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NOVEMBER 26, 2006: CHRIST THE KING

Readings: 

Daniel 7:13-14
Revelation 1:5-8
John 18:33-37

Those of us who faithfully used Pius Parch's Year of Grace during our pre-Vatican II seminary days don't have to be reminded that Christ the King ". . . is the most recent feast in honor of the Lord." The learned liturgist made certain his readers understood that "the solemnity was instituted by Pope Pius XI on December 11, 1925."

Only when I began studying Scripture did I begin to appreciate how exceptional it is to have a feast commemorating one of the many titles the Christian Scriptures give to Jesus. There's no feast, for instance, of Christ the Teacher, or Christ the Prophet, or Christ the Shepherd. Why Christ the King?

Historians point out that lots of "stuff" was going on in 1925 to put Christ's kingship front and center. The church had steadily been losing its political clout. Its civil authority over a large section of Italy had been forcibly terminated in 1870. By the beginning of the 20th century, almost every "Catholic" king and queen had been replaced with democracies. Our feast met the church's need at the time.

But, by emphasizing Jesus' kingship, the church chose to stress the one title of Jesus which demands most explanation. The teachings and ministry of Jesus are at right angles to what we think about kingship. Though some of our sacred authors refer to him as a king, they're always forced to give a new definition to the term.

That's why the gospel Jesus is never given the title without some clarification. When Pilate in Mark, Matthew and Luke asks Jesus, "Are you a king?" his response "You say so!" is taken by scholars to mean, "That's what you say! I've never called myself a king." Even in today's pericope from John, when Pilate asks, "Are you the king of the Jews?" Jesus contrasts his idea of kingdom with Pilate's. "My kingdom does not belong to this world . . . . As it is, my kingdom is not here."

Even when the Roman procurator thinks he's succeeded in forcing Jesus to admit he has a "kingly agenda," Jesus gives a completely different interpretation of his mission. "For this I was born and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice." The power and authority which Jesus exercises goes deeper and touches more people than any earthly king ever could. Because he opens up the truth to us, he'll always be our leader.

Ancient Jews could only dream of an apocalyptic future when God would give one of them (or their whole nation) the "dominion, glory and kingship" which the author of Daniel believed they deserved.

Yet, as we hear in our Revelation passage, what elevated Jesus to that high position wasn't his birth or an office he assumed. He only becomes the "ruler of the kings of the earth" because he's the faithful witness, the first born from the dead." As we read some weeks ago in chapter 10 of Mark, Jesus believes his importance comes from the importance of those he serves.

That's why this Christian apocalyptic writer looks into the future and sees Jesus exalted because " . . . he loves us and freed us from our sins by his own blood . . . (he's) made us a royal nation of priests in the service of his God and Father . . . ."

In other words, Jesus planned that we would discover his importance only after we learned about our own importance, shown by his love of us. Those who share the faith of Jesus turn the idea of kingship upside down.

Perhaps these verses from Revelation are one of the reasons Quakers have no division of clergy and laity in their communities. They contend that no one is more important than others. Jesus has transformed all of us into "a royal nation of priests." That's one of the truths he came to teach us.