Father Donald Senior, CP

Nov. 21: Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe

Wednesday, November 17, 2021

A king like no other

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

Just a short while ago I returned home from a trip to the Holy Land with a group of friends of Catholic Theological Union. In visiting the biblical sites, I was reminded again of the amazing impact of King Herod. 

All over Israel this remarkable — and exceedingly cruel — monarch left his mark through monumental buildings and fortified castles: Masada, the Herodium, Jericho, Caesarea Maritima, Jerusalem, to name some of the most prominent. Then, of course, there was his crowning achievement, the magnificent temple of Jerusalem, the second largest building in the world in its time.

As impressive as his building record was, Herod had a reputation for wealth and excessive cruelty. Matthew’s Gospel captures the spirit of this potentate who, out of fear that a rival was on the scene, ordered the murder of all the boys in Bethlehem aged 2 and under. 

When the New Testament writers spoke of kingship by the world’s standards, they may have had in mind someone like Herod the Great. His three sons who ruled during the lifetime of Jesus were not much different. The synoptic Gospels portray the depravity of Herod Antipas who, besotted at a banquet, agrees to behead John the Baptist to satisfy the whim of his illegitimate wife Herodias.

Today we celebrate a very different kind of kingship on this final Sunday before Advent. The solemnity of Jesus Christ, the “king of the universe,” forms the traditional close of the liturgical year.

In most ways, it is hard to think of Jesus as any sort of monarch in the manner of Herod. Jesus’ family were refugees, fleeing from Herod. Jesus and his father Joseph were laborers.

He lived in a small and insignificant village in lower Galilee. As an adult he had no permanent residence, much less a palace. 

Jesus was an itinerant preacher and healer, and, as he warned his would-be followers, one who “had no place to lay his head.” He would be hounded by the authorities and would be crucified by the Romans in Jerusalem.

Yet, as today’s Gospel selection from John testifies, Jesus was a king, like no other. Most Christian visitors to the Holy Land do not go there to admire Herod’s accomplishments but to trace the presence of Jesus. 

In John’s passion narrative, the one who seems to have all the power — Pilate — becomes increasingly nervous and confounded by his prisoner. “Are you the king of the Jews?” he asks, probably with a somewhat mocking tone, but also wary of the compelling dignity and bearing of the prisoner who stands before him. Jesus is a king and declares that for this “I was born and for this I came into the world.”

If the essence of kingship is to exercise power, then Jesus indeed was a king, but not of this world’s standards. His unbounded power was to heal and reconcile; the power to cross boundaries; the power to feed and nourish body and spirit; the power to speak the truth without artifice; the power to serve others without shame; the power to love with an intensity reflective of God’s own redemptive love; the power to lay down his life so that others might live.

It is for these reasons that our Scriptures today speak of Jesus as a king; Jesus as Lord, “robed in majesty”; Jesus, worthy of receiving all “dominion, glory and kingship” from “all peoples, nations and languages”; Jesus, “the ruler of the kings of the earth.” 

He is all of these things not because of domineering political or financial power, but because radiating from Jesus was the divine power of unimaginable love.

The majesty of Jesus as king that we honor today at this turning point in our year is one traditional way of expressing our worship toward Christ, king of the universe. But the manner of Jesus’ kingship also reminds us of the qualities of all authentic power in our world. 

Whatever our role in society might be and whatever authority we might have, as Christians we look to the spirit of Jesus, king of the universe, as the true exemplar of what power means.



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