Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe
On this last Sunday of the year, we celebrate the solemn feast of Christ the King. This feast is the capstone of the liturgical year, using the image of the King as the fullness of Christ’s triumph.
I’ve often reflected that we Americans don’t respond very well to the office of “King.” We have no experience of an earthly king so it’s a bit difficult for us to fully appreciate the message of this feast. Nonetheless, we do have some notions about it. We know that kings are respected. They live in rather grand palaces, have servants to take care of many of their human needs, and exercise authority over their kingdom. They usually lead the good life and embody many of the aspirations of their subjects. When they treat their subjects with justice and their people prosper, they’re considered “good” kings. When they are unjust and selfish, they are considered tyrants.
Still, our Scripture readings today invite us to reflect on the various ways in which kingship is exercised. In the first reading from the book of Samuel we recall the moment Israel first established a King. Strangely enough it was young David that God chose. I say strangely because David proved to be an adulterer and a murderer. Yet, God was able to use his gifts at leadership to unite the twelve often squabbling tribes of Israel into one nation. Not everyone was thrilled with this development but it was a transforming moment for Israel. For all David’s very real weaknesses, his gifts of unshaking faith in God and extraordinary leadership ability brought together God’s chosen people in a unique way. They became an economic and military power in their region of the world. Though they continued to struggle with their fidelity to God, they truly thrived as a nation.
Then, in the Gospel we are presented with a very different King of Israel. We see Jesus on the Cross, mocked and ridiculed, rejected and beaten, enduring the pain of his wounds and struggling for breath. Yet, from the throne of his cross he forgives his persecutors, welcomes a thief into paradise, entrusts the Church into the loving care of his Mother, and then, surrenders his life with complete trust into the hands of his loving Father. Christ’s kingship was not built on economic or military power, but on total, unconditional, self-giving love.
As we search for our path into Christ’s Kingdom, we are called to model ourselves after the One who is our King. He gave his life so that we could have life. We are called to give our lives so that our brothers and sisters can have life. Christ is a unique King, indeed. And, we are called to aspire to be (like) him.
Fr. Michael Higgins, C.P. is the director of retreats at Mater Dolorosa Passionist Retreat Center, Sierra Madre, California.