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Christ the Foolish King

Why did Jesus allow his enemies to kill him? Why did he empty himself of power?

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The Gospel reading for the Solemnity of Christ, King of the Universe calls to mind Nietzsche’s critique of the foolishness of Christianity and its Founder:

When we hear the ancient bells growling on a Sunday morning we ask ourselves: Is it really possible! This, for a Jew, crucified two thousand years ago, who said he was God’s son?… A god who begets children with a mortal woman; a sage who bids men work no more, have no more courts, but look for the signs of the impending end of the world; a justice that accepts the innocent as a vicarious sacrifice; someone who orders his disciples to drink his blood; prayers for miraculous interventions; sins perpetrated against a god, atoned for by a god; fear of a beyond to which death is the portal; the form of the cross as a symbol in a time that no longer knows the function and ignominy of the cross — how ghoulishly all this touches us, as if from the tomb of a primeval past! Can one believe that such things are still believed?

Nietzsche’s criticism of the Christian “King” is fair when you think about it. Christ claims to be the King of the Universe, to be all-powerful and all-mighty, and allowed himself to be mocked, beaten, and killed by his detractors …what a joke! How utterly ridiculous that the “most powerful man in the universe” allowed himself to be overpowered by mere mortals. It is as much a scandal to the ancient pagan gods of Athens as it is to postmodern thinkers like Nietzsche.

But according to German phenomenologist Max Scheler, there’s a deep flaw in Nietzsche’s vision of the person and power. An egotistical concern for oneself, driven by the instinct of self-preservation, is a sign of “a blocked and weakened life.” The will to power, which fixates “on one’s own bodily well being, [brings about] worry and anxiety, and hampers rather than furthers the creative force.” Scheler perceives Jesus’ exhortation in Luke’s Gospel (Lk 12:24-27), in which “he tells us not to worry about … the next day … one’s physical well being,” as a call to overcome one’s “vital weakness.” If the ideal of the individual is to give of one’s life and create or contribute to new life, then the invitation to “indifference to the external means of life” is an opportunity for greater freedom and self-exaltation.

Power or Love?

Contrary to Nietzsche’s accusation that Christianity is “indifferent to life,” Scheler claims that Christianity takes into account the totality of man’s nature, which includes his original “urge to sacrifice.” This creative force “springs from a spontaneous overflow of force” which is characterized less so by standing above the “small and weak,” but instead by descending to their level in a willingness to “love, sacrifice, and help.” The maternal instinct which urges the mother to risk her life for the safety of her child, the drive of friends and lovers to sacrifice their immediate desires for the sake of their companion or beloved, satisfies a greater longing that’s at the core of our identity.

At the end of the day, we need to return to the “heart” of the matter, and by this I mean the issue of what truly makes us happy as human beings. Does the heart yearn for an overabundance of power or an overabundance of love and communion with others. Even when it’s undeserved and doesn’t make sense according to our logic?

If God were merely power–power for its own sake–then yes, the Crucifixion would mean the God of Christianity is a joke. But why did Jesus allow his enemies to kill him? Why did he empty himself of power? Either this man had no power at all (and is thus a liar), or his power was based on love. Not a sugar-coated, sentimental, weak kind of love, but an unfathomable, mysterious, and at times seemingly illogical kind of love, a powerful love which manifests in actions more so than in emotions, and is strong enough to make you be willing to die for others, including your enemies.

Both Love and Power

Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., in one of his sermons that secular proponents of social justice conveniently forget about, eloquently expresses how Christianity harmoniously combines the values of power and love:

“You see, what happened is that some of our philosophers got off-base. And one of the great problems of history is that the concepts of love and power have usually been contrasted as opposites, polar opposites, so that love is identified with a resignation of power, and power with a denial of love. It was this misinterpretation that caused the philosopher, Nietzsche, who was a philosopher of the will-to-power, to reject the Christian concept of love … What is needed is a realization that power without love is reckless and abusive, and that love without power is sentimental and anemic.”

I experienced this “power dilemma” recently with one of my students; we’ll call him Tom. Tom has always had a nasty attitude; he often makes contrary comments under his breath and seeks attention when he is bored in class. Halfway through the semester he began making blatantly disrespectful comments toward me. Feeling my authority to be threatened, I pounced. I started a showdown in the middle of class, trying to overpower him with all kinds of threats. He stormed out retorting “you don’t know how to teach a religion class.”

So had I “won?” I ended up making him angrier and creating an even greater distraction from my lesson. What exactly did I want to win, anyway? What I wanted most was to continue teaching my lesson and sharing the beauty of the content with all of my students, including Tom. I suppose I lost sight of this desire in the heat of the moment and sought instead to overpower him. But that display of power for power’s sake ultimately did nothing for me, for Tom, or for my other students.

The next day Tom came to class, I decided to pull him aside and discuss why his behavior was problematic, and that I wanted him to act respectfully not for my sake, but for his own sake. When he acts in a dignified way, it shows that he values and takes pride in himself. And rather than deducting points from his grade as a punishment, I asked him to prepare a lesson based on the Bible passage that speaks most to him. He was baffled. And scandalized. The same teacher that he accused of not knowing how to teach a religion class was asking him to teach his class for him.

