A New Kind of King
User’s Guide to Sunday
By Tom and April Hoopes
Sunday, Nov. 21, is the feast of Christ the King (Year C, Cycle II).
Pope Benedict XVI will elevate 24 men to be cardinals on Nov. 20, including Washington Archbishop Donald Wuerl and Vatican curial Archbishop Raymond Burke.
The Holy Father will concelebrate Mass at St. Peter’s Square with the new cardinals at 9:30am.
The Holy Father no longer gives new cardinals the wide-brimmed “galero” hat which you often see on their coats of arms. Instead, he gives them a creased “biretta” hat instead. He also gives each a gold ring that symbolizes their bond with Rome. The Pope chooses the image on the ring. Pope Benedict XVI’s ring has an image of Jesus, with Mary and John to each side. His coat of arms is on the inside.
2 Samuel 5:1-3; Psalms 122:1-5; Colossians 1:12-20; Luke 23:35-43
Doesn’t it seem wrong to call Jesus “king”? It’s a fair question: Why does the Church cling to categories like “king” to describe Jesus when they no longer have relevance to our lives?
After all, hardly anyone is ruled by a king anymore. Often, all we know of kings is limited to the details of how America got rid of ours.
The answer is that, while, yes, it seems odd calling him a king today, it also seemed odd two centuries ago. The point of the feast is that Jesus’ kingship was always utterly different from the world’s understanding of kingship.
The world’s kings are known for the trappings and ceremonies associated with material power. They have crowns, thrones, armies and royal courts. Jesus had none of these things on earth, and he only has them by analogy in heaven.
We see in today’s Gospel what he had: the cross, a crown of thorns and spiritual power.
In the second reading, St. Paul spells out the kind of power Jesus had. He is describing something very different from the kings the world has known.
Jesus is “the image of the invisible God.” This is hardly a crown prince. To be the image of something unseen means something profoundly subtle.
“In him were created all things,” writes Paul. We understand creating; but to be the one “in whom” things are created is an entirely different concept. It makes you a principle and end instead of the matter. Paul seems to be saying that Jesus was not just the carpenter of creation; he was “carpentry.”
“He is before all things, and in him all things hold together,” writes Paul. That makes Jesus not just the principle and end, but also the source and sustaining power of creation.
“He is the head of the body, the Church,” says Paul. In other words, he is both pre-eminent among us and inseparable from us.
It is remarkable how the reading describes such a powerful, all-reaching being who is nonetheless fully man. He is able to reconcile divinity with humanity — but his power is nonetheless almost entirely a spiritual, unseen thing.
We see how this manifests itself on the cross in the Gospel.
The sign above his head proclaims him a king, but nothing else does. He gets no respect from any of the people who normally respect kings.
The kingly people of the time, the rulers, ridicule Jesus precisely for his seeming lack of any power whatsoever. They say, “He saved others; let him save himself.”
“Even the soldiers jeered at him,” says the Gospel.
The only one who mentions his kingship in anything but a mocking way is the thief being crucified with him, who acknowledges his own sin and says, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your Kingdom.”
Jesus replies with the kingly words, “Amen, I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise.”
Those words are what we all hope to hear from this spiritual king who is “the principle of being” described in Colossians. It’s an entirely spiritual hope he gives to the thief. He won’t save the sinner from the cross; he won’t stop the sufferer’s redemptive pain; he won’t make the crowds go away. But he will give the thief the fullness of eternity not too far from now because of the thief’s humility.
We have that same hope.
“At the end of time, the Kingdom of God will come in its fullness,” says the Catechism (1060). “Then the just will reign with Christ forever, glorified in body and soul, and the material universe itself will be transformed. God will then be ‘all in all’ in eternal life.”
What better sentiment to keep in our hearts for the beginning of Advent?
Tom and April Hoopes write from Atchison, Kansas,
where Tom is writer in residence at Benedictine College.