Gospel Commentary: Christ the King

Today we look at the Gospel reading for the Solemnity of Christ the King, and seem to find not a triumphant king, but the tired and beaten preacher wearing not a crown of gold, but a crown of thorns. A prisoner whom Pontius Pilate ? the worldly ruler of all he surveys, subject only to Caesar in Rome ? mocks: "Are you the king of the Jews?"

Not what we expect in a king. Yet this is the heart the mystery of Christ's Kingship, a mystery our King Himself explains, first as He says: "My kingdom does not belong to this world," and then: "For this I was born, for this I came into the world, testify to the truth."

What does it mean to be a true king? The "kingdom" of Caesar and Pilate is a kingdom based strictly on fear, military might and mere human loyalty. But the frailty of this kingship becomes apparent when we remember how Pilate was barely in control Jesus? trial: how much he himself was ruled by fear of the Mob, the Pharisees, and Caesar.

And more profoundly still, when we remember that Pilate's authority doesn't even come from himself or even from Caesar. As Jesus tells him later in this Gospel: "you would have no authority over me if it had not been given you from above." This is not a true kingdom?its what Jesus calls a "kingdom of this world."

But the kingship of Christ isn't limited to a power rooted strictly on fear, or might, or popularity. His kingship is based in the truth about the way things really are. The truth that divine kingship is inseparable from divine love. That in this love all things are created by and for Christ ? and that man in particular is created to live like Christ lives, and to reign with Him forever. The truth that the Son of God "came into the world" in order to reveal this plan and to fulfill it by giving Himself completely to us, offering Himself in sacrifice for us. That the kingship of Christ is at once a kingship of glory and humility, of complete power and perfect sacrifice.

So, it makes sense that the Ruler of the universe, who knows the truth about what's really going on, suffers patiently through the petty human efforts of the Romans and Pharisees to exercise dominion over Him. And we see that while Jesus says His kingdom does not belong to this world, He does not mean to imply that the world does not belong to His kingdom. The whole world was created by Him and for Him ? and out of love He has come to bring it into His kingdom.

In the Book of Revelation, St. John tells us that Jesus "has made us a royal nation" ? a nation of kings! In Baptism, Christ gives each of us a share in His kingship. In particular, it is the "special vocation" of the laity to share in the kingship of Christ by going into the workplace, schools and homes, into the voting booth and the public square, and testifying to the truth of Jesus Christ, bringing world fully into His kingdom. And to do this, as He did, even in the face of persecution and suffering.

The Kingship of Christ is a kingship of glory and eternal dominion, but its also a kingship of humble service and obedience in love. It's a kingship not limited to any worldly notions, but founded on the eternal truth of the boundless life and love of Christ the King.

Fr. De Celles is parochial vicar at St. Michael Church in Annandale.

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