The liturgical year draws to a close most fittingly with the celebration of Jesus Christ as King of the Universe. It is the Church’s way of acknowledging God’s “plan for the fullness of times, to sum up all things in Christ, in Heaven and on earth” (Eph 1:10). Today’s feast is an appropriate time for us to look with gratitude at the liturgical year that is now ending and to prepare for the new year to come. The Church lovingly provides for us today’s readings to guide us in the way of honoring our One True King.
The first reading tells us that the tribes of Israel wanted a strong king, one favored by God, a king who would lead the mighty armies of Israel to victory. They saw David as that kind of king, so they anointed him as king of Israel. King David did kingly things: he wore a crown of jewels, carried a scepter of office, and led processions celebrating great victories against the enemies of Israel. He was a good shepherd who looked after the welfare of his sheep, providing them with security, peace, and freedom from fear. The people loved him because he did everything they expected of a king.
The prophets then told of another king who was still to come, a Messiah – an Anointed One – who would be a descendant of David, a king greater than David, one who would save Israel from its enemies. So, the Israelites awaited another king whom they would anoint with oil, a great king with a jeweled crown and scepter. He would lead great armies in victory processions and bring great wealth to Israel. This is what the people expected – but what they got instead was a surprising paradox. The Messiah is Jesus Christ, who is indeed a king, but not an earthly king. He was anointed king, not with oil, but with the Holy Spirit and with power (cf. Acts 10:38). Yet he was also lowly and humble. He seemed to be so much less than a king, yet he is so much more. As the second reading tells us, “He is the image of the invisible God…. All things were created through him and for him.”
The paradox is most fully revealed when Jesus the Messiah culminates his earthly ministry dying on the wood of the Cross – a sign of terrible defeat and yet also of final victory. It is through his Cross that he has “delivered us from the power of darkness” and brought us into the Kingdom of Light. His kingship is boldly proclaimed from the Cross. “Above him there was an inscription that read, ‘This is the King of the Jews.'”
However, this inscription was written in mockery. The Pharisees, the soldiers, and the first thief all see the Kingdom of God in an earthly way. A savior should be able to save himself. “Let him save himself if he is the chosen one, the Christ of God.” But Jesus does not save himself. Instead, he dies meekly and humbly, never even defending himself. His death on a cross caused many of the Jews to doubt that Jesus was really the Messiah. Even today people ask that same question. Could the Messiah, the Chosen One of God, be killed on a cross by his enemies? Unfortunately, many answer, No, because they do not understand the power and wisdom of the Cross.
As a matter of fact there were several political figures both before Christ and after Christ who claimed to be the Messiah. They were all eventually killed, and when they died all their claims of being the Messiah died with them. It was with that in mind that the Pharisees condemned Jesus to death. Let him fade away like the rest of the would-be Messiahs. Jesus Christ, however, did not just fade away. He rose in victory and glory, “the first-born from the dead.” The Church, which is his Body, grew and quickly spread throughout the world. It is the Church that confidently announces to the whole world that Jesus Christ is the true King of the Universe.
How do we view this King? How do we relate to him? In contrast to the mockery and doubt of the crowd, we learn a far better way from the “good thief” who humbly appeals for mercy. The thief seems to understand that this King’s mission is not a political one. He sees him as an innocent victim who can save the guilty, and as someone whom he can approach personally. Our King is not far away on an unapproachable and lofty throne; he is united with us in our condition of suffering and need, carrying our burdens with us and for us. To know Jesus Christ personally is to have hope – not the hope of the self-righteous who reject the idea that they need a Savior, but the hope of all who are poor in spirit. Looking at our King hanging on the Cross for our sake, we are not afraid to ask him, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your Kingdom.”
When we humble ourselves before the Lord, when we pray with awareness of our unworthiness, we rejoice to discover that he is the King of Mercy. He does not hold our sins against us. He wants us to be with him in Paradise. It is the experience of his mercy that moves us in turn to be merciful to others, and to strive to relieve their misery. As we come to the end of the liturgical year, we look to Christ our King, who saves us “by the blood of his Cross” and makes us “fit to share in the inheritance of the holy ones in light.” He calls us to be his ambassadors, that all people may enter his Kingdom of Divine Mercy.
How do I understand the paradox of the Cross? What can I learn and appreciate from the touching conversion of the “good thief”? How do I experience the divine mercy of Christ the King in my daily life?
Excerpt from The Anawim Way, Volume 18, no. 8. More information about The Anawim Way may be found here.