What kind of a king will you proclaim?
Quas Primas - which is Latin for “In the first”, was an encyclical of Pope Pius XI. It was titled such because these are the words that begin it. It was promulgated on December 11, 1925, and introduced the Feast of Christ the King. World War I (1914-1918) had ended, and had not brought real peace, but more hatred, more anger, and more violence. Coming as it did after the War, the encyclical sought to give the whole world a new idea of kingship. The encyclical asked the world to look at Christ, the Universal King, and see how he lived out his kingship. Christ is a King who totally identifies with his subjects and, of these, with the marginalized, the downtrodden, the scum of society, and the poorest of the poor.
The feast of Christ the Eternal King is celebrated every year on the last Sunday in Ordinary time, just before the season of Advent begins. It may be seen as a feast that is both a conclusion and a new beginning. It concludes the ordinary time of the year and is a new beginning or preparation for the coming Messiah.
The readings chosen for the feast of today make two interrelated points. The first is that everlasting dominion is given to Christ who is eternal king. The second is that this King is the one who had been crucified, died, and raised.
The first reading, from the book of Daniel, focuses on the first point. In the vision that Daniel sees, the empires of this world are rendered powerless. The reason for this is because now, all authority is given to one person who is “one like a Son of Man”. He only looks like a human being, but he is not. Also, he is not an earthly figure because he comes from heaven and not from earth. It is to him that sovereignty, honour, glory, and kingship over all peoples, nations, and languages is given. While many link this figure to the Archangel Michael, there is no doubt that, when interpreted in the light of the Gospels, the words fit much better the resurrected Christ. He is the one whose dominion is indeed everlasting and to whom has been given all power and glory.
However, as the Gospel reading of today makes explicit, the kingship of Jesus was not won by force, coercion, intimidation, or violence. It was won on the Cross. In the second of the seven scenes in which Jesus is inside, the people outside and Pilate vacillating, the kinship of Jesus is explained. The question which Pilate asks Jesus “Are you the king of the Jews” is a question that is found in all four Gospels. It is extremely significant and relevant because it is one which determines who Jesus really is and what kind of king he has come to be. In his response, Jesus turns the tables on Pilate and instead of being the one who is questioned, becomes the questioner. However, Jesus’ question is also asked to find out if Pilate has understood the true meaning of kingship. Pilate, however, like the others who have condemned Jesus shows that he has not understood. He refuses to see. He dare not understand. Still, Jesus tries to explain to Pilate the true meaning of kingship and authority. Very clearly his kingship is not one that is won by force or violence. It is a kingship that has as its basis truth, justice, peace and unconditional sacrificing love. It is a kingship in which the king does not expect people to die for him; rather he goes to his death for them. It is a kingship in which no matter how badly he is abused and reviled, he will continue to be a king who will give and keep giving without expecting anything in return.
That this is indeed Jesus’ kingship is confirmed by the second reading from the Book of Revelation, in which John tells us that we were loosened from the bonds of sin and selfishness by the blood of Jesus on the Cross. It is through this one act of altruism and unselfishness that Jesus has become king and that we have been made his brothers and sisters. Since he is not merely a God who was but also, a God who is, he invites, beckons, and challenges us to the same selfless service and unconditional love. He beckons us and invites us to his way of life.
His way of life is not only a life of words, but a life of action as well. It is a life in which we, as followers of this eternal king, will forget ourselves and concentrate on how we can make the lives of those around us better. It is a life in which we wake up from our stupor and move out of the islands that we have built and become aware of the cries and needs of people, especially the poor. It is a life through which we will keep proclaiming that violence, domination, hostility, bloodshed, and aggression can never be the answer. It is a life where authority means service and greatness means to be last of all.
Thus, the good news we celebrate today is that we have a King who, unlike the kings of this world, pays attention to us and helps us, not only when we are needy and disadvantaged, but especially when we are needy and disadvantaged. The challenge for us today is to forget our own need for love and happiness. The challenge is to reach out in love, as Christ the Eternal king has shown, to make someone else happy, someone who may be in greater need. Are we willing to celebrate and extol such a king?