Father Donald Senior, CP

Nov. 24: The Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe

Wednesday, November 20, 2019

A king like no other

2 Sm 5:1-3; Ps 122:1-2, 3-4, 4-5; Col 1:12-20; Lk 23:35-43

With Advent beginning next week, this Sunday is the big finale to the church’s yearlong liturgical calendar, and it ends with a burst of sheer praise for Jesus, the “king of the universe.”

The opening reading is from Second Samuel — a book that charts the turbulent history of Israel’s monarchy. The response Psalm 122 continues in this key, delighting in Jerusalem, the capital city that was the “house of David” and would be the endpoint of Jesus’ own mission in the Gospel narratives.

 Of all the rulers of Israel, the Bible favors David the most. His anointing as king of Israel in the ancient city of Hebron is heralded at the end of the first reading. David is the shepherd made king, the poet and singer of the psalms, the one who would unite the Israelite tribes of the north and the south and establish Jerusalem as the seat both of the monarchy and the center of Israel’s worship with its temple. David would extend the boundaries of Israel to their farthest extent. He had his flaws such as his murderous lust for Bathsheba, but the Bible still loves him. 

The early Christians would describe Jesus as another David. He is the anointed king, the “son of David,” born in Bethlehem the “city of David,” as we will celebrate at Christmas. If a king is one in whom a people find an apex of power and prestige, then Christian faith wants to ascribe to Jesus such royal status as well, as one whose power as God’s son and Messiah far exceeds that of any earthly monarch.

As the exuberant reading from Colossians proclaims, Christian faith views Jesus not as confined to any measurable earthly kingdom but, in fact, as king of the universe, one whose divine authority and power extends to all creation.

But there is a paradox in honoring Jesus as a king, as the startling Gospel reading for today makes clear. This king Jesus is pinned to a cross, mocked by his opponents and jeered by the soldiers of his execution detail. The placard nailed to the cross — “This is the king of Jews” — is not offered in homage but in crude derision. This king is not surrounded by courtiers but by two condemned criminals who suffer the same dreaded fate that he does.

If Jesus is to be honored as a king, he is a king like no other. Recently I heard a lecture by Austen Ivereigh, a biographer of Pope Francis. Ivereigh pointed out that the pope is most at home with ordinary people and chafes when, on his official travels, his hosts fill the churches and reception halls with the wealthy and influential and leave no space for the poor and the non-elites. The pope makes it a point in his itineraries to visit prisons and soup kitchens and the barrios and slums of the poor. In this, as in many other ways, Pope Francis follows the example of Jesus the king.

In the Gospels we see that Jesus is a man of the people. He is not identified either with the most powerful religious leaders nor the civic rulers of his time. He occasionally dines at the home of such leaders, but inevitably there is some strain, as, for example, when Jesus dines in the home of Simon the Pharisee and the tender love of a woman for Jesus shocks his hosts.

This is a particular emphasis of Luke’s Gospel, the Gospel we have listened to each Sunday of this year. Jesus is with the people: the sick, the poor, the sinners, the hungry, the marginal. His royal power is not that of domination or arrogance but of loving service and tender mercy. It was that courageous and challenging love of those in need that brought Jesus to the cross, the unique portal of his kingdom.

We know in our hearts that to follow Jesus, the sovereign king, is to be animated by the same spirit. All people — rich and poor, strong and weak — are welcome in this kingdom. But the test of the church’s authenticity remains, as with Jesus, in its commitment to the most vulnerable.



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