Father Donald Senior, CP

Through the eyes of faith we know that Jesus truly is a king

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Perspectives on Scripture

Nov. 20: Solemnity of Christ the King
2 Sm 5:1-3; Ps 122:1-2, 3-4, 4-5; Col 1:12-20; Lk 23:35-43

Some friends of mine who recently visited Rome told me that they were standing near the Vatican when suddenly a motorcade sped by, led by four police on motorcycles and a chain of large black SUV’s with tinted windows. Bringing up the rear was an improbably small white Fiat with a familiar figure smiling from the back seat and waving at the crowds. Pope Francis was at it again.

This Sunday we bring the liturgical year to a close with the feast of Christ the King. The readings are filled with the Bible’s memories of David, the most famous king of Israel. In the first reading from 2 Samuel we hear of his being anointed king by the elders of Israel, gathered in Hebron, the southern city where the tombs of Abraham and the great patriarchs and matriarchs of Israel were buried.

David succeeded Saul, the first king whose reign was troubled and uncertain. Not so David. He would later move the capital to Jerusalem and unite all the tribes, extending the boundaries of Israel to their fullest extent. He would bring the Ark of the Covenant to be near his palace and establish Jerusalem as both the religious and political center of the country.

He surrounded himself with loyal armed mercenaries, totally devoted to him and ready to impose his will. He was handsome and clever, and celebrated as a poet and musician (73 of the 150 psalms are attributed to David). In short, David was the Bible’s ideal king: dominant, powerful and dazzling — even though the Bible also notes he had deep flaws, particularly his murderous lust for Bathsheba.

The portrayal of David as the ideal king gave the Bible its language for its future hopes of salvation, particularly during the many subsequent centuries when the Israelite monarchy was weak and when the people would lose their freedom, their land and their temple. The oracles of Israel affirmed that the Davidic kingdom would endure and that ultimately God would raise up another “anointed one,” the Messiah or the Christ, who would at last bring definitive peace and justice to Israel.

The Gospels acclaim Jesus as the “Son of David,” as the “Christ,” but Jesus would prove to be a king like no other. Instead of the trappings of a royal palace he chose to “have nowhere to lay his head”; instead of dominating his subjects, he healed and reconciled them; when entering his royal capital of Jerusalem, he rode on a donkey not in a chariot; when he was acclaimed as “king” by those in power it would as be as bitter mockery as he hung pinned to a cross.

Through the eyes of faith Christians know that Jesus truly is a king, someone worth our ultimate loyalty and love. A “king” whose power is used to heal and reconcile and save. No shred of arrogance can be found in him but only loving service for those in need.

The Gospel passage from Luke puts things into true perspective. In one of the Gospel’s most poignant and memorable scenes, a criminal crucified alongside Jesus turns to him and utters a prayer we can all understand, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom,” and a response we all long to hear, “today you will be with me in Paradise.”

This is the way the church would have us bring the liturgical year to a close, with a final, loving glimpse of the compassionate Jesus of the Gospels and with a sense of profound hope that we will not be abandoned to death.

This is also the close of the Jubilee of Mercy that Pope Francis asked the church to celebrate from its opening on Dec. 8 of last year and concluding this Sunday. In the pope’s memorable phrase, Jesus is the “human face of God’s mercy.” We as disciples of Jesus prove our love for our king to the extent that we, too, show mercy to others.


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