Christ the King
Dear readers, I am sorry I have been away. Like many others, I have been absorbed by the presidential election, not to mention some craziness at work. Yesterday’s feast day, Christ the King, calls us back to a higher and nobler kingdom.
This year, the first reading for the feast turned our eyes to King David, in the Old Testament. It recalls the words of the Angel to Mary at the Annunciation: “He shall be great and shall be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God shall give Him the throne of His father David. And He shall reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of His kingdom there shall be no end” (Luke 1:32-33).
Earthly kingship and Jesus’s kingship reflect on one another. He is all that is great about earthly kings – and heals all that is wrong.
So the Liturgy gives us a brief image of what is attractive about the kingship of David. As the Israelites proclaim their new king, they say, “Here we are, your bone and your flesh.” The king is one of us, from us and for us, our perfect leader because truly our brother.
“It was you who led the Israelites out and brought them back.” He leads them in battle, fighting to defend his people. Leading means he goes first, puts himself in harm’s way. And he brings them back: the good king saves them from harm.
“And they anointed him.” Christ is Greek, and Messiah is Hebrew, for the anointed one. Jesus Christ means Jesus the king. All that is noble and admirable about a true king: that is our king Jesus.
The Psalm recalls Jerusalem, built as a city with compact unity. The king makes a glorious kingdom, a true community. “Jesus come” and “thy kingdom come” go together. To love the king is to love the kingdom he makes – and the kingdom arises from the goodness of his kingship. Only Jesus makes the glorious kingdom of his Church.
But while the Old Testament readings give us some idea of how Jesus is like earthly kings, the New Testament readings tell us how he is different. The epistle is the glorious Christ-hymn of Colossians 1.
He has brought us “to the kingdom of his beloved Son” from “the power of darkness.” Jesus saves us from a darker enemy.
In him “we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.” Redemption means ransom. Every king ransoms back his hostages. But Jesus ransoms us from the power of sin, sets us free from our true enemies, the sins that bind us.
“In him were created all things in heaven and on earth.” Our king is the creator of all earthly and heavenly goods. His kingdom is infinitely more glorious, more beautiful, more splendid, than the kingdoms of this world.
In him were created “thrones, dominions, principalities, powers”: he is the king of kings, through whom all good kings come to us, and who conquers all the evils of earthly kings.
“All things,” all powers, all earthly splendors, all things that we are and desire, “were created through him and for him.”
And he is the king of the cross. He is the firstborn even of the dead: as he goes before us in splendor, so he goes before us in suffering. He leads our armies not just to earthly victories but to Resurrection and heaven.
He has “made peace” – like every earthly king, but – “by the blood of his cross.”
So every year for Christ the King the Gospel takes us to the Cross.
The earthly “rulers sneered at Jesus.” His kingdom is not of this earth. His ways and power are not of this world. “The rulers” and the bad thief repeat, “Save!” The salvation he brings is not the salvation they expect. The cross is not the throne from which they expect the king to reign.
But the good thief begins to have the right insight: “We have been condemned justly, for the sentence we received corresponds to our crimes.” Our king is just and innocent. Our king saves us not from earthly enemies but from the power of darkness, by the forgiveness of our sins.
The good thief says to our king, “Remember me when you come into your kingdom.” He sees, dimly, in his awareness of the evil of sin, the true kingdom. And Jesus says, to those who embrace his cross, to those who accept his kingdom, not of this world, “today,” with your acceptance of me, with your embrace of the cross, “you will be with me in Paradise,” the true Paradise, beyond all earthly promises.
Do we love the kingdom of righteousness? Do we love the true king? What would that mean for our view of all this earthly sordidness?