Rule with Justice

Rule with Justice

Fa’amanu Akeripa, 21 November 2021

I imagine that our journey to this point has been somewhat an unusual experience. I reflect in the two years that I have been an intern it has been a time ravaged with covid, starting here and then stopping and then starting again. I’m sure for many of us in the last couple of months it has been a straining time during lockdown. Succumb to the four walls of our homes and taking comfort with our loved ones the ability to be safe and live safely within our community, our families. I’d take it, that within our own homes we’ve all had to step up and make important decisions around shopping, doctors visits, allocating various parts of the home for work and other parts for downtime, breaks, managing this environment within our own little kingdom (homes).

This would include the kids and managing them with schoolwork and what not. Device areas and non-device areas. I take it, that every-time there is a knock on the door a process of answering the door with masks on is done and a discussed process has been organised. You control what comes in and what goes out. This has been a journey of change, re-adapting and making sense of the unknown, uncertainties and what it brings for each one of us.

This ability to rule and have ownership of your sanctuary reminds me of a Samoan experience I’m sure every New Zealand born child goes through to learn and grow. I remember it like it was yesterday, it was a discussion around our wedding. Samoans have an emphasis around families coming together before the wedding. Janet’s parents are there, and my parents sit and discuss and both Janet and I sort of lead the meeting outlining how we would like the day to look. They are asking a lot of questions regarding venues, costings and other bits and pieces. I’m feeling quite confident now and I’m really warming up to the conversations until I notice there is a discussion being had between my parents and Janet’s parents. I sit in silence and think ok I’ll interject once they’ve finished and share my thoughts on the matter.

It occurs to me that they had their own plans regarding our wedding and that I/we had no control of. It’s the aspect of fa’asamoa the Samoan way of honouring special invitees to our wedding. An aspect of the culture I learnt that whether you are the bride or groom the family’s honour guests in different ways. In every other Samoan wedding I attended after that, I noted that the fa’asamoa presentations overrides most wedding programs. We have just learnt to work around how these presentations are conducted. I guess the point for me in this experience is the ability for us to handle the way we respect the things we are unable to control. We do the best to understand the situation and adapt to what we are given to work with.

So, if this is what rule becomes for us in these new times. What is ruling with justice? And what does this look like exactly? The Samoan translation for Rule is ‘pule’, the translation for justice is ‘amiotonu’, and I have a habit of breaking words down even further. ‘Amio’ on its own refers to actions, and ‘tonu’ refers to righteousness. So, when we put all these words together it gives us various elements but a wider context of how we view justice in Samoan. So, in saying this, viewing justice as ruling your environment in righteousness takes me back to that experience, I spoke of earlier in the year of the bell being rung to alert every family in the village of what time it is. The ascending of silence before you hear in the distance hymns being sung by each family. This is the discipline to lead family devotion, a time to pray, a time to reflect, a time to be in contemplative prayer, silence. To me, this is probably what David meant in his words, one who rules over people justly, ruling in the fear of God, is like the light of morning. One scholar commented that this fear of God was more in righteousness leading and guiding but more in the light of God.  

This week, I had a good catch up with a very good friend. We decided we’ll catch up outside in the sun and have a conversation about how we’re going regarding ministry. Asking how each other’s families were but what’s good about this catch up is that we share openly knowing and trusting that this space is safe. I was surprised to hear that they had been doing it a little difficult. Although, it wasn’t so much a personal difficulty but more in reflection around how the country has taken to the government’s decisions around covid, rules and restrictions, compliance and to some of the initiatives brought in by the government. I found it interesting that, although we don’t always agree with the government and some of the messages they send out. I worry of how much trust we give those we elect to speak on our behalf. Being in lockdown and Auckland in lockdown for three months takes its toll on us all. There was a stage? where I thought gosh, I wonder what it would be like for my family to move to Wellington? When do we put our trust in those leading our country? And how do we exercise our decisions that won’t have repercussions for the next generation?  

Around the world governments and leaders on the one-hand have dealt with some difficult issues leading their countries where people have lost faith in their leadership. Black Lives Matter comes to mind, decisions around the pandemic and how countries are handling covid has informed positive and negative responses. We still don’t know which countries have handled this pandemic best as we continue to learn as we go. In the mix of this leaders are challenged with climate changes, within our own country we have the freedom protesters wanting to exercise their power in this form. We learn that at some stage our ability to make righteous decision isn’t necessarily going to be the ones that will please everybody. But they must be the ones that is thought out not just for the benefit of one but that it is for the benefit of everyone. Just as we would if we made those same decisions to protect the surrounding around us.

Our first reading this morning directs us to what an ideal king/ruler looks like. A person that personifies what a leader is. The song uses a striking image to describe the significance of a good leader. They are “like the light of morning, like the sun rising on a cloudless morning, gleaming from the rain on the grassy land” (2 Samuel 23:4 New Revised Standard Version [NRSV]).

The New International Version (NIV) translation is somewhat better than the NRSV at the end of this verse: “They are…like the brightness after rain that brings grass from the earth.”

The light of morning, especially after a good rain — that’s what a God-fearing leader is like. In the semi-arid land that is Israel, rain is a very precious resource. A good, soaking rain during the night, and then the sun rising to bring forth grass and grain and fruit from the earth — these are priceless gifts of God. And so is a good, just leader, one who rules in the fear of God. Both enabling life to flourish.

The second reading this morning centres around “Christ the King”. Although I want to impart on you this morning about how we have our own ability to rule with justice.

This passage, in which Jesus speaks to power, shows how the powerful do not like it when they do not control the discourse. The powerful elites of Jesus’ day were accustomed to controlling the ideology and the discourse, just as the powerful elites are accustomed to determining/controlling the ideology and the discourse in our day. Does Jesus respond to Pilate with “authority”, or does he just respond with honesty based on his experience as a marginalised individual? Why would Pilate ask Jesus a question he already knew the answer to?

Jesus tells him: “If my kingdom were from this world, my followers would be fighting to keep me from being handed over. But as it is, my kingdom is not from here.”

The values of Jesus’ kingdom are so vastly different from those of this world that often we Christians fail to understand them. The church, which purports to—and should—represent Jesus’ kingdom, is here to serve in humility rather than to seek earthly power. Jesus is the king, yet he does not arrive in a chariot, but on a donkey! Jesus is a king who is killed by those with societal power, not a king who is victorious over his enemies by defeating them in war.

Let us remind ourselves and our community that we serve a God like no other—a God who is not seeking power and glory, but humble service to others. Consequently, we who identify as a community should seek to engage in humble service to others. We engage in conversations where we want the best for our loved ones and families. We live in a time where we walk in truth and honesty. Our ability to lead our families, communities rely on us walking and ruling our places justly. Everyone interested in seeking the truth will embrace the values of this other realm, which contrasts sharply with a society that attempts to win at all costs. Those who seek power and prestige at the expense of others will reject the true realm represented by Jesus.