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NOVEMBER 24, 2013: CHRIST THE KING

Readings: 

II Samuel 5:1-3
Colossians 1:12-20
Luke 23:35-43

The late John McKenzie created quite a stir in the late 60s when he published what would become his most read book: Authority in the Church. This "pull-no-punches" Scripture scholar demonstrated that the vast majority of texts in the Christian Scriptures which deal with authority were triggered not by people ignoring or disrespecting the leadership in their various communities, but by the abusive ways in which that leadership was often exercised. Almost always, the communities' leaders, not the people, created the problems the sacred authors encountered and were forced to address.

That's why today's feast of Christ the King is significant... and touchy. Since all Christian leadership should mirror Jesus' leadership, once we label Jesus a king, we have to be extremely careful how we define the title.

It's the title King of the Jews above Jesus' cross which prompts the Jewish rulers' taunt in today's gospel pericope. Given the common idea of royalty, if Jesus is a king he should be looking out primarily for himself, and immediately come down from the cross. Yet, Luke's Jesus is more concerned with the fate of the person crucified next to him than he is with his own. Throughout the evangelist's passion narrative, Jesus is always focusing on the needs of others. Only in this gospel does Jesus heal the man's severed ear in the garden, speak sympathetically to the women mourning his death, look at Peter after his denial, and forgive his crucifiers.

It's good to note that David had already been king of the southern half of Palestine - Judah - when the elders of the northern tribes - Israel - came to him in Hebron and asked him to unite all twelve tribes into one nation under his leadership. David's ability to bring people together was one of his best personality traits, a trait all good leaders should possess.

The disciple of Paul responsible for the letter to the Colossians finds that same characteristic in the risen Jesus. Quoting an early Christian hymn, he reminds his community, "For in him (Jesus) all the fullness was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile all things for him, making peace by the blood of his cross through him, whether those on earth or those in heaven." There's no doubt the writer is well-versed in his mentor's insight into the Body of Christ. We can't be more one than to be part of the body of the person who unites us.

Mark gives us the clearest picture of Christian leadership in chapter 10 of his gospel. After Jesus tears into James and John for their insistence on one day being given the "glory seats," he clarifies what's at the heart of his kind of authority. "You know that those who are recognized as rulers over the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones make their authority over them felt. But it shall not be so among you. Rather, whoever wishes to be great among you will be your servant; whoever wishes to be first among you will be the slave of all. For the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many." Christian leaders are unique. The only leader they can compare themselves to is Jesus.

I find it interesting that we're celebrating this year's feast of Christ the King with Francis as pope. Just as the gospel Jesus redefined king, so Francis day by day is redefining the papacy. Though the title remains, the reality behind it is constantly changing.

I presume no one in heaven is more pleased with this unexpected development than John McKenzie.