Today we celebrate the feast of Christ the King. We are wont, I believe, when we think of Christ as our King, to think of images of coronation and imperial power that we are historically familiar with.
Certainly we recall Napoleon’s coronation, and many of us recall the grainy black and white film of Queen Elizabeth II’s coronation. We see pictures in history books of other Empresses, Emperors and Kings. We recall Queen Isabella and Christopher Columbus.
When we think of kings, we think of royalty although we are none too clear what that means. We think of palaces, and crowns and precious gemstones, ermine, and purple gowns and trains. We think of sceptres and thrones, and ladies-in-waiting. It all seems quaint and far removed from our daily lives.
So it is natural, when we announce that Christ is King, that we picture him returning in a glory of crown, robes and sceptre, upon a throne of gold and diamond, and millions prostrate before him. In one sense the Church has done little to dissuade us from that image.
Certainly to the people of his day, a king was perhaps thought of somewhat differently. Some may have recognized that courts of various kings existed, but few if any had seen such grandeur. Few had been to the courts of Herod, or Tiberius. There were stories of King Cyrus no doubt, but only stories.
The most important king to the Jews was no doubt King David and King Solomon. Something of the grandeur of both of them remained in the Temple. Yet, both were more renowned for their military exploits and building programs than for ruling their people I dare say. There was little of pomp and ceremony that came to mind regarding them.
But to the degree that these were real kings, stories of which abounded, then it is natural that those in Jerusalem placed Jesus alongside these ancient kings, and what? No doubt they found him wanting. In Luke, at the time of the crucifixion, Jesus is mocked. “Save yourself, King of the Jews!” they snarled. If you are this king, then act like one!
The “good thief” seems to have a sense that this is king in a very different sense. He asks only to be remembered when “you come into your kingdom.” Jesus promises that he will be with him in paradise that very day. (Lk 23: 35-23)
And what are we to make of this? What is this kingdom over which Jesus presides?
It is not a kingdom in any sense that either the Jews or we would expect. It had nothing to do with palaces and thrones, sceptres and robes. It was a kingdom of full interconnection with the very Godhead itself.
Jesus, was and is the in breaking of that kingdom. As Paul tells us, “he is the image of the unseen God,” the “first-born of all creation, for in him were created all things in heaven and on earth: everything visible and invisible, . . . .” (Col 1:12-20)
Jesus is the way to the kingdom. Not a kingdom of idyllic life free from work or sweat or pain or aging, but a relational connection with God that brings us into full unity with all of creation itself. Paul further describes Jesus as the head and the Church as the body. Together we co-create with God, Father and Son and Spirit, to build a world of justice and love, freedom and compassion.
The harshness of the mocking by the soldiers and others at the cross always strike me with a shuddering audacity. Even the Roman soldiers believed in gods, and surely the Jews who believed Jesus to be no more than a fake, still believed in Yahweh as the only God.
The remind me of some unbelievers today, who are not content to not believe, and make public argument to that effect. They are most free to do that of course, and we need to have that discourse, lest our own faith become thoughtless. But to mock believers, to make fun of Jesus, whose life is well-documented-whatever you believe of his divinity, seems more than thoughtless, it seems stupid.
For no non-believer “knows” the truth. They only in fact “believe” what they profess. There is no way to disprove the existence of a real “invisible” reality. And so when I read the mocking words of those who sought Jesus’ death or who sought to discredit it, the echos I hear are the young men and women of today who taunt and bully, mock and joke, about those who believe and about what they believe.
Believers, on the other hand, need to remember that they “believe” rather than know. They have no business threatening unbelievers with hell and damnation. They do not speak for God.
As Paul shows us that Jesus is the “image of the unseen God,” then it seems to me that what we should be about, simply is imitating Jesus as best we can. If we believe that the kingdom enters into history through him, then our job is to build that kingdom, one step, one person, one heart at a time.
And if we do, perhaps we shall be as lucky as the “good thief” who was promised a vision of paradise THIS very day.
- Celebrating Christ the King – Last Sunday of the Liturgical Year (godspace.wordpress.com)