34th Ordinary Sunday (Year C)
(CHRIST THE KING)
(CHRIST THE KING)
First Reading: 2 Samuel 5:1-3 Second Reading: Colossians 1:12-20 Gospel Reading: Luke 23:35-43
“AMEN, I SAY YOU, TODAY YOU WILL BE WITH ME IN PARADISE.”
The story is told that many years ago, a little boy was visiting London with his family, and he decided he wanted to see the king. Of course, when he arrived at the palace, the gates were closed and the soldiers refused his request to see the king. He took his case to a nearby policeman, who said, "I'm afraid you're not allowed in there."
A well-dressed gentleman had walked up and heard the conversation. He turned to the boy and said, "What's the matter?" The boy answered, "I want so much to see the king." The gentleman took the boy by the hand and said, "Come with me." As they moved toward the gate, the soldiers sprang to attention and a guard quickly opened the gate for them to enter. He led the boy into the palace and up the steps, and no one tried to stop them as they went right into the king's offices.
The reason is that the well-dressed gentleman was the Prince of Wales, the king's son, and he was the one who could give the boy access to his father, the king.
So it is that Jesus Christ, the Son of God, alone can give us access to God the Father - and he purchased that access with his own blood, shed on the cross. And he says to each one of us too, “Amen, I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise.”
Today is the 34th Sunday in Ordinary Time and it is also the last Sunday of the Liturgical Year C. On the last Sunday of the Liturgical Year the Church always celebrates the Feast of “Christ the King.” This feast was instituted by Pope Pius XI in 1925 and is observed on this Sunday as it helps us to meditate on Christ the King and Lord, and at the same time reflect on the Second and Final Coming of Christ, the Last Judgment, and the End of the World.
Now, the word 'king' evokes all kinds of images, and whatever image of king comes to our mind may influence subconsciously our thoughts about this feast. Also, while it is true that kings and kingship belong to the past – they are extinct and if at all they exist, they could be found in history books. King David is one such king given as an example in the First Reading of today. Again, in the Second Reading and the Gospel Reading, we are given two highly contrasting pictures of Jesus as King – a highly triumphant one and utterly disgraced one respectively. Surely, to call Jesus Christ “King” is a paradox – but in this is also hidden the central paradox of our Christian faith.
So, what really is this feast of Christ the King all about? Is it still relevant to call Christ – the King? And why is it celebrated at the end of the Liturgical Year? – The feast of Christ the King fits very appropriately into the liturgical year – a cycle which begins with Advent, then moves on to Christmas or the actual birth of the Messiah in Bethlehem, then to the dying and rising of Jesus at Easter, and finally, after the Sundays in Ordinary time, to the end of the liturgical year where Jesus Christ comes in glory at the end of time in today’s feast of Christ the King. This is as it were, a synthesis of the entire salvific mystery. After reflecting on the mysteries in the life of Jesus for the entire year, we eventually come to the definite conclusion that Jesus is Lord, the King of all kings.
DAVID BEING ANOINTED KING OF ISRAEL :
In the First Reading of today from the 2nd Book of Samuel, we see all the tribes of Israel coming to David in Hebron to make him their king. Called by God to lead the chosen people, David had been a shepherd, musician, military hero, and respected leader of his people. Now he would rule as king and make the Israelites secure against their enemies.
Actually, this was the second time that David had been anointed as king. In 2 Samuel, verse 2:4, we read that David was first anointed as king over the house of Judah. But Saul, Israel's first king, though side lined by God already, refused to step aside. This led to a prolonged struggle between them and finally ends when Saul took his own life in a battle with the Philistines. With Saul dead now, all the tribes come to David in Hebron to make him their king. The tribes of Israel express their own conviction that David’s appointment as king comes from God. There is a clear reference to his God-given authority, “You shall shepherd my people Israel and shall be commander of Israel.” King David then makes an agreement with them before God, thus invoking Divine blessings on his reign. Those tribes once loyal to Saul accept this divine appointment of David and affirm that he is the Shepherd of Israel. Shepherd was a traditional title for a king and in Israel it was also a title for God. Thus at this point of his life, David was their shepherd on behalf of God.
Now, David was the greatest of all the kings in Israel; and in a way, he was an image of things to come. Lord Jesus was a descendant of David. Both King David and the Lord Jesus were shepherds. The Almighty God who chose David to shepherd His people Israel is the same God who chose Christ the King as the Shepherd who gave his life for the sheep.
“THIS IS THE KING OF THE JEWS.”
Now, as we celebrate the concluding Sunday of the Liturgical Year C, the Gospel Reading of today from St. Luke does not seem to fit with the title of today’s feast of Christ the King. Here we are given a very different picture indeed. It is a crucifixion scene. It takes us to Calvary and to three crosses on which three 'criminals' are hung - left to die. This was a death reserved for the lowest of the low - and yet, it is recorded here as evidence of the Kingship of Christ.