Tom’s lesson the next week moved me and all of his classmates. I was reminded once again that it’s more satisfying to embrace them with the power of love than to overpower them for the sake of self-preservation. So am I a fool? Maybe, but at least I’m a happy fool.


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About Stephen G. Adubato 5 Articles
Stephen G. Adubato studied moral theology at Seton Hall University and currently teaches religion and philosophy at St. Benedict’s Prep in Newark, N.J. He also blogs at the "Cracks in Postmodernity" at the Patheos Catholic Channel.

17 Comments

  1. Ahimsa was a powerful weapon in the armory of Christ the King. Non-violence is far more effective and productive than violence or counter-violence. Happy Feast.

  2. Yes, a site in the US can claim it is Catholic, but, Christ the Foolish King, says, not.
    More so it needs to be recognized, the United States is Not a Christian nation, so God, Jesus has very little directive or influence in the US..
    Can we talk about the foolishness of the people, in the US to condone, support evil, mislead the people, is the greater question of philosophers.

    Love without boundaries, borders, Walls, or bigotry would be a good start.

    • Very interesting, and funny to imagine a child forty years ago walking in and telling a Catholic Nun… You know, Jesus was a foolish King.

      • Yes, imagine a child quoting Scripture:

        For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written, “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the cleverness of the clever I will thwart.” Where is the wise man? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe. For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men. For consider your call, brethren; not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth; but God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise, God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong, God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. He is the source of your life in Christ Jesus, whom God made our wisdom, our righteousness and sanctification and redemption; therefore, as it is written, “Let him who boasts, boast of the Lord.”

        Even I, as a young Fundamentalist, understood something this biblical notion of foolishness. But, since I am American, I suppose I’m still corrupt and damned in your eyes? Sigh.

    • Are we to presume that is what you aspire to? You were pretty contemptuous up there for one who loves “without boundaries, borders, Walls, or bigotry…”

    • Your post is not intelligible.
      1. We have not heard Christ declare that CWR is not a Catholic site, or did you mean something else?
      2. As to your second sentence that the US is not a Christian nation, that can be debated depending on the definition and the statistics. Our answer is that the US, being the greatest nation in the history of man, with the most liberty and opportunities, could simply not arrived at this historical, unprecidented, and never equalled success, without the Christian values referenced by the founders and applied in the Declaration of Independence and Constitution.
      3. And your third sentence, referring to “…the foolishness of the people, in the US to condone, support evil, mislead the people” cannot be discussed without defining which “people,” which “evil” they “condone” and “support,” or which people are misleading which people.
      4. But your final thrust, “Love without boundaries, borders, Walls, or bigotry would be a good start” is about as hare-brained as possible. Just ask the homosexuals and people-who-think-they-would-rather-be-of-the-other-sex–not as handy a term, but much more descriptive than “transexual” about how beautiful their “love without boundaries” is. Just ask the Europeans, especially the French, about the success of the mohammedans in their countries since they implemented their no-“borders, walls, or bigotry” has been, what withe a couple of recent decapitations.
      The American so-called “educational” system has let you down, terribly.
      But, anyway, we are glad you asked and are happy to help anytime, really, just anytime.

    • Read the Bible: “For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.”

  3. With all the spurious synonyms applied to a King I have a feeling that Christ might reject the title.

    Synonyms:
    baron, captain, czar (also tsar or tzar), lion, magnate, mogul, monarch, Napoleon, prince, tycoon

    • “… I have a feeling …”

      Who would dare to question such authority, especially when if one only has Scripture, Tradition, history, and commonsense on his side?

    • How revealing. You have obviously never read Matthew’s Gospel. But given your track record of patently ridiculous posts on this site, your rejection of Christ’s sovereign lordship is not surprising.

  4. The real foolish kings, were those that condemned Jesus.
    Jesus stood against the foolish kings, is the greater point.
    The foolish “kings” of today seek of this world failing to follow Jesus, denial of the poor, the down trodden, homeless, and Immigrate. Failing in standing against the evil and corruption that rages on today, Unbridled Capitalism. Jesus went into the temple and said, “stop making slaves my people”, a stand against, the foolish kings.
    Unjust wars, genocide, indifference to those suffering calamities is the product of foolish kings, Jesus calls us to stand against, as Saints and Martyrs have.

  5. We refuse to believe that Mr Adubato, who writes so eloquently about Christ’s kingship, threatened Tom.
    An eloquent writer who describes Christ’s love as unfathomable, who discusses so informedly Nietzche and his insanity and Scheler’s comments, did not threaten Tom.
    And the term “unfathomable” being exactly the word that St Faustina used in describing Christs Divine Mercy!!!

  6. The greatest of virtue is to never say anything negative about anybody else ever, no exception.
    Yet today, as never before in World history, women, girls, humans are being raped, murdered, exterminated, genocide against, mass inflicted starvation on entire nations, and several incited and inflicted by the USA…
    All 100% defiant to the Bible, the Beatitudes, Jesus, and all the Saints, the Catholic Faith…
    Yet ignored by Catholic media.

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