Bishop Matthew Hassan KUKAH

(Sermon on the Feast of Christ the King, Bishop Matthew Hassan KUKAH)

The world traces the origins of kingship to the emergence of feudalism in Europe. Feudalism itself emerged as a system by which powerful and rich men acquired wealth through ownership of land.

Often, ownership of land was by force and conquest. In the process, the wealthy proceeded to lord it over other lesser mortals in the society. Kingship would gradually grow its own system of administration through the creation of lesser units of power, creation of a system of taxes over subjects, guarantee security, order, law and justice. Kings gradually claimed to be anointed by the gods, hence the idea of the divine right of kings.

Before Jesus entered history, the world had known famous kings. His life also did not escape the web of the power of kings. Even his entry into the world was seen as a threat to the powerful Herod of the time. The mere rumour that a king had been born, led Herod to order the killing of hundreds of children who had the misfortune of having been born at the same time as Jesus (Mt. 2:16).

Three days after Christmas, December 28th, Mother Church recognises these events by celebrating the feast of the Holy Innocents. So, the first air Jesus breathed was the foul air of the corruption of kingship. His life and death will be wrapped around the swaddling cloth of kingship from Herod to Pilate.

The history of Africa is the history of kings and the history of kings is the history of blood and destruction because almost all kingdoms were established by blood. In themselves, the rise of kings was supposed to be the manifestation of the unity of a community. However, propelled by greed and the quest for power and glory, kingship and lordship became sources of blood and war leading them to seek power beyond their domains. And so, the greatness of a king or queen was measured by the amount of land that they were able to conquer and the peoples and nations they brought under their subjugation. After British colonialism, all of us, including our so-called, kings and queens became what was called, ‘British protected children’. We remained protected children until October 1, 1960. Similarly, the Hausa kings had ruled their people for hundreds of years until they were conquered by the Fulanis in 1808 and their kingdoms ended. The Fulanis took over power and made them subjects. Till date, the Fulanis still hold on to feudal power as emirs over their conquered Hausas.

As in the time of Israel, the quest for kings has become part and parcel of our stories across Africa. Very little has changed in the texture and essence of kingship; namely, the culture of domination, oppression, subjugation as manifestations of the power of kings. They have to have subjects and the reason he is king is that he is ordained by the gods, he is specially chosen, he is the source of all wisdom and power. Beyond him there is no other lawmaker. He does not shake the hands of his subjects, his saliva does not fall on the ground, when his leg crosses your wife’s legs, you go home alone. He has power over life and death (‘Sarkin yanka,’ as they are called in Hausa society). We can recognise ourselves in some of these stories today.

I have narrated this because we are still living with these realities even as many kings have become Christians. Kingship elicits awe. Why is the kingship of Jesus so significant and why should the world pay attention to it today? How should Christians see the kingship of Jesus Christ in their lives? How should civil authorities see the kingship of Jesus vis-a-vis their thrones? And, finally, how should you and I see the kingship of Jesus? With over two billion people around the world acknowledging Jesus as their King, the world must pause.

First, the entrance of Jesus into world history erected a world between cultures, histories, traditions and civilisations. In responding to this question as to why the entrance of Jesus into history was so significant, Bishop Fulton Sheen stated: History is full of men who have claimed that they came from God, or that they were gods, or that they bore messages from God, Buddha, Mohammed, Confucius, Christ, Lao-tze and thousands of others right down to the person who founded a new religion this very day. Each of them has a right to be heard and considered. But as a yardstick external to and outside of what is measured, so there must be some permanent tests available to all men, all civilisations, and all ages, by which they can stand whether any of these claimants, or all of them, are justified in their claims.

For example, is there any of these prophets whose coming was foretold by an external agent, a prophet, false, real or imagined? Were there supposed to be signs by which the world could test or verify these claims? We cannot speak for any of the other prophets but we can speak for Jesus Christ. His coming was foretold by the prophets; a virgin shall conceive and bear a son and his name will be Emmanuel (Is. 7:14). His birth place, Bethlehem, is pre-announced (Jn. 7: 42) and his lineage is from the tribe of David (Matt. 21:9). We were told he would die and rise again after three days. Indeed, He rose as was prophesied and what is more, even his enemies, those who killed him, testified (Matt. 28ff).

