Christ the King
by Rev. Richard A. Miserendino
Reprinted with permission of "The Arlington Catholic Herald"
To Sunday Gospel Reflections Index
Luke writes to explain that
Christ came to save everyone.
The rulers sneered at Jesus and said, "He saved others, let him save himself if he is the chosen one, the Christ of God." Even the soldiers jeered at him. As they approached to offer him wine they called out, "If you are King of the Jews, save yourself." Above him there was an inscription that read, "This is the King of the Jews."
Now one of the criminals hanging there reviled Jesus, saying, "Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us." The other, however rebuking him, said in reply, "Have you no fear of God, for you are subject to the same condemnation? And indeed, we have been condemned justly, for the sentence we received corresponds to our crimes, but this man has done nothing criminal." Then he said, "Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom." He replied to him, "Amen, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise."
"This is the King of the Jews." Thus read the sign hanging above Jesus on the cross, as described in our Gospel (Lk 23:35-43) for the solemnity of Christ the King. Even though it was meant as a cruel joke and an insult, it happens to be true. Christ is the king of the Jews and our king, too.
Yet, as we celebrate Christ's kingship today, we might wonder: Why pick this passage and not something more celebratory? After all, when we think of royalty, typically we draw on shows like "The Crown" or from the fantasy genre. Kings are arrayed in power and authority, seated comfortable on a nice throne, surrounded by courts of people waiting on their every word. Yet, we also know from those shows just how fleeting that power can be. Most monarchies of the world have gone the way of the dinosaur and even the strongest king is only one palace intrigue away from being dethroned or worse.
In contrast, Jesus is sown to us today as broken, rejected, mocked, in agony. Physically depleted, he's abandoned by almost all his friends. Instead f a comfy throne in a plush throne room, he has the hardness and splinters of the wooden cross, exposed on a hillside. Why this image of Christ the King, why not something more triumphant?
Because it's precisely at this moment that Christ the King reveals to us what true authority, strength, love and leadership really mean. Christ on the cross is triumphant. Moreover, while the thrones of the world will pass away, from this throne Jesus reigns forever. Once we look beyond the veil of the superficial and see things with the eyes of faith, the reason for the church's choice comes into focus.
From the throne of the cross, Christ reigns and shows us many things, all of which echo his famous paradoxical revelation to St. Paul: "My strength is made perfect in weakness." Paradox abounds. After all, we're talking about a God who made an entire universe out of nothing, who makes the dessert a place of life and encounters, who can't be contained by the heavens but comes to dwell in our midst by becoming small and born of a virgin. So, it's no surprise that the calamity of the cross reveals real kingship.
Consider: It's when Jesus is fully immobilized on the cross, completely helpless, that he does his greatest work and conquers sin. In the midst of falsehood and mockery, the truth stands revealed and conquers in the resurrection. In the worst isolation, communion is born.
On the cross, Jesus shows us true kingship and leadership: sovereign love that doesn't shrink from enduring hardship or sacrifice to bring about the good of another. It's a love that doesn't deny the truth or leave the lost sheep behind. It does what's right, heedless of the cost. Even when taking on weakness, real kingship is vibrant and potent with the inner strength of mercy, the creative strength of self-giving love that makes even death a well-spring of life. That is real power. That is real authority. That is real love. And Jesus is a real king worthy of veneration.
However, the Gospel also gives a challenge to each of us. It summons us to the foot of the cross, the throne of God. We can place ourselves in the company of the two thieves crucified on either side of Jesus, and we're invited to make their choice: Do we choose with the good thief to accept Christ as our king, knowing it necessarily means the cross? Or do we look for an easier, more comfortable way out, enthroning someone or something else in Christ's place? It's a choice between accepting the true king of mercy or a counterfeit of this world The difference between the two is literally life and death.