The Conscience of the King

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…In the Old Covenant, the Lord established a monarchy in the person of King David and his descendants. This institution possessed unique characteristics—unique characteristics of many different kinds. One of these, which made the throne of Judah different from all of its neighbors was this:

As we read, at one point during his reign, King David undertook a manifestly corrupt and evil course of action. He plotted to have Uriah the Hittite killed, so that he could marry Uriah’s wife Bathsheba. When David undertook to do this, the king’s evil orders were indeed obeyed by his subordinates. But not everyone stood by quietly. The prophet Nathan came to David. The prophet confronted the king and managed to convict David out of his own mouth as an unjust villain who deserved death.

No other kingdom in recorded ancient history had prophets who would humiliate the king, if the cause of truth required it.

…There is a higher King, and the higher King has His will and His plan—and His will and plan are true. The wills and plans of all of us here below, from the most- to the least-powerful: they all must be measured, and they can be found wanting.

Nathan confronted King David. Nathan, God bless him, got to sleep in his own bed that night. David had been wrong, but he was not so wrong as to blame the messenger of truth when condemnation came. St. John the Baptist likewise confronted Herod. But St. John did not get to sleep in his own bed on Herod’s birthday night or any other night after that.

Both King David and King Herod had given into lust and sinned against the sacred marriage bond. Both were measured by truth and found wanting. Both of the prophets who had the guts to confront these kings—both of them were prepared to die for it.

Can we imagine for a moment that John the Baptist hesitated for even a millisecond before accusing Herod? The Baptist did not hold his life on earth at a pin’s fee; all he cared about was the truth; he certainly did not hesitate.

If we say to ourselves, “Well…John the Baptist is John the Baptist. Living in the desert, wearing camel hair, eating locusts, etc. Of course he never thought twice about confronting the powerful; of course he was ready for death. He was John the Baptist, after all!

“But I don’t know if I am cut-out for such death-defying truth-telling missions. I’ve got commitments in this world; I’ve got to compromise and find a way to get along…”

Okay. Alright. No one wants to be an obtuse egomaniac who styles himself a latter-day John the Baptist.

But let’s ask ourselves this about the man himself, about the real John the Baptist: If simply being John the Baptist meant that he would denounce the king for an unholy marriage–without a thought for his own safety; if ‘being John the Baptist’ meant as much, then what does ‘being a Christian’ mean?

If John the Baptist had not done his duty and accused the king; if instead he had retired from his calling, or never followed it in the first place, and instead kept a little shop and had a wife, and then died in his bed an old man; when he went to meet God, wouldn’t God say, “Look here, man. I made you to be a mighty prophet. But you blew it off, blew off your mission because you wanted a little comfort for a few years. For crying out loud, I made you to be John the Baptist, but you crumbled and became John the baker instead! Geez.”

If we can see clearly the incongruity of such a scene, then why can’t we see this clearly: If I die and go to God, and He says, “Look here, man. I made you to be a Christian. I consecrated you in truth to live for heaven and never fear death. But you didn’t have the guts to stand up!”

…We also have to ask ourselves one other question. Who do we have the duty to confront? We have to go after the most dangerous tyrant of all.

Of all the kings of the world, which is the most difficult one to confront with the truth? Before which potentate does it require the most guts to stand up?

The star chamber that requires the most courage for sticking solely to the truth is the little room where I stand alone in front of the mirror. If I can accuse the tyrant I see there of all his sins, then there’s hope for me. Then I can look forward to sharing the reward which John the Baptist now enjoys.

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