Father Donald Senior, CP

Nov. 25: Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe

November 20, 2018

A king like no other

Dn 7:13-14; Ps 93:1, 1-2, 5; Rv 1:5-8; Jn 18:33-37

This Sunday is the last Sunday of the church’s liturgical year. Traditionally, the church closes out its year on a triumphant note, the solemnity of Christ the King. 

We in the United States have only a distant view of what a monarchy is. For example, we might admire the sheer perseverance of England’s Queen Elizabeth and may feel sympathy for her 70-year-old son who has spent most of his life as a king-in-waiting. 

The Christians of the first century had a different experience of what a king (or “Caesar”) could be and it was not the fairly benign and somewhat quaint rule of the contemporary British monarchy. The rule of Caesar for the fragile early Christian communities was a mix of fearsome majesty and raw brutality.

Most Christians in the Mediterranean world of the time experienced Roman rule through Caesar’s appointees — the procurators and governors of regions backed ultimately by the might of Caesar’s army.

Some of our contemporaries, too, experience the brutalities of unchecked sovereign power. As I am writing this, more details are coming out about the involvement of the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia in the vicious murder of the journalist Jamal Khashoggi. No amount of royal robes and flashes of gold can mask such terrible abuses of power.

The readings today acclaim Jesus as a “king,” but in a manner that directly challenges any abuse of sovereign power. John’s Gospel in particular underscores Jesus’ “royal” status.

Interrogated by Pontius Pilate, the direct emissary of Caesar, Jesus, without hesitation, declares “I am a king.” But Jesus’ own words and the Gospel portrayal of him demonstrate that his royal power is exercised in a manner very different from that of most human kings. 

The Jesus of the Gospels enters his royal city of Jerusalem seated on a donkey. The Jesus of the Gospels washes the feet of his disciples. The Jesus of the Gospels is crowned with thorns and offered mock homage by soldiers who have no idea who the prisoner is they torture. The Jesus of the Gospels never lies and tells the truth, even, or especially, to those in power. The Jesus of the Gospels, flogged and captive, boldly confronts the Roman ruler and strikes fear in Pilate simply because of his dignity and authentic majesty. The Jesus of the Gospels is enthroned on a cross and his retinue condemned prisoners.

When Jesus in John’s Gospel declares that his “kingdom of not of this world” he does not mean that his reign is only in heaven and has no implication for everyday life on earth. No, Jesus’ manner of exercising power is not what the world expects or experiences.

His power is that of forgiving love. His governance is expressed in healing and tenderness. His rule is manifest in giving his life so that others could live.

The image of Jesus, the crucified yet triumphant king, lifted up for us is both a rebuke and an inspiration. It is a rebuke to all those who use their authority to abuse or oppress others. It is a rebuke to all the ways we humans can arrogantly assert ourselves at the expense of others.

Yet it is an inspiration for those who use every opportunity to serve others. It is an example for those in positions of authority in society or in the church who strive to serve the common good and to enhance, not diminish, life.

Far from being a quaint or irrelevant title, “Christ the King” reminds us that the Gospel of Jesus Christ and the values it affirms have real social and political consequences.

This year we celebrate this feast as our country has just concluded a major election cycle, with more to come. The manner in which Jesus is king throws the spotlight on what are the public values we as Christians are to espouse and to work for, not only in our own private lives but as citizens hoping to bring the inspiration of our faith and its vision of human life into the public arena.


  • scripture