2010-11-20 13:34:57

The feast of Christ the King

(November 20, 2010) The Feast of Christ the King celebrated on the last Sunday of the Liturgical year. The feast of Jesus Christ the Universal King was instituted by Pope Pius XI in 1925 and is observed on this Sunday as it helps us to meditate on the Second and Final Coming of Christ, the last Judgment, and the end of the world. The Solemnity of Christ the King is a newer feast in the Catholic Church. The pontiff was witness to a turbulent time in the world’s history. Secularism was on the rise and dangerous dictatorships were emerging in Europe and beyond. Christ had long been referred to as King, but Pope Pius XI and the Christian faithful saw the respect and reverence for Christ’s authority waning in the midst of the unrest during the first part of the 20th century. In response, the feast was set with the intent to reaffirm and refocus faith and respect in the kingship of Jesus. Clearly “King” was one of the earliest titles given to Jesus the Son of God. The title does not refer to a status of an earthly king, which many of the Jews had been expecting; rather he came to be the spiritual king of the Universe.
From the dawn of civilization, kings have arisen who have dreamed of possessing a world-wide dominion, a universal kingdom that would last forever. Some have come close to conquering much of the known world, like Alexander the Great, Genghis Khan, Augustus Caesar, and Adolf Hitler, to name a few. And some kingdoms have lasted a very long time and others but a few years. These persons portrayed their power and physical strength and often ruled people with authority and pride. The feast of Christ the King celebrates the fact that there is one who is remarkably different. He came to serve all, even His enemies. He truly was a Son of Man, with a vulnerable human nature and at the same time truly Son of God. Not in some mythological sense, like the Pharaohs, or the wishful thinking sense, like the Caesars, but really and truly, the Immortal, the Eternal king, taking the form of a mortal man in a specific time in history. To all intents and purposes, Christ, on the cross, was the perfect picture of defeat. His enemies derided and mocked Him; his companions, with the exception of John and a few women, had abandoned Him. It remained for one of the thieves crucified with Him to recognise Christ for what He was a King and he asks for a place in his kingdom and receives it.
Pope Pius XI hoped the institution of the feast would have various effects. The Pontiff felt that nations would see that the Church has the right to freedom, and immunity from the state. Secondly that leaders and nations would see that they are bound to give respect to Christ. Finally that the faithful would gain strength and courage from the celebration of the feast, as we are reminded that Christ must reign in our hearts, minds, wills, and bodies. Today, the same distrust of authority exists, although the problem has gotten worse. Individualism has been embraced to such an extreme, that for many, the only authority is the individual self. The idea of Christ as ruler is rejected in such a strongly individualistic system. Also, many balk at the idea of kings and queens, believing them to be oppressive. Some even reject the titles of "lord" and "king" for Christ because they believe that such titles are borrowed from oppressive systems of government. However true these statements might be Christ's kingship is one of humility and service. Jesus said that those who are recognized as rulers over the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones make their authority over them felt. But it shall not be so among you. Rather, whoever wishes to become great among you will be your servant; whoever wishes to be first among you will be the slave of all.
Many in today’s democratic set up will discover that the title "King" does not register too well. Hence they feel that a better image of today's Feast is achieved by presenting it as the Feast of Christ the Leader. Leadership is the theme of the feast day Mass, as we have seen in the different readings. And it is an important theme for us, as Christians, to consider. All of us, some time or other would like to think of ourselves as leaders. Listen to the average conversation and we find that there is little done by others that we could not have done better. It is easily said that our national leaders are fools; our sporting heroes make shocking errors of judgement; our civic fathers would be dangerous if they were endowed with brains; and if only our Bishops knew half as much as the average assistant priest, the Church could be so much better. But despite all their machinations, pretensions, and self-glorifying monuments, the great rulers of the earth all proved mortal like anybody else. They had their day in the sun only to disappear. Their kingdoms, too, ultimately passed away, leaving abundant ruins for generations of tourists and archaeologists to explore.
The feast of Christ the King celebrates the fact that there is one who is remarkably different. He came to serve all, even His enemies. He truly was the God-man, divine and yet with a vulnerable human nature. Jesus knew the oppressive nature of secular kings, and in contrast to them, he connected his role as king to humble service, and commanded his followers to be servants as well. In other passages of Scripture, his kingdom is tied to his suffering and death. While Christ is coming to judge the nations, his teachings spell out a kingdom of justice and judgment balanced with radical love, mercy, peace, and forgiveness. When we celebrate Christ as King, we are not celebrating an oppressive ruler, but one willing to die for humanity and whose "loving-kindness endures forever." Christ is the king that gives us true freedom, freedom in Him. Thus we must never forget that Christ radically redefined and transformed the concept of kingship.
The Scriptures speak of Jesus as God and also as King. This infant without a home was legally the son of Joseph, the son of David, as his genealogy tells us. In Mary’s womb he was begotten of the Holy Spirit. But in obedience to God, Joseph adopted him named the child Jesus, thus becoming his legal father. So Joseph and Jesus were not biological father and son, but legal father and son, and, therefore, the throne of David belonged legally to Jesus. In the annunciation narrative we have the angel Gabriel bringing the good news to Mary in Nazareth, saying, "He will be great and will be called Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his ancestor David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever; his kingdom will never end." This is the fulfilment of the promise that God made to David as we read in the second book of Samuel. Jesus Christ is David’s royal son. There are no more kings coming after him, because this Son will never die. His kingdom is for ever and ever.
