We begin this final week of the Church’s liturgical year with the great celebration of Jesus Christ as King of the Universe. In our time we are not very familiar with kings. We think of them as something from the past, or at most as figureheads to perform public ceremonies, like the monarchs of England. So we do well to take a moment and ponder what a king is, and what it means that the Church proclaims Christ as King.
When we think of the kings of the past, perhaps the first thing that we think about in connection with them is power and authority. A king in many cases had absolute authority. His word was law, and whatever he commanded was done. In some of the daily Mass readings this week, we will see examples of this kind of kingship. There was no democracy, no voting. One obeyed the king’s orders or suffered the consequences.
Over the years, humanity has largely rejected this type of kingship. There are still dictators who rule their countries like the kings of the past, but for the most part our world has embraced the idea that people should have some say in how they are governed, and that no one should have absolute and unrestricted power over others.
For this reason, when the Church proclaims Jesus Christ as King of the Universe, our first reaction might be somewhat negative. Are we being asked to accept that someone has absolute power over us, and can order us around without our input or consent? Especially in today’s culture with its prideful emphasis on self, this seems intolerable. I don’t have to submit to anyone’s rule, not even God’s. I’m free to make my own choices. No one is going to tell me what to do or how to live my life!
As a first step in beginning to understand why we do not want to reject Jesus’ kingship over us, we can consider the behavior of the elders of Israel in the first reading. Saul, who had been their king, was slain in battle, and his son who had then ruled over them for a short time has also been killed. They are without a king, and they rush to David and ask him to be their king. He has not conquered them; he has not forced them to serve him – they are coming to him and begging him to accept their offer of kingship. Why would they do that? Why not rejoice in their “freedom” from having someone rule over them?
Part of the answer is contained in the words that they say to David, “It was you who led the Israelites out and brought them back.” David has led their armies to victory over their enemies many times in the past. They are certain that there will be enemies in the future who will threaten them again. They need a strong leader who can protect them from their enemies, or they will be easy prey to the nations around them.
The elders also say to David, “the LORD said to you, ‘You shall shepherd my people Israel.’” Here we learn that the true mission of a king is not to lord it over his subjects and force them to satisfy all his desires, but rather to serve the people. As a shepherd guides his flock to good pasture, makes sure that they have clean water and safe shelter, and takes care of them when they are sick or injured, so the king is to watch over his subjects, taking care of them and providing for their needs.
We know well that earthly kings have very seldom lived up to this high ideal of kingship. Even David fell far short on several occasions. But this is exactly the kind of king that Jesus is. He leads us to victory over our enemies, the devil, sin and death. What hope would there be for us if we tried to face these enemies on our own power? He provides for us and cares for us as the Good Shepherd.
Jesus’ kingship, in other words, is not for him. He does not need anything that we can give him. As St. Paul tells us, “He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For in him were created all things in heaven and on earth, the visible and the invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or powers; all things were created through him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.” He is God, in perfect loving communion with the Father and the Spirit. Our service in his Kingdom adds nothing to him.
Jesus’ kingship is for us. He wants to serve us as our King. He wants to give us everything, leading us to complete victory over sin and death, reconciling and uniting us with his Father, healing and restoring us from every kind of illness and brokenness, and giving us eternal life with him. Anything that he asks us to do is for our good, and the good of our brothers and sisters. If we accept his kingship over us, then we share in the blessings which Paul describes as “the inheritance of the holy ones in light.” In other words, we become sons and daughters of the Father, with all the benefits of being members of God’s own family.
If we need evidence of what kind of king Jesus is, then we can ponder deeply on the Gospel reading for today. We find him hanging on the Cross, giving up even his very life for love of us. Some of the onlookers are mocking him, telling him to save himself if he is really a king. But Jesus did not come to save himself. He came for us, to save us. So he makes no answer to those who mock him. He is giving up his life to save even them. And when the other criminal humbly asks Jesus to remember him, Jesus shows that he is always ready to help anyone who turns to him: “Amen, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”
Pope Francis has this to say about Christ our King in this week’s Spiritual Reflection: “Our King went to the ends of the universe in order to embrace and save every living being. He did not condemn us, nor did he conquer us, and he never disregarded our freedom, but he paved the way with a humble love that forgives all things, hopes all things, sustains all things (cf. 1 Cor 13:7). This love alone overcame and continues to overcome our worst enemies: sin, death, fear.”
No wonder our psalm response for today is, “Let us go rejoicing to the house of the Lord.” When we understand what an amazing blessing we have been given by Jesus in his service to us as our King, we are filled with gratitude and joy! Thank you, Lord! May your Kingdom come!
Am I filled with gratitude and joy with the blessing of Jesus as my Sovereign King? How do I emote when I meditate on Jesus hanging on the Cross for love of me? If I accept his kingship over me, do I believe that I will share in the blessings of eternal life?
Excerpt from The Anawim Way, Volume 15, no. 8. More information about The Anawim Way may be found here.