“You’re not quite good enough.”
That was the earliest message I can remember receiving.
“That was a dumb thing to do, Robbie, I wonder if you’re just not smart enough.” “You get good grades, but look at your friend Allen. His are better. I guess he just works harder.” “You practice your music, apparently not quite enough, though. Otherwise you’d be first chair all the time.”
As I grew up, that message became for me more than not being able to do enough. It became a belief that as a human being, I wasn’t good enough. It moved from a lack in what I did to a lack in who I am. That message formed a foundation of my whole identity. Not being good enough is a demon I’ve wrestled with my whole life. Striving to be seen as good enough has been a lifelong endeavor.
That’s mine. But I think everyone has some way they fall short, aren’t enough, are a failure. Most everyone has some experience of shame that’s part of their personal story, some part of their lives where they feel unworthy or disgraced.
What makes it so difficult is that everyone has been judged for it. And found lacking.
So what we tend to do is cover up those inadequacies, keep them secret. We avoid situations where they might be exposed. Sometimes we even pretend to ourselves that they aren’t even there. But they always show up. Our shortcomings find a way to sneak out and reveal themselves. Which prompts us to work even harder at covering them up. Which means that when they show up again, we feel even more like a failure.
On Christ the King Sunday, we’re reminded that we are constantly on the lookout for a king who doesn’t live with that kind of shame. One who doesn’t fail, who doesn’t have those shortcomings. One who really is good enough. And then, when we find that king, we commit to following that king—hoping that maybe we, too, can have our shortcomings, our failures, our incompetancies removed. Then we can be seen, finally, as good enough.
That’s the king we want. Someone who can overcome our failures. One who will finally make us “good enough.” That’s the king we hope for.
But it’s not the king we get.
The king we get is a shameful, powerless, weak, inglorious loser. That’s what crucifixion makes public. The king we get was betrayed, arrested, put on trial, beaten, humiliated, mocked. Finally, and publicly, the king we get was nailed to a cross in the most shameful form of death that Rome could think up. Crucifixion was more than capital punishment, it was a public display of shame. According to the standards of this world, this king didn’t measure up.
The crowds knew it; that’s why they just stood by and watched.
The leaders knew it; that’s why they scoffed at this king who couldn’t even save himself.
The soldiers knew it; that’s why they mocked him and stole his clothing.
One of the criminals being executed with Jesus knew it; that’s why he derided him as a false messiah who couldn’t save anyone, much less him.
Rather than a king who fixes all our weaknesses, we get one who shows up with even more.
“But,” we say, because we’re still looking for the king we prefer, “Jesus was innocent. He didn’t do anything wrong. Therefore, he can still fix all our shortcomings.”
But that’s not what this king is about. This king doesn’t make us worthwhile by making us good enough. The reign of this king has nothing to do with somehow becoming good enough or successful enough or likable enough or holy enough. No, the reign of this king goes a completely different direction. It starts in a completely different place.
What kind of a king do we really have? Not one who has come to make the world see us as good enough, but one for whom the only thing that matters is love, forgiveness, mercy, and compassion. Which this king doles out indiscriminately, constantly, unconditionally. Whether the world around us thinks we’re good enough or not doesn’t even come into the picture in the reign of this king.
Now, overcoming shame is a good thing. Learning from our failures and growing into more competent human beings is great. There is nothing wrong with being recognized by our world as good enough. But whenever we talk about overcoming our inadequacies as the goal—the purpose—of a king, we are measuring that king’s reign by the standards of this world. It doesn’t work. Look at Jesus. The prime example. He and his kingdom were measured by Rome’s standards, and fell quite short. He didn’t overcome those who killed him, he forgave them, for, as he said, “they do not know what they are doing.” He didn’t condemn the criminal being executed next to him, but promised that “today you’ll be with me in Paradise.”
What kind of a king do we really have? Not one who has come to make the world see us as good enough, but one for whom the only thing that matters is love, forgiveness, mercy, and compassion.
The funny thing is, the love, forgiveness, mercy, and compassion that define this king and his reign are the very things that assure us we already are good enough. Not because we’ve overcome so many inadequacies, but simply because we are loved by this king. And you are loved by this king. Christ the King. Which means that no matter what the world around you says, you are, right now, more than good enough. You are loved by Christ the King.