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Christ The King

Christ The King

John 18:33-37


The Feast of Christ the King marks the end of the liturgical year, summing up, as it were, all of the events marked in the previous 12 months. His incarnation in the womb of the Virgin, his preaching and miracle-working, and finally his passion, death and resurrection, all add up to the fact that Christ is now exalted as King, ‘so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth’ (Phil 2:10).
What does this kingship mean, and how does it relate to earthly power? It’s helpful to start by noting that the Old Testament is in fact quite ambiguous about kings and their power. In the early books of the Bible, it is God who leads Israel, through charismatic leaders like Abraham, Moses and the Judges, but then the elders of Israel make a strange request of the last judge, Samuel: ‘appoint for us a king to govern us like all the nations’ (1 Sam 8:5). This demand is presented as causing the Lord to grieve: ‘they have rejected me from being king over them’ (1 Sam 8:7). Throughout the Books of Kings, then, we are presented with leaders of varying quality, but very few of them are presented as ideal leaders. Most, in fact, fail to give the Lord due worship and respect, and many, like Ahab, ‘provoke the Lord’ (1 Sam 16:33).

Against this background, Jesus’ proclamation of the ‘Kingdom of God’ gains a new richness. His mission is to bring us back to right relationships with God, by acknowledging him as worthy of our undivided worship and love. In this kingdom, with God restored to his kingly role, all other good things are received and loved appropriately, as given by God, and never in His place.

If Christ is king, then, he is not a king among other kings, competing with them for land and loyalty. Rather, his kingship transcends all earthly power. This is what he means when he says in this Sunday’s Gospel, ‘my kingship is not of this world’ (John 18:36). His claim to authority is total, not provisional in any way, and if we would have Him as king, we must give him all, without reserve. This is what the Servant of God, Dorothy Day, meant, when she interpreted Jesus’ saying about Caesar and God: ‘Once you give to God what belongs to God, there is nothing left for Caesar!’ And yet, the kingship of Christ is broad enough to accommodate different worldly loyalties and traditions. At World Youth Day, for example, one can witness young pilgrims from all over the world enthusiastically waving the flags of their countries and regions, with no hint of rancour or competition between them, because they are flown under the overarching banner of Christ. Acknowledging Christ as King doesn’t imply a particular political ideology, but demands that all human dealings be ultimately subject to the rule of God.

On this feast, then, we should examine our priorities. Who or what is our king? If we find on our own heads the crown that belongs to God, perhaps we should, like the Magi, leave our crowns behind, and journey slowly to Bethlehem to do homage to the true King.
Pilate then went back inside the palace, summoned Jesus and asked him, “Are you the king of the Jews?” “Is that your own idea,” Jesus asked, “or did others talk to you about me?” “Am I a Jew?” Pilate replied. “Your own people and chief priests handed you over to me. What is it you have done?” Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jewish leaders. But now my kingdom is from another place.” “You are a king, then!” said Pilate. Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. In fact, the reason I was born and came into the world is to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.”

-John 18:33-37


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