This weekend we celebrate the Feast of Christ the King. Marking the end of the liturgical year, Pope Pius XI instituted this feast in 1925 as a way of highlighting God’s ultimate sovereignty over all creation in the person of Jesus Christ. Since our own St. Dominic’s Church was mid-construction when this feast was newly established, the Dominicans were inspired to commission a remarkable statue of Christ the King. Displayed in its prominent and familiar place in harmonious juxtaposition with the ambo, the statue of Christ the King is a reminder to us all that, in order for us to be part of God’s Kingdom, Christ must reign in our hearts.
Jesus’ sovereignty is unique. In order to understand this, we recall that, in the Old Testament, the kingship arose as a rejection of God’s appointed judges and prophets. After Israel enters the promised land, they want to be politically structured like other nations by establishing an anointed king. God takes this as a rejection of himself. He warns that creating a king is not a brilliant idea, since such a concentration of power often corrupts. Kings will seek service. They will divide families to produce armies. They will not always be reasonable. Kings fail. Yet when the people insist, God allows for Saul to be anointed king. When Saul’s reign founders almost immediately, God initiates a new plan for salvation. First, God raises up a shepherd named David to be King. Next, God promises David that, from his progeny, he will send a future “Anointed One” who will establish an eternal kingdom. The Hebrew word Messiah and its Greek equivalent Christos mean Anointed One. Finally, God fulfills this promise in the person of Jesus, who is the Christ, the Anointed Messiah. (Christ is not Jesus’ last name, but a title referring to his kingship!)
In the first reading we hear what might be considered the heart of the Scriptures themselves: the eternal reign of the Messiah: “As the visions during the night continued, I saw one like a Son of man coming, on the clouds of heaven; when he reached the Ancient One and was presented before him, the one like a Son of man received dominion, glory, and kingship; all peoples, nations, and languages serve him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that shall not be taken away, his kingship shall not be destroyed.” (Daniel 7:13-14) Heaven and earth will pass away. Nothing is forever save the sovereignty of Jesus the anointed King of the Universe.
But this Kingship is surprising. In the Gospel this weekend, when Pilate asks Jesus if he is a king, Christ clarifies that his kingdom is not of this world. Jesus answered, ‘My kingdom does not belong to this world. If my kingdom did belong to this world, my attendants would be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Jews. But as it is, my kingdom is not here.’ So, Pilate said to him, ‘Then you are a king?’ Jesus answered, ‘You say I am a king. For this I was born and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.’ (Jn. 18:35-37)
This spiritual kingdom is signaled in the way Christ is anointed. In the days before his Passion and Death, Jesus eats a meal at the house of a friend named Simon. Before the meal, a woman, traditionally identified as Mary Magdalene, anoints Jesus with perfumed oil on his head and feet. When some disciples complain that this was an extravagant waste, Jesus replies that Mary’s action is preparation for his burial and a symbol that his death is connected to his kingship. Unlike other kings, Christ did not come to be served, but to serve. Jesus’ kingship is activated by the cross. For Christ willingness to give his life as a ransom for many is the reason he reigns.
The image of Christ as a servant king is reflected in the scene of final judgment in the Gospel of Matthew. In this parable, as Christ separates sheep from goats, he makes it clear that our judgement is directly connected with how we treat the least among us. “Then the righteous will answer him and say, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? When did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? When did we see you ill or in prison, and visit you?’ And the king will say to them in reply, ‘Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of the least brothers of mine, you did for me.’” (Matt 25:38-40)
By identifying himself with the least, Jesus reveals that his kingship is centered in service. To be part of Christ’s kingdom, we are called to this same service. No matter our vocation, we have opportunities to respond to those in need. When we do this, Christ reigns in our lives. When we reach out to those in pain, Christ reigns. When we let go of resentment’s chains, Christ reigns. When we seek to give without personal gain, Christ reigns. Reign in our hearts, Christ the King!