When the Magi come to Jerusalem they ask "Where is the one born king of the Jews?" The priests inform them that he is born in Bethlehem. Here Jesus Christ, the one whose origins are from eternity, the baby who was born of a virgin in Bethlehem, is presented as the ruler of Israel. We find another reference to the kingship of Jesus Christ in Matthew during his triumphant entry into Jerusalem. Here people call him son of David and greet him as a king. This refers back to the Old Testament prophesy, “See, your King comes to you, gentle and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey."’ Later during his passion when Jesus is placed before Pilate, he is asked the question ‘are you the king of the Jews?’ ‘Yes, it is as you say,’ Jesus replies." Here we see in Jesus’ own words his claim to be King. Finally before his Ascension Jesus tells his disciples: ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.’" He is the king of the universe, ruling over all. The Apocalyptic vision and the final coming tell us: In my vision at night I looked, and there before me was one like a son of man, coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient of Days and was led to his presence. He was given authority, glory, and sovereign power over all peoples. Nations and men of every language worship him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed.
During his life Jesus preaches the Kingdom of God and openly tells the disciples to seek first the Kingdom of God and his righteousness. It means we must put God first in our lives. It means we must come under the rule of this God/King, Jesus Christ. It means we must confess with our mouths, Jesus is Lord, and do what he says. As God and King, he alone is sovereign and can alone say, "All authority in heaven and on earth is given to me." He alone is King of kings and Lord of Lords.
Christians have long celebrated Jesus as Christ, and his reign as King is celebrated to some degree in Advent, Christmas, Holy Week, Easter, and the Ascension. But Jesus is a king of unique nature. Rather than destroying His opponents, He forgave them. Rather than dominating His subjects, He exalted them. He even called them not servants, but friends, and bestowing on them a share in His priesthood and kingship. Though He died, like other kings, it was for a different purpose than Augustus in his bed or Hitler in his bunker. He died willingly to save His people, and His death was not a result of a battle lost or a plan gone awry, but of a glorious victory planned before the world began. He rose in glory, which can’t be said for the rest of them. And at His heavenly coronation, when He ascended to His Father, He was given what all the rest lusted for namely, a worldwide dominion that will not pass away. The true King, however, is biding His time. He will return and suddenly things will be seen as they truly are. His coming will sweep away ambition, vanity, and pretensions, and much of what now appears important will look very empty. No longer will oppression be allowed to stand; the innocent will finally be liberated from those who victimize them. This dominion will truly be universal and all will recognise him.
Jesus knew perfectly well the oppressive nature of secular kings, and in contrast to them, he connected his role as king to humble service, and commanded his followers to be servants as well. Scripture tells us that the kingdom of Jesus is different, tied closely to his passion and death, leading finally to his resurrection. At the same time he is a benevolent king manifesting mercy forgiveness and love. Hence when we celebrate Christ as King, we are not celebrating an oppressive ruler, but one willing to die for humanity and whose "loving-kindness endures forever." Christ is the king that gives us true freedom, freedom in Him. Thus we must never forget that Christ radically redefined and transformed the concept of kingship.
Christ Himself speaks of His own kingly authority in His last discourse, as he explains the rewards and punishments that will be the eternal lot of the just and the damned. After His resurrection, when giving to His Apostles the mission of teaching and baptizing all nations, He took the opportunity to call Himself king, confirming the title publicly, and solemnly proclaimed that all power was given Him in Heaven and on earth. These words can only be taken to indicate the greatness of his power, the infinite extent of His kingdom. What wonder, then, that He Whom St. John calls the "prince of the kings of the earth" appears in the Apostle's vision of the future as he who has put on his garment and on his person written, 'King of kings and Lord of lords!'." It is Christ whom the Father has appointed heir of all things; for he must reign until at the end of the world He hath put all his enemies under the feet of God and the Father.
Pope Benedict XVI during his Angelus Message on the solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, the King of the Universe said: We know from the Gospels that Jesus refused the title of king when this was intended in a political sense, along the lines of the "kings of the nations". Instead, during his passion, he took upon himself a singular regalness before Pilate, who asked him: "Are you a king?" and Jesus replied: "You say I am a king"; but shortly before this he declared: "my kingdom is not one of this world". The royalty of Christ, in fact, is the revelation and accomplishment of God the Father, who governs all things with love and justice. The Father entrusted to his Son the mission of giving eternal life to man, loving him even unto the supreme sacrifice, and at the same time conferring on him the power of judgment, from the moment he became Son of man, like us in every way.
The Gospel insists upon the universal royalty of Christ the Judge, with the magnificent parable of the final judgment. The images are simple, the language is common, but the message is extremely important: it is the truth on our ultimate destiny and on the criteria with which we will be valued. "I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me" and so forth. Who isn't familiar with this? It's a part of our civilization. It's marked the story of the peoples of Christian culture: the hierarchy of values, institutions, and the host of beneficial social works. In effect, the reign of Christ is not of this world, but brings to completion all the good that, thanks be to God, exists in man and in history. If we put into practice our love for our neighbour, according to the Gospel message, we then pave the way for the lordship of God, and his kingdom is realized by means of us. If instead each one thinks only of his own interests, the world can't help but go forward in ruins.
The Church year ends awaiting the return of Christ, when evil will be defeated and Jesus will begin his reign as King of kings. The Second Vatican Council moved the feast to this final Sunday to make it coincide with the ending of the liturgical year. Christ’s kingdom begins in the community of people who live in a new and different way because of God’s presence in their lives. This kingdom community will always contrast with earthly political and social systems; we cannot disconnect our relation to God from our relations with others. Celebrating Christ’s kingship gives us an opportunity to proclaim the good news that his second coming brings joy rather than fear, hope rather than despair. We are cleansed and renewed and brought closer to our God. How appropriate it is to sing hymns and carry banners on this feast day of our King.


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