The Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe
Theme of the Sunday: A King Who Condemns Nobody
First Reading: 2 Samuel 5:1-3;
Responsorial: Psalm 122;
Second Reading: Colossians 1:12-20;
Gospel: Luke 23:35-43;
*The Sunday Missal, Paulines Publications Africa
The first reading today tells us that the elders of the northern kingdom went to David in Hebron. They said to him, that they saw how God had chosen him not just as head of one tribe, but of all of Israel. In days past, when Saul was their king, he led them to victory against their enemies. Now they asked him to consider them his subjects; they were like his own flesh and bone.
David accepted and they anointed him king of Israel.
After the death of David, his son Solomon took his place. He succeeded in keeping the kingdom together, but later some tribes broke away from Judah and the kingdom was reduced to an insignificant entity.
The people of Israel at the time of Jesus dreamt of the restoration of the kingdom of David when they would again become the rulers of the world. They prayed to God to send them a messiah who would fulfil their dream.
We are told this story on the feast of Christ the King because Jesus is God’s answer to the prayers of his people. He is the messiah, the king whose “empire will stretch from sea to sea, from the river to the ends of the earth” (Ps 72:8).
Why didn’t the people of Israel welcome him? Why did the elders put him to death, instead of anointing him king, as their ancestors had done with David at Hebron? We will be told why in today’s gospel.
Paul is in a Rome prison (Col 4:3.10.18) where he receives Epaphras, the apostle who founded and is animating several communities in the Middle East. But the news he brings is alarming. The Christians there seem to believe that the heavens are inhabited by powers and spirits superior to Christ. Paul writes to the Colossians and begins with the hymn we read today. The first part (15-17) celebrates the primacy of Christ over all creation. The second (18-20) proclaims Christ first in the new creation since he was the first to overcome death and to open the way to God for all. Under him are all Thrones, Dominations, Sovereignties and Powers (the names by which the Colossians described the spirits that frightened them).
Have we all overcome our fear of evil spirits, of witch-doctors and of magicians? There are still so many who engage in superstitious practices, who believe, say, that contact with a woman during her periods lets loose negative and destructive forces? Can such beliefs be compatible with faith in the power of Christ over all?
There are three groups of people standing at the foot of the cross.
First is the crowd of people who do not seem to understand what is going on. Perhaps they are wondering how it is that this man who did not resist death can be the long-expected king and if he is, why doesn’t God save him?
We have noticed that Luke has sympathy for the poorest, the least. He shows us people standing silent and perplexed at the foot of the cross and tells us that they are not the people responsible for the death of Jesus. A few verses later he will remark, “When all the people who had gathered for this spectacle saw what had happened, they returned home beating their breasts” (48).
These people might well represent all people of good will who would like to be able to understand God’s plan, but cannot, because those who could enlighten them are blind and unaware of the evil they are doing.
Also at the foot of the cross are the leaders, those responsible for his death. They, like the elders of Israel who had anointed David king at Hebron, should have been able to recognise Jesus as the messiah. But they “sneered at him” because he was not the king they wanted. He couldn’t even come down from the cross! (35).
Why doesn’t Jesus give them what they want? Why not come down from the cross?
If Jesus had come down from the cross, all would have believed in him. But what would they have believed in? In a God, who humbles his enemies, who defeats the wicked with miracles, who instills fear. This is not the God of Jesus.
If he had come down from the cross he would have betrayed his mission, would have approved of the false God the leaders believed in. he would have confirmed them in their notion that God was like them, strong, arrogant, oppressive and vengeful.
What kind of God do we worship? Do we worship a God who punishes and does miracles to show us that he is the master of the universe? A God who is merciful in this world, but in the next will vent his rage on them? Is this “strong” God compatible with the God Jesus reveals to us on the cross, a God who loves all, who forgives all, who allows himself to be defeated for love?
The third group at the foot of the cross are the soldiers. They are poor people, who for a little money use violence on people whose language, customs and religion are different from theirs. Guilