Gospel Reflection Nov 20 – Sr. Teresa
Sunday, November 20
The Solemnity of our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe
Luke 23: 35-43
The rulers sneered at Jesus and said,
“He saved others, let him save himself
if he is the chosen one, the Christ of God.”
Even the soldiers jeered at him.
As they approached to offer him wine they called out,
“If you are King of the Jews, save yourself.”
Above him there was an inscription that read,
“This is the King of the Jews.”
Now one of the criminals hanging there reviled Jesus, saying,
“Are you not the Christ?
Save yourself and us.”
The other, however, rebuking him, said in reply,
“Have you no fear of God,
for you are subject to the same condemnation?
And indeed, we have been condemned justly,
for the sentence we received corresponds to our crimes,
but this man has done nothing criminal.”
Then he said,
“Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”
He replied to him,
“Amen, I say to you,
today you will be with me in Paradise.”
In “church time” this is a new feast. It was established by Pope Pius XI in 1925. It came after World War I, during a rise in Communism in Russia, a rise in secularism, atheism and extreme nationalism. This was while the world leaders were telling the followers of Christ that they needed to separate their religious faith from the rest of their life and the Church in Rome was struggling for position. Political leaders were telling all citizens, including Christians, that their highest allegiance should be to the government of their country, not their faith. Our religion holds that our first, last, and primary allegiance is to God.
Christ the King is not a title with which I easily resonate. The title “king” today does not hold much meaning for people, especially in democratic countries. Historically it holds more negative feelings than positive. Very few countries have kings and, if they do, they are often figureheads or dictators. Yet we have this title, “King” given to Jesus. We will sing it today; we will hear it through Advent and at Christmas we will welcome the “newborn King.”
We say it often, “Jesus is my Lord and King.” Pictures depicting Jesus as king often have him adorned in elegant robes and wearing a triple highly bejeweled crown. Some say the triple crown represents Jesus’ role as priest, prophet, and king. Another interpretation says they represent the crown worn by popes at one time signifying his role as Universal Pastor, his church jurisdiction, and temporal power. None of these speak to my heart. I find it hard to imagine that Jesus would be comfortable in rich, elegant robes or with any crown much less a triple and bejeweled crown. In the Old Testament, we frequently have God resisting the pleas of the people to give them an earthly king.
Our Gospel passage today has no hint of such a worldly king. We hear a story from the crucifixion of Jesus. The picture is certainly not what we would expect to see illustrating kingship or authority. There are no fine robes draping the man, only a naked and scarred body barely recognizable as a man. His crown has no jewels, only vicious thorns that pierce his head. On his hands there are no rings of power, just the nails which fix him to a wooden cross. He does not sit on an elaborate throne, rather he hangs on a cross roughly hewn from wood. There are no courtiers or servants around him – just two criminals sharing his fate and an assorted crowd of soldiers and spectators who taunt and mock him. His family and friends stand at a distance.
Despite the sign that hangs over his head declaring “Jesus Christ, King of the Jews” there is nothing in this man that conveys kingship. This is a King who turns traditional kingship upside down. This is a King who responds to the voices of hatred and mockery with the voice of compassion, faith and forgiveness. This is a King who suffers along with us. This is a King who has experienced injustice, betrayal and cruelty, and yet, maintained his dignity, integrity and identity. This is a King who has lived life as He taught us how to live it, who died as we will die someday. He is a King who rose from the dead and through his resurrection, we will one day rise again.
Do we still need the feast? I think we do, because we desperately need a new vision of true leadership. Just as in Jesus’s day, as in Pius XI’s day and in our day, there is a rise in atheism, secularization, ultra-nationalism and a tendency to think we should be more loyal to our country than to our God. So, we need a King, but not in the way we might think of an earthly ruler.
When the responsibilities of Kingship were listed in Jewish tradition, they held very different ideas of what we might connect with power and kingship. It gives a picture of true leadership. (I am substituting the words “good king” with “Jesus Christ.”) Jesus Christ does not rule by force, fear, or domination. Jesus Christ rules with compassion and love and empowers others to do the same. Jesus Christ is concerned with the least in the kin-dom and advocates on behalf of those who have pushed to the margins. Jesus Christ embraces his role as a servant leader.
In John 15:15, Jesus tells his disciples, “I no longer call you servants, I call you friends.” Jesus did not set himself over and above the disciples expecting to be served, but he walked with them as a brother. The master humbled himself to the role of a servant when he washed the disciples’ feet and told his disciples to do the same. Now that is a King that speaks to and challenges my heart to foster and strengthen my discipleship.
Sister Teresa Tuite, OP