? This is the sort of Lord against which Western society has decisively turned in this age of democracy. If we do not believe in earthly Lords, why do we hold to this image of God?
Thank God we have accounts of Jesus’ ministry! Could there be two more different responses to people who are poor than the DWP’s sanctions and the feeding of the 5,000?! Whereas the Lord, Iain Duncan Smith, and the DWP further punish people who are poor for merely living in a system which disadvantages them, Jesus was incarnate among people who were the lowliest in their society. Almost like a bit of a jape, Jesus sets Philip up with an obviously stupid question – how will we few fisherfolk buy food for 5,000 people? It would cost more than six months’ takings! Takings, salaries, money are the things of this deeply broken world, and such things can do nothing to help. Rather, Jesus takes that meagre portion which God has already given – a few fish and a little barley bread – and transforms the humble food of humble workers into an extravagant overabundance, then shares the available resources among the people! Hallelujah!
‘Ah!’, you think, ‘I want a king like that!’. Bad news. There are no kings like that. That is not a king. And even if there was… … I happen to know my stuff when it comes to the British monarchy – I worked at Buckingham Palace once. Occasionally people say – and said to me there – ‘Oh, isn’t that William lovely. I think he should be king next.’ My reply is always this: that’s not how it works; you don’t get to choose!
Now, we surely all love Elizabeth our Queen, but she is not the king. (Bear with me!)
Today we still have a king; we still have a bourgeois who shamelessly exploit the people, who play the angry king, a grotesque parody of the First-Testament God, punishing the disobedient proletariat. So why do we still adhere so fanatically to the images of God as King and Lord? Perhaps it is because those are the images which suit the status quo. We all love the status quo, don’t we?
‘When Jesus realized that they were about to come and take him by force to make him king, he withdrew again to the mountain by himself.’ The All-Loving Creator who became incarnate among her own creation is not interested in our earthly constructions like ‘king’; no, Jesus came to be kin. The illusion which we are being sold daily is that each of us is our own king – that is the lie of this individualist consumerist capitalist culture; rather the ideal situation is that there IS. NO. KING! For, if Jesus could move beyond the idea of kingship to embrace kin-ship 2,000 years ago, can we not please move on too?
Given in preaching group, 26 February 2015