Twice in the passage, Jesus is referred to as 'the King of the Jews.' Two other times he is called 'the Messiah.' All these references are directed to Jesus as he hung on the cross and they are all made in mockery of him. Here we are presented with a man being executed in shame and ignominy, bleeding and battered on a cross, one of the cruelest and degrading punishments ever devised. Over his head are the mocking words, “This is the King of the Jews.” To every human imagination he does not look like a king.
People are watching him die on the cross, as the leaders, soldiers and people too consider him a fraud a failure. The test they are using is the challenge that if he is truly the King and Messiah why he does not save himself and come down the cross. This indeed is the challenge before him of an earthly king like Caesar and a spiritual king like Jesus. Certainly we prefer those triumphant pictures where Jesus wears a crown and an expensively embroidered cloak with a scepter in his hand as he looks down benignly on his subjects. The Church has chosen quite a different picture for today’s feast. It is to help us wake up out of our complacency and to become more aware of how Jesus came to be our King and what he expects from his subjects. The kingdom of God is about service, sacrifice and love.
Even while he is dying on the cross, Jesus reaches out to sinners with the gift of Salvation. This comes as one of the two criminals, sometimes known as Dismas, who is hanging on a cross next to Jesus senses the truth about Jesus. Rebuking his fellow criminal, he turns and pleads to the one who gave him ultimate hope, "Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” And the crucified King, acting as Savior even at the last moment of his life, responds compassionately to his faith invocation, "Amen I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.” The other criminal however, shows no sign of faith and continues the mockery of others. What this criminal and others viz. the rulers and the soldiers, fail to understand is the divine necessity of Jesus’ death. They do not realize that what he is really doing by dying on the cross is bringing about salvation for those who cannot save themselves. The passage clearly tells us that in spite of the mockery and insult, Jesus is truly the King and Savior. The titles they gave him are true and accurate. But Jesus redefines the true meaning of Kingship and the notion of the Kingdom. This is not a competition of royalty but an expression of leadership that culminates in service. He shuns the status of power and might, domination and force as the moral and practical foundation for life. Jesus is truly King, but not the way his contemporaries imagined. He is King for us through the way of the cross and for us believers who now contemplate this tragic crucifixion scene, the abuses hurled at Jesus were ironic: the crucified One is All that is denied of him. We should not become immune to the scandal of the cross, perhaps the greatest sign that our Christian faith is not some human thinking.
THE KINGSHIP OF CHRIST OVER ALL CREATION:
Next, the Second Reading of today from St. Paul’s Letter to the Colossians is dense and refers to a series of theological realities. It highlights probably an early Christian 'Hymn to Christ.' There in it is given the highly triumphant and magnificent picture of Christ. Two themes are predominant: the kingship of Jesus Christ over all creation and the reconciliation with God of all things, especially man, by means of Jesus’ death on the cross. The first stanza describes Christ before his birth. He is the image of the invisible God, the first born of all creation... The second stanza describes Christ after his earthly life. He is the beginning, the first born of the dead... Christ, the God-man, completely divine and completely human, moves from heaven to earth and back to heaven. He is the head of the Church and the One who holds everything 'in being.' St. Paul's meditation on the Father summing up and reconciling all things in and through Christ, is one of the most beautiful prayers of thanksgiving to the Father. It reminds us to be grateful that we are loved and saved by such a supreme King.
However, the Gospel Reading today may sound, for many of us, somewhat incongruous to this joyous celebration of the feast of Christ the King. Nevertheless, the image of Jesus on the cross accurately and eloquently captures the true nature of his Kingship. It is radically different from the kings of the world. Christ’s Kingship is eternal, universal and perfect. It is the Kingship, not of force or fear but of the power of love. Let us then turn toward the Crucified Lord! He is our true King! In our Christian life, the cross is the best for us. Let us not turn away from it. It is the throne of our King where he offered his life for our sakes; his crown is made of thorns; his garment is the blood flowing from the many wounds all over his body; his scepter are the nails the pierced his hands and feet.
Again, at the end of the Liturgical Year, it is most fitting that the Church resounds the prayer invocation of the repentant criminal Dismas, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom” and listens trustingly to the crucified King’s compassionate assurance of salvation, “Amen, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise”.
Finally, the Liturgical Year ends awaiting the return of Christ, when evil will be defeated and Jesus will begin his reign as the King of kings. Christ’s kingdom begins in the community of people who live in a new and different way because of God’s presence in their lives. Celebrating Christ’s kingship gives us an opportunity to proclaim the good news that his second coming brings joy rather than fear, hope rather than despair. We are cleansed and renewed and brought closer to our God. Today’s feast is both a challenge and an opportunity for us to become aware of our call to become truly both subjects and partners of Jesus our King. Long live the King! May his Kingdom come! And this is the Good News of today.