This is the King we’ve been looking for!

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Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe, Year C:
Nov. 24, 2013

2 Sam 5:1-3; Ps 122; Col 1:12-20; Luke 23:35-43

In about the year 380 B.C., the Greek philosopher Plato wrote the work we know as “The Republic.” And in its opening, he explores a timeless question: we all want good human leaders who can teach us, govern us, guide us, in ways that will help us to grow and prosper, individually and collectively. But where will we find such leaders?

  • For, as we well know, Plato recognizes that so many rulers throughout history have seen their position as an opportunity to exploit the nation and its people for their own gain. That certainly isn’t the kind of ruler that we want!
  • But then, it can be hard to find someone with the right kind of knowledge and ability, who would be able to lead well. And such a person, he says, would much rather devote his time and energy to helping himself and his family—not to pouring himself out selflessly for the nation!

Where then can we ever find the ruler that we need: honest, self-sacrificing, insightful, highly competent? It’s a question that Plato asked then and we are still asking now. And he devoted the rest of the book to exploring some ideas of how to do this—showing how very difficult it would be.

On this last Sunday of every liturgical year, we celebrate the kingship of Christ: our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe. And we know that similar questions surround this notion of Christ being a king. What does it mean to say that Christ is a king? Do we want a king? How does this all play out?

And these questions appear not only now, in 21st-century America, but, as we heard from the Gospel, also right to his face. For as the Gospel reading begins, our Lord Jesus is on the cross. He has been scourged, mocked, and condemned to a death by execution that is one of the most shameful, painful, and powerless that the Roman Empire had devised for its most dangerous criminals. And we hear that so many around him are saying: If you are the chosen one… if you are the ChristIf you are the King of the Jews—then save yourself! Come down from that cross! Save yourself and us!

And don’t we hear the echo of Satan’s own words from the Temptations that Jesus experienced back at the beginning of his public ministry, right after his baptism, during his 40 days in the desert?

  • If you are the Son of God, Satan said then, won’t you use miraculous power to satisfy your own physical hunger?
  • Won’t you manipulate God the Father to show the world how much he loves you?
  • Won’t you bow down and worship me in order to gain control of all the kingdoms of the world?

Isn’t that what the Son of God does? Isn’t that what the King of the Universe does?

And these answers matter to us not only for what they tell us about our Lord Jesus, but also for what they tell us about ourselves. When we were baptized, we were conformed to him; and we were given a share in his own offices of prophet, priest, and king—symbolized in infant baptism by the anointing with sacred chrism on the top of the head. We were made to share in his kingship—so it matters to each of us, very personally, what that kingship is all about.

In recent weeks, we have heard many parables that our Lord told that St. Luke passes on to us in his Gospel—parables that show the truth of what our situation as human beings is, as our Lord Jesus knows it to be. We have heard about how we are like a single sheep, far from its shepherd and its flock: lost, alone, and afraid. We have heard about how we are like the Prodigal Son, far from home, with every penny spent, hungry and degraded. This is our sorry situation, in a world wounded by sin, in a human race and with our own hearts wounded by sin.

And into our darkness comes the true King, our Lord Jesus, to find us. As St. Paul wrote in our second reading, he is the firstborn of all creation. He was there before our fall into sin, so he enters our world with all of the awesome goodness of the original creation and none of the corruption of sin.

  • All things were created through him: he has all of that knowledge and wisdom that we see running through the workmanship of all creation. So he has all of the knowledge that we need in a king.
  • And every power—whether thrones or dominions or principalities or powers—every power whether natural or human or supernatural is subject to him. So he has all the power that we need in a king.
  • And what about the generous self-sacrifice? Not only did he empty himself to take on our human nature and become man, but he lowered himself still further to death on a cross. This is no king that will exploit us for his own gain; this is a king that won’t even use his power to come down off the cross and save his body, because he wants to truly save our souls.

And, if that wasn’t enough, there’s more! Because he isn’t just the firstborn of the first creation, but of the second creation, the new creation: he is the firstborn from the dead. He is the firstfruits of the Resurrection, a purification and transformation that began that Easter Sunday when he rose, and into which he wants to bring every one of us and indeed the whole universe. He gives us the benefits of that resurrection life right now, in part, beginning with our baptism; and he will give us the benefits entirely when he comes again and brings about the New Heavens and the New Earth.

That’s what it means for Jesus to be King of the Universe: all-knowing, all-powerful, all-loving, and the Way that leads us to eternal life. That’s the king I need; that’s the king I can believe in; that’s the king I can worship.

And that is the king who makes himself present in this Holy Mass, as at every Mass: to instruct us by his word; to unite us to himself and his way; to feed us with himself in Holy Communion; to lead us to the Father; and to empower us to bring all of our lives under his beautiful rule.

If you are the chosen one, if you are the Christ, if you are the Son of God, if you are the King of the Jews… then save us! “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” “Amen, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”

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