This reflection refers to the readings for Sunday, November 24. For last week’s reflection, click here.
2 SM 5: 1-3; PS 122: 1-2, 3-4, 4-5; COL 1: 12-20; LK 23: 35-43
This Sunday we come to the end of the Church’s year, with the Feast of Christ the King. This is a feast that engages our imagination, and our affections. We are meant to associate the end of time with the reign of the Good King. Obviously there are imperfections in the analogy: Jesus is not exactly like the kings we know. But let us try to exercise our imaginations.
The Church, like the New Testament, draws her images from the Old Testament. The Old, say the Fathers of the Church, is full of “types”: images that find their perfection in Christ. On the one hand, when the new comes, the old passes away, and we no longer need the figures. On the other hand, looking back at those images helps us to better appreciate who Christ is.
It is like the best of novels (or movies), where the end has a clear punchline. Ah: that is what this whole book was about. Jesus is what the whole book is about. But that doesn’t make the rest of the book uninteresting. It makes you want to reread the book, because now you know what all those things were pointing to.
Our first reading very quickly sketches the image of King David. It is simple enough to verge on uninspiring. But we see the people begging for a king: “a shepherd and a commander.” That is, a shepherd who gently guides the life of his people at home, and a commander who leads them in battle against the enemy.
This reading is almost like a placeholder, or a little pointer: a reminder of the abundance of images in the Old Testament about king, shepherd, battle. All the romance of the Old Testament is wrapped into this one brief description of King David. Even the prophets, another kind of shepherd, and the battles fought before there was a king, all come together in the figure of David. It’s not so much that he himself is the most inspiring guy as that he sums up the aspirations of Israel.
I rarely have space to comment on the Psalm, but here I can’t resist: Jerusalem! Ah, so key to the Old Testament’s images. It is there that the tribes go up, the tribes of the Lord. There where the aspirations of Israel come together: the unity of the people, their joining together in praise in the Temple of God! The earthly Jerusalem passed away – but it is an image that is meant to engage our affections, to make us sigh, and long to “go up” to the heavenly Jerusalem!
Our New Testament readings, of course, modify these images – or deepen them. The great hymn from the first chapter of Colossians tells us of a king greater than our wildest imaginings. He delivered us not only from the neighboring tribes, but from the power of darkness! Led us not just to the earthly Jerusalem, but the kingdom of perfect light. He is the ultimate, the true prince: not just some guy, like David, but the image of the invisible God, the first born of all creation, the first to triumph over death itself.
Our feast of Christ the King, and the first reading, let us clothe this doctrinal magnificence with an image that can really engage us. This is our King! This is our David! This is our Kingdom! The true Jerusalem.
But then the Gospel reveals yet another face of the True King: a crucified face. The shepherd and commander of Israel, the establisher of Jerusalem, is more meek and humble than ever we could imagine. He rules over his city with a Crown of Thorns. He suffers for his people. He redeems even the thief dying on a cross. “This is the King of the Jews.”
The power and majesty of Colossians is so great that he can stoop down to our lowliness. The true shepherd does not just stand on high, but descends to the depths of our misery.
And our captain, our commander in battle, does not stand back and watch us fight. As we struggle with sin and suffering, he hangs on the Cross at our side. As we experience the injustices of this world, we see the Good Shepherd despised and rejected, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief.
None of this leaves behind the glory of David and Jerusalem. It just takes us infinitely deeper. It lets us reread the Old Testament and rediscover its true romance, the romance of Christ the King.
Do you sigh for Jerusalem? Does the romance of the Old Testament come alive for you? Do you earnestly pray “Thy Kingdom come”? What does that look like in your spiritual life?
I do sigh for Jerusalem much more as a Catholic than I did as an Evangelical. Linking the OT longing of the Jews for temple worship in Jerusalem with the temple of Christ’s body present at Mass both on the altar and also in the presence of his pilgrim Church gathered around the altar did it for me. Now when I read or hear proclaimed the longing for Jerusalem I unite it with my felt desire and anticipation of the Mass. I too sigh for Jerusalem.
Profound, and beautiful. Thank you, Chris.
Next semester I am again teaching liturgy. More and more I have been appreciating how much the Church learned from the Jews, from the Old Testament. This year we’re going to read Thomas’s commentary on the Ceremonial Law of the Old Testament. Really cool.
More than that, though: we pray the Psalms! How fundamental that is!