This weekend the Church celebrates the Solemnity of Jesus Christ the King, which also marks the end of the liturgical year. The readings make the staggering claim that Jesus the Christ is king. Daniel states that, “the … Son of man received dominion, glory, and kingship.” The responsorial psalm sings that the Lord is a king that is robed in majesty. The Book of Revelations notes: “To him…who has made us into a kingdom…be glory and power forever and ever.” Saint John clarifies the kingship of Jesus: “My kingdom does not belong to this world.”
There is a great temptation to celebrate this magnificent feast by pulling out all the liturgical stops with all the seemingly appropriate pomp and circumstance. Let us celebrate the kingship of Christ by bringing out the finest gold chalice, putting on the most expensive vestments, wearing the stole with the longest tassels. Bring on the most fragrant incense, the reserved wine, lengthen the procession, and, of course, triple the size of the choir making sure the trumpet fanfare is heard by all. And while this is certainly one way of celebrating the royalty of Christ our King, something inside of me brings me to a pause with the question: what kind of king is Jesus, anyway?
The gospel reading for today suggests that if we are to be followers of Jesus then we must revisit what it means to proclaim Jesus as Christ the King. That is, the kind of king Jesus seems to be is, well, a bit weird. When we think of royalty, kingship, and power, persons like Princess Diana, Prince Charles, and Queen Elizabeth come to mind. Even the famous and wealthy, the American royalty, fascinate us: Bill Gates, George Clooney, Oprah Winfrey, and the like. However, this does not appear to be the kind of king Jesus is, or the type of kingdom he professes.
Unlike Pilate who professes the kingdom of the divine Caesar, Jesus exercises his royalty by professing the kingdom of God and making God known to the world, by bearing witness to the truth, and by drawing all those who are of the truth into his kingdom. One popular interpretation of this gospel text focuses on the heavenly kingdom, as if the reign of Jesus were exclusively for the after-life. However, the life and discourse of Jesus makes it clear that his kingdom is indeed part of the here and now. Jesus comes as a newborn king: a shepherd king that cares for the flock of this world (also cf. Matthew 25:31ff), gathering the people of truth into a kingdom of truth as they hear the shepherd’s voice. And for this, Jesus our king is on trial for his life.
There is very little in common between Jesus the shepherd king and the kingship of Pilate. The kingship of Pilate does not shepherd their sheep “to testify to the truth” (18:37), but rather rules the world with power, suppression, conquest, political alliances, militarism, and all the ways the Roman world and ours identify rule. Jesus is a king, but a weird kind of king that is not so typically kingly. What sort of king is not powerful, hangs out with the lowly, is not wealthy, does not dress in fine robes, nor eats and drinks off of rare and expensive platters and chalices of silver and gold? The kingdom of Jesus is an alternate reality, present on earth, here and now. It is not “of the world” that neglects the human dignity and rights of the poor, oppressed, and marginalized, nor is it the world of cruelty that Pilate was so entwined in.
Here, then, is the difficult, shocking, scandalous, and interruptive part of the gospel for you and me: the kingdom of Jesus, his world, is with us here, now, today. Through the gift of baptism, confirmation, and the Eucharist, we have received the grace to see the life-giving possibilities and presence of that kingdom. This world is one of community, equality, respect, and dialogue. In this kingdom of Christ, each person’s gifts are recognized. The poor and marginalized are empowered and no one is left out. Justice is given to all, regardless of their political influence, race, gender, or economic status.
The point for us on this feast of Christ the King is clear: Jesus the Christ is king. Christ is king, not because he has countless servants but because he himself serves the servants. There are many who profess themselves to be Christians all the while desiring to be more like worldly kings than the King of Kings. The Solemnity of Christ the King is an important moment in which to ask ourselves: what kind of a king is Jesus, and am I trying to be like Christ the king or a worldly king? Life constantly presents options, asking us to choose sides. In this instance, the Solemnity of Christ the King presents a choice between two kingdoms. It is not about rejecting the present life and waiting till the next when Christ will be our one-and-only King. It’s about making daily choices here and now for him and his reign.
What better way to celebrate the Solemnity of Christ the King than with the Catholic Campaign for Human Development (CCHD) weekend, which takes place this Saturday and Sunday November 24th & 25th. The CCHD is the official domestic anti-poverty agency of the U.S. Catholic Bishops that works to break the cycle of poverty by helping people help themselves. The CCHD also educates on poverty and its causes. This strategy of education of justice and helping people who are poor speak and act for themselves reflects the mandate of Scripture and the principles of Catholic social teaching. The Catholic Campaign for Human Development provides Catholics concrete opportunities to live out the love of God and neighbor in ways that express our baptismal call and continuing Eucharistic transformation. The CCHD is made possible by the support of Catholics in the Archdiocese of Chicago through the parish collection that will take place this coming weekend. To learn more about the Catholic Campaign for Human Development in the Archdiocese of Chicago please visit: http://www.chicagopeaceandjustice.org/cchd2013/.
The Catholic Campaign for Human Development: a celebration of the Kingdom of God on earth as it is in heaven!
Watch Francis Cardinal George’s latest video on supporting CCHD:
Watch how CCHD is bringing about a more just Chicago: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lfVui4b0gps