by Joseph Nangle, OFM
Pax Christi USA Ambassador of Peace
The title “Christ the King”, which we honor on this last Sunday of the liturgical year, is difficult for many in this democratic culture. We don’t have much time for kings and kingship in a society “of the people, by the people, for the people”.
But before looking for a better way to express the reality of Jesus the Christ in human history, it is good to take another look at this title. It is a phrase that indicates an immense paradox, given the fact that Christ’s kingship flows from his execution by hanging. As St. Paul describes it in his letter to the early Christian community in the Greek city of Philippi: “[Christ] emptied himself … becoming obedient to death, even death on a cross” (Phil 2:8). (To underscore the profundity of this statement , “empty oneself” is expressed in Spanish as despojar, to strip away, lay bare oneself.)
We celebrate a king who said of himself, “I have come to serve and not be served.” … “I have washed your feet, so you must wash one another’s feet.” … “Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things?” This kingship is an overwhelming challenge for all of us; it is “the scandal of the cross” as St. Paul put it. It bends the mind and challenges our faith.
But there it is – a marvel to behold!
Fortunately, there are practical lessons we can take to heart here. Jesus’ entire teaching spoke principally of his Kingdom; he continually preached about the “Reign of God” during his short three years of public life. He indicated that his followers and all people of good will would have the privilege and responsibility to contribute to this divine plan for humanity: that God’s kingdom come, God’s will be done on earth. And he modeled this divine objective in large and small ways – many of them totally accessible to us human beings – ordinary gestures of love and concern which can have incredibly far-reaching consequences in a world filled with different values.
- He said “the law was made for humans, not humans for the law” – pointing to the value of human freedom.
- He ate with prostitutes and tax collectors – an affirmation of each person’s dignity.
- He said “seek first…justice” – a statement about right relationships among peoples.
- He counselled forgiveness of sister or brother seventy times – the need for pardon.
- And above all else, “One commandment I give you – love one another.”
A new kind of kingdom and kingship!
Curiously, for some unknown reasons, the centrality of the Reign of God in Jesus’ message was “rediscovered” only a century ago. Several scholarly writings delve into this history, but here we have some practical thoughts on the subject.
First, we should not be surprised or guilty if this “Kingdom theology” is new to us. Theological discoveries such as this take much time to catch the attention of us rank-and-file people of faith. Better to celebrate this discovery and delight in its meaning for our lives.
Secondly, following the last point, reflecting on and praying over this central teaching of Jesus is an enormous challenge and one that has great relevance for our lives of faith. Challenge because we’ve come to understand the coming of the Kingdom of God as the ultimate objective of human existence. Everything we do either promotes or delays that goal. Relevance for our lives in this belief is obvious: it gives meaning to our existence, a compelling reason for living, sharing as co-creators of God’s grand projecto. The Second Letter of St. Peter puts all these thoughts in just a few words. Speaking of the end times, the Apostle writes to the early Christians: “What sort of persons should you be, conducting yourselves in holiness, waiting for AND HASTENING the coming of the day of God” (2 Pt 3:11-12).
Joe Nangle OFM is a Pax Christi USA Ambassador of Peace. As a member of the Assisi Community in Washington, D.C., he is dedicated to simple living and social change. Joe also serves as the Pastoral Associate for the Latino community at Our Lady Queen of Peace, Arlington, Virginia.