Feast of Christ the King
2 Samuel 5:1-3
Give or take one or two, there are 44 monarchies in the world today. Though these are often calculated according to blood line, their significance is seen in their wealth rather than in their power of rulership. With the move toward democracy in recent times, and the will of the people supreme in the choice of leadership, kings and queens are usually more ceremonial than authoritative, with the exception of the Muslim world, where monarchies still reign supreme in certain places.
Kingship has not been particularly effective in improving the world, with a few exceptions, and God, as we gather from the Scriptures, was not particularly anxious to see it instituted among the people whom He had chosen as His own (cf. 1 Sm 8.6-9). And once it got underway in Israel, it was more or less a disaster over the centuries, with a few notable exceptions, among whom David was outstanding (whose induction into kingship is described in today’s reading from Samuel). But even he had his blemishes.
It was the house of David, the kingly, royal, house, that was to be a major vehicle through which God’s designs would work themselves out among the Jewish people, in the irrevocable move toward the coming of the messiah. So it was that in the presentation of Jesus on the human stage, both Matthew and Luke took pains to trace His genealogy back through King David, to establish His credentials as being of the royal house of David. Luke noted, on the occasion of Caesar Augustus’ decree that the whole world should be enrolled (2.1), that Joseph took Mary, pregnant with Jesus, "…to the city of David that is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and family of David…" (2.4).
And later, when magi from the east arrived in Jerusalem, they asked: "Where is the newborn king of the Jews?" (Mt. 2.2) This greatly upset King Herod who employed the magi to discover this new king, and when they outmaneuvered him, in a rage he "…ordered the massacre of all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity two years old and under…" (Mt 2.16). So the kingship factor was operative from the very beginning of Jesus’ life. And it would be present throughout His life in the pursuit of His calling as the Messiah: priest, prophet and king. But the "king" portion of His vocation played itself out very lightly until the end (however, cf. Jn 6.15) when it emerged strongly, as we hear in today’s gospel. His main link to the king motif during His public ministry was in terms of several of His parables, featuring kings.
It was in the last week of his life, commencing with Palm Sunday, that His kingship rose to the fore. As he entered the city of Jerusalem astride an ass, shouts went forth from the crowd: "Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord, ….the king of Israel". (Jn 12.13) And this title was to plague him, first, before Pilate ("Are you the King of the Jews?") [Jn 18.33], where a conversation ensued between them about this kingship, which Jesus did not deny ("You say I am a king. For this I was born and for this I came into the world…") [Jn 18.37], and which the praetorium soldiers took up as a taunt: "Hail, King of the Jews!", and which eventually became the crux of a shouting match between Pilate and the Jews, remonstrating: "Everyone who makes himself a king opposes Caesar" (Jn 19.12), to which Pilate replied: "Shall I crucify your king?" (15).
The finale of this kingship dispute occurred on Calvary where Jesus hung on the cross beneath an inscription reading: "Jesus the Nazorean, the King of the Jews" (Jn 19.19), and where the soldiers called out: "If you are King of the Jews, save yourself.", as today’s gospel bears out. The highpoint of this tawdry discourse climaxes with the criminal’s beautiful, dying request: "Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom."
It is fascinating to note how strongly kingship emerges at the end of Jesus’ life. It is apparently a matter of keeping the best (revelation) till last. For only at the end could a credible claim on kingship emerge so strikingly. For, given the convoluted and twisted contortions to which kingship had been subjected in Jewish history, an entirely different setting was required to purify its meaning.
And it worked. For years later Paul could write, as we hear today, to the Colossians: "He delivered us from the power of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son…" Finally, at last, the true dimensions of Christ’s kingship could emerge, in terms of a creation theology (a JPIC claim) announcing that "He…is the firstborn of all creation…in him were created all things in heaven and on earth…in him all things hold together…(where)…making peace by the blood of his cross…(occurs)".
This is why we pray in the Lord’s prayer: "Thy kingdom come!"
Fr. Sebastian MacDonald, C.P. is a member of the Passionist formation community at Catholic Theological Union, Chicago.