Two, how should we as Christians see the kingship of Jesus Christ today? Our environment is saturated with men and women seeking honour every day, everywhere and by every means. To be on the safe side and knowing how seriously Nigerians take their titles, I have resolved to address the average Nigerian as, sir or chief. They will never say they are not sir or chief, but God forbid if you fail to pay this homage. I heard of a chief who sent messengers back after they had travelled for almost a whole day to deliver a letter of invitation to him on the grounds that he was not addressed as mere chief without the Dr. And as you see among the Igbos, no title holder is 2nd. Everyone is number one!

Against this backdrop, how should we as Christians see public office, titles, crowns, power and glory? In the Message of Jesus Christ, we see a completely new world with a new set of eyes. The new gospel of Jesus Christ not only split history, it gave everything in life new meaning. Through his coming, a people that walked in darkness have seen a wonderful light (Is. 9:2, Mt. 4:16). To be a Christian is not to belong to an association, a club, a tribe, a culture, or even a church. It is not enough to be baptised or to be a frequent participant at worship and even recipient of the Eucharist. To be a Christian is to embrace a new world, a new language, a new vision, a new attitude to everything in life. It is to follow in the footsteps of Jesus Christ, to bear a cross. Life is about finding these footsteps and clinging to the old rugged cross, hoping as the old hymn says, that we shall exchange it some day for a crown! Now, let us pause and look at some of the examples of the difference between the kingship of Jesus and that of the world.

  • While the kings of the world live in palaces, Jesus said the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head (Lk. 9: 58).
  • While kings collect taxes and live on the hard work of others, recognise no authority other than theirs, Jesus offered to pay his tax (Mt. 17:27)
  • While kings of the world are served, Jesus says, the son of man came not to be served but to serve (Mt. 20:28)
  • While the children of kings are called princes and live in luxury, Jesus said that every follower of His must take up his cross (Mt. 16:24)
  • While kings showed their powers over life and death of their subjects by having their own prisons, Jesus says, I have come to set the captive free (Lk. 4:18)
  • While ordinary people are supposed to be ready to give their lives to protect the kings, Jesus says, the son of man has come to lay down his life for his sheep (Jn. 10:18).
  • While palaces of the kings are surrounded by servants who wash their feet, Jesus said, I the Lord and Master have washed your feet (Jn. 13:13).
  • While kings are expected to ride in triumph on decorated horses followed by lower mortals, Jesus rode to glory on a borrowed donkey (Mk. 11:7)
  • While kings are buried in memorable tombs perhaps with their subjects, and marked by cenotaphs, Jesus is buried in a borrowed tomb (Mt. 27:60)
  • While the children of kings are born in the most expensive hospitals or health facilities, and given the best attention, Jesus is born in a manger, among animals (Lk. 2:7).
  • While kings confer privileges on their lineage, Jesus says that everyone who does the will of God is part of the lineage of God (Lk. 8: 21).

Against this background, what should the kingship of Jesus mean to us as individuals, families or communities of faith? To ask this question is to ask how we should bear witness to Jesus Christ in public life. In other words, how should Christians conduct themselves in public life? Leadership is not about thrones. Each and every one of us is a leader in our own rights.

Therefore, to lead others, we must gain control of ourselves by controlling our own demons. We must imbibe the principles of self-discipline. To be a Christian is to find the footsteps of Jesus Christ and to try walking on them. He already said, I am the way, the truth and the light (Jn. 14:6). The definitive article shows that He is not one out of many ways, truths or lights.

How can we discover the real footsteps of Jesus, you might ask? We can discover them through Prayer, Scripture, Meditation, and working hard every day imitate Jesus. We must identify and practice a life of virtue with Love as our driving force. There is a king in each of us. It just depends on what type of king we are. Often, we seek power to dominate and exploit others. We seek, compete and struggle for places of honour and high positions in our society. Rather than serve, we seek what we call in Nigeria, juicy positions for self-enrichment. This is a simple way of saying we are thieves and simply looking for comfort zones!

As citizens, we have been victims of abuse of power, recklessness and wickedness in high places by the massive corruption around us. Today’s gospel tells us how apparently easy it is to enter Heaven. It is about care, sensitivity to the needs of our neighbours, developing an extra eye for the victims and those in need. In the final analysis, the focus of a good Christian life is measured more by the sins of omission rather than commission. We may be the only Bible our neighbours will ever read. As for the world’s principalities and power, their authority is temporal and they can have their say, but the Lord will have His way because, as St Paul says: At the name of Jesus, every knee shall bow (Phil. 2: 10). Praise be to Jesus our King!