“By the power of greyskull!” Ah, the famous refrain of one of my childhood heroes. He-man. What a guy. I recently re-watched some of the good old innocent fun that, as a child of the 80’s I readily absorbed, and was admittedly a little taken aback by the tight pants, over-muscley torso and lack of an interesting storyline, but I was only 8 at the time…
He-man is a good example of stories we tell each other about power – especially male power. Problems in the world are caused by baddies; problems in the world are solved by the goodies, with right combination of magic, muscle and morality. From He-man to the A-Team (don’t tell me BA Baracus didn’t use magic to make tanks in a cave out of an empty box and some sticky-backed plastic), from James Bond to Spiderman, to we reassure ourselves that magic, muscle and black-and-white morality are enough.
Last Sunday we celebrated the day called Christ the King. Just before we begin the year again at Advent (it’s not Christmas yet!), we remember that at all times and in all places, whether it seems like it or not, Christ is King. King is a kind of out-dated term, it doesn’t mean much to many of us. But in previous eras it has carried a similar meaning to He-man – a bit of magic (with God on our side and a quick Mass before battle…), a lot of muscle (yours or your soldiers), and a healthy dose of morality (we are the good guys…) will win us the war/the Empire/some oil.
This connects with a film I watched yesterday – “W” – looking at the life of George W Bush up to 2004. Magic, muscle and morality are still the ways we humans go about demonstrating authority, commanding allegiance, and wielding power.
So how does Christ the King compare with these understandings of authority, allegiance and power? Reading the account leading up to and including the trial, not well. His authority was stripped by the Jewish leaders at his mock trial; allegiance to him was fading as the disciples confidence was shattered. And his power? He spoke of a kingdom from another place, but it didn’t save him.
The human mind, maybe especially the male human mind, doesn’t sit comfortably with power withheld. Authority should be wielded, allegiance commanded, power demonstrated. That is what society sees as ‘masculine’ (technically it is called hegemonic masculinity. So now you know.). This image of the The Arkville Minotaur on Dave’s District Blog (winner of Best Christian Blog) goes a long way to demonstrating this in a direct and uncompromising way.
There is another way. Jesus was challenged in the desert, before his ministry began, to go ‘in with a bang’ and shake things up with a bit of magic, muscle and dubious morality. Demonstrate authority by turning stones into bread; throw himself off a cliff to force the angels to show their allegiance to him; bow down to the devil in return for unlimited power. Instead he withheld. And in Luke, the first thing that happens when he triumphantly returns to his home town to begin his ministry? He is rejected. Great. Nice one Jesus.
Jesus repeated this throughout his ministry, carefully choosing when to exercise authority, to command allegiance and to use his power. At his trial he could have saved himself; on the cross he was taunted about that very thing. “If you are who you say you, save yourself!” It takes a strong man to resist that challenge. Yet he did. Jesus showed the flip-side to our usual human (and male-dominated?) understanding of authority, allegiance and power.
- His authority is not that of master and servant, ruler and slave, priest and lay, but as friend (I no longer call you servants but friends…).
- Allegiance to him comes not through fear, as Pilate’s did, but love (as the Father loves me, so I love you…).
- His power is not demonstrated from ‘up there’, but is given to us, ‘in here’, as the Holy Spirit lives in us (you will do even greater things than me…).
That is a challenge to us. Especially us men. Meanwhile, let’s be grateful that Christ is King, and not one of us.