Reflection on Christ the King Sunday
November 24, 2019
A king like no other
Rex Lago Paras
Today, the last Sunday of the liturgical year, we pay homage to Christ the King. The celebration this Sunday, as it appears in the sacred books used in the Holy Mass, is the Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe.
It is interesting that on this day when we celebrate the kingship of Jesus, we read that part of his life, as recounted in the Lucan Gospel (Lk 23:35-43), which actually takes place moments before his death on the cross.
The reading begins with, “[T]he rulers…sneered at [Jesus] and said, ‘He saved others, let him save himself if he is the chosen one, the Messiah of God.’” (Lk 23:35) At this point, Jesus was already hanging on the cross. A couple of lines before the beginning of today’s Gospel, we read that “[w]hen they came to the place called the Skull, they crucified him and the criminals there, one on his right, the other on his left.” (Lk 23:33)
Why are we reading such sorrowful episode in the life of Jesus at a time when we are supposed to be rejoicing in his kingship?
Worse, the picture that the Gospel paints for us today is far from the image of royalty. It is that of a man stripped of his basic human dignity. We behold our king punished unjustly, on trumped-up charges, in a most cruel way reserved for criminals, as indeed he was crucified with a criminal on his right and another one on his left. Is this the King of the Universe in whose memory and honor we are celebrating this particular Sunday?
That is precisely what makes this king one of a kind. “[T]hough he was in the form of God,” Jesus “emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, coming in human likeness; and found human in appearance, he humbled himself, becoming obedient to death, even death on a cross.” (Phil 2:6-8)
He was born in a manger. He died with criminals. From his birth to his death, there was nothing majestic or regal about Jesus. Who would think that Jesus is king? Not the “rulers [who] sneered at Jesus and said, ‘He saved others, let him save himself if he is the chosen one, the Messiah of God.’” (Lk 23:35) Not “the soldiers [who] jeered at him” and “called out, ‘If you are King of the Jews, save yourself.’” (Lk 23:36-37) They doubted Jesus and this was not the first time. When Jesus “came to his native place [at Nazareth] and taught the people in their synagogue,” he was rejected (Mt 13:54). Taking “offense at him,” they asked, “Is he not the carpenter’s son?” (Mt 13:57, 55) This led Jesus to tell them, “A prophet is not without honor except in his native place.” (Mt 13:57)
Using our worldly standards, it is easy to doubt Jesus and his kingship. However, Jesus “is a different and new kind of king.” He sits on a “throne of love,” mercy, compassion and forgiveness. He is the king who “did not come to be served but to serve.” (Mk 10:45) To illustrate his mission, he, the master, washed his disciples’ feet (Jn 13:5-6)
Jesus himself spoke of his radical kingship. He warned his disciples then and warns us now, “The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them…, but among you it shall not be so.” (Lk 22:25-26) Rather, let the leader among you be the servant. (Lk 22:26) He leaves us with the same challenge he left to his apostles: “If I, therefore, the master and teacher, have washed your feet, you ought to wash one another’s feet. I have given you a model to follow, so that as I have done for you, you should also do.” (Jn 13:14-15)
May our lives manifest the kingship of Jesus. To him who left us the example of what it really means to be king, we turn for the ‘power’ to ‘rule’ as he did and to make this world a kingdom of love, so that like the penitent thief, we may merit Jesus’ assurance, “Amen, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”
Hail to the one true King!