by Bishop Thomas Gumbleton
Pax Christi USA Teacher of Peace
Have you ever wondered why we as a church celebrate Jesus Christ as king? There was a time in his public life when his followers wanted to make a king and he went and hid himself. He did not want to be a king. Even in today’s Gospel, before Pilate he doesn’t totally disavow his being a king, but he does make it clear that his kingship does not come from this world. In other words, it’s not like any kingship we’ve ever heard of or known about. Why wouldn’t we have made a feast day like Jesus the Good Shepherd? Christ the Shepherd? Or maybe Christ the healer? Christ the teacher? But instead we have chosen to make a feast Christ the King.
Perhaps the explanation for that is twofold, I think. One, it was done at a time, 1925, when Pope Pius XI was negotiating with the leaders of the country of Italy, which had just been reunited. All of the parts of Italy had been brought together under Garibaldi, a military person, and the papal state had been taken away from the pope. No longer was he a civil ruler. All of the territory of Italy that belonged to the pope as a civil kingdom was gone. But then, finally, the pope had gone into hiding in a sense. Living as a prisoner in the Vatican palace, but then Pius XI began to negotiate in finding a treaty with Mussolini that established what we now called the papal state, Vatican City. Pius then in 1925, a couple of years before that happened, did establish this feast. It seems almost like he was trying to say it’s right for the pope to have a kingdom, so he made Jesus a king.
But, it does seem very anomalous because Jesus seemed not to want to be a king. Maybe the second reason Pius XI did this was because the way Jesus understood kingship was almost too challenging for us. He understood kingship as the one who serves. If you want to be first in my kingdom, he told James and John, the disciples who were looking for the first place, you must become the slave of all. Everything is reversed in the kind of kingdom that Jesus said does not come from this world. It’s the reign of God. The reign of dynamic love, not power and might.…