Saturday, November 24, 2012

Solemnity of Christ the King

Marie Antoinette, a fabulously rich Queen of France, when told that the poor of her country had no bread to eat, is said to have proclaimed, "Let them eat cake!" She was so far removed from the needs, sufferings, and hardships pf everyday people that she had no idea that many of them were starving.

This is an image that perhaps many of us have of kings and queens. They’re too lofty and exalted, we may think, to really know or care what it’s like to be an "average Joe" or an "average Jane." This may have indeed been true of many "royals" throughout history. It’s not true, however, of the king we celebrate today: Jesus Christ our Lord.

Yes, Jesus is almighty, exalted, and all-powerful. He dwells in heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father where he is worshipped by all the heavenly host. When he comes again at the end of time, his glory and majesty will be evident to all. Today’s psalm and the readings from Daniel and Revelation speak to this exalted kingship of Jesus. It’s tempting to think that such a lofty figure wouldn’t bother to have anything to do with us.

Today’s gospel reading gives us a different perspective on Jesus’ kingship, however. Our Lord had been betrayed, arrested, and was standing trial before Pilate. Pilate had been told that Jesus was a king. But when he finally met Jesus face-to-face, Jesus didn’t exactly "fit the profile." Jesus had to explain to Pilate that his kingship was not of this world. That’s why Pilate was confused.

During his time on earth, Jesus our king didn’t exactly act like we expect royalty to act. Instead, Jesus lived amongst us, suffered amongst us, and died amongst us. He reigned not on a throne but from a cross; his crown was not of jewels but of thorns; and he didn’t marry a princess. Instead he united us with himself so that we could all share in his royalty. In the traditional language of Scripture and the Church, Christ is the bridegroom and we, the Church, are his bride.

This means that we share in Jesus’ kingship. This also means that during our earthly pilgrimage we are to exercise our "royal status" in the same way Jesus exercised his. But what does this mean in practice?

First, it suggests how we should see ourselves in relation to others. In Jesus, the greatest king walked amongst the simplest people. With him, there were no divisions between "royals" and "commoners." In the United States, of course, we don’t have royalty. But we do have divisions between different social classes which spring from pride, racism, envy, and insecurity. Sometimes this is referred to as "classism," or "elitism," and it often manifests itself in materialistic ways. For instance, we may desire luxury items, not because they fulfill a legitimate need, but because we wish to make statements like: I’m better than you; I’m richer than you; I have something that you can’t have. As Christians, we need to examine our lives to see if desires like these are shaping our thoughts, actions, and purchases. They weren’t the attitudes of Jesus. Jesus sought solidarity with others, not exclusivity from them.

The way Jesus exercised his kingship also says something about how we, as Christians, might exercise authority. One model of authority we might call the "Donald Trump Model" as seen in the "Apprentice" show. To climb your way to the top and get the power you want, you must be merciless and insensitive, ruthless and cutthroat; you need to learn to "swim with the sharks." But Jesus has supreme authority and power, and he didn’t act like that. Some may say that’s what led him to the cross, and that his model wouldn’t work in the so-called "real world." But maybe it does. Recent surveys have revealed that the overwhelming majority of truly successful executives are as concerned or more concerned about their subordinates’ careers than they are about their own. This concern for others creates a work climate in which everyone feels encouraged, empowered, nurtured, and loyal. "Benevolent leadership," it’s called. Something to think about if you have a work responsibility for others.

Something else for us to think about was that Jesus’ kingship was expressed by service. Jesus came to serve, and not be served. But what about us? Do we expect the world to revolve around us? Is it all about "number 1," as they say? If so, we need to learn to consider other’s needs in addition to our own. There’s quite a bit being written these days about how parents need to teach their children to be generous and actively help other people. This might involve giving them regular chores to contribute to the welfare of the household; making donations in their name to charities at Christmastime; buying items together at the grocery store for a local food bank; or participating in a charity walk to raise children’s awareness of some of society’s problems. In our competitive and increasingly selfish world, activities like these teach children that it’s not "all about them." Jesus the king shows us that it’s also about others.

Lastly, Jesus’ kingship teaches us a great deal about humility. As God the Son, Christ our King humbled himself to live and die as a simple human being from a poor family in an obscure town. He didn’t have to do it; it was his choice; it was his Father’s plan. This alone should keep us from getting too full ourselves, and inspire us to live as humble servants of a humble God. A famous belief of Islam is that there are ninety-nine names or attributes for God. Names like "The Utterly Just" or "The Sublimely Exalted." However, "The Humble" is not one of them. Humility is an attribute of God unique to Christianity. And it should be characteristic of us- if we are to truly share in the kingship of Christ.

(My book of daily meditations for Lent is now available from Ave Maria Press:

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