What Kind of King?

What Kind of King?

Solemnity of Christ the King. Fr Terence Crotty preaches on two images of kingship which apply to Christ.

‘The Feast of Christ the President’ just wouldn’t be the same. This man cannot be seen to be fighting elections and pandering for popularity. ‘Christ the President’ is altogether too much up to date and relevant for Jesus Christ. There has to be something in it of the mystique, the antiquity, and the power that goes with the title of ‘King’.

That Christ is King, however, is in many ways a particularly apt title for the present time for other reasons. Like Christ himself, most kings have been deposed and are living in obscurity, a trapping of bygone days and Victorian ways.

Both images, then, seem appropriate in completely different ways. Which do we opt for on this feast? Well, both, actually, since Christ is King in good times and bad, ‘in season and out of season”‘(2 Tim 4:2), and both ways of looking at the title of ‘King’ tell us something about him.

This makes the Feast of Christ the King a feast of hope. Consider the opposite:

The three men I admire most,
the Father, Son and Holy Ghost,
they took the last train for the coast
the day the music died,

as Don McLean writes in his song ‘American Pie’. Christ as King may be insignificant to most, but we say that he is King in hope and faith that Jesus hasn’t gone away, that ‘God be true, though every man be false’ (Rom 3: 4).

If we are to believe the unbelievable, that Jesus is universal King in a world that ignores him, we should remember that we are not the first to accept what seems unbelievable. In fact, he himself is the first to accept this truth in spite of appearances.

Like someone expecting a crown, he says at the Last Supper, ‘Father, glorify your Son,’ while the silver is already rattling in Judas’ hand. And the Father glorifies him, on the cross. The only sign of his glory is a crown of thorns and the title over him, ‘This is the King of the Jews’.

Here he has triumphed against the temptation to power, to fame, to wonderworking. Satan tempted him with these in the desert; the failure of Israel to listen to him must have tempted him to use them as his ‘Plan B’, and Jesus has defeated them a second time, and now with no return.

Jesus reigns from the cross as a King. ‘For what,’ Pope St. Leo the Great asks, ‘could be more royal than a soul which by subjecting itself to God becomes ruler of its own body?’

A man crucified, who says, ‘Father forgive them’; an executed criminal who can promise heaven to a thief. This is a man who is a ruler, a man in charge of himself, ruling from the cross. So Jesus is king, whether the crowd approves or not.

Inseparable from Christ the King is the Kingdom of God. Here we want the approval of the crowd. Where Christ the King is approved by the crowd, in any decision, any choice, this is the Kingdom of God built up bit by bit, step by step, decision after decision, choice after choice.

Where the crowd disapproves and mocks or, worse still, thinks him dead, this is the Kingdom of God suffering a reversal, decision by decision, choice by choice, thoughtless action by thoughtless action, crime by crime, death by death.

In these last three months, since 11 September, we have seen the alternative to the kingship of Christ. We have seen the quest for power, the decision to act as if Jesus is dead. And we have seen its consequences. We have seen its consequences again, it should be said, since we have witnessed it before, and continue to witness it many smaller ways in families, friendships, and individuals in our society.

Many people have turned to God in prayer as a response, having seen what the alternative ultimately means. The Kingdom of God has suffered a reversal of enormous proportions, widespread violence and sadness of great intensity. Having seen the alternative, will we now, at last, start building up the kingship of Christ, decision by decision, step by step, choice by choice?

That Christ is king does not depend on the approval of the crowd, but can we still doubt that the crowd needs Christ the King?

Readings: 2 Sam 5:1-3 | Col 1:11-20 | Luke 23:35-43

fr. Terence Crotty is a member of the Irish Province of the Order of Preachers who studied at Blackfriars, Oxford, from 2000 to 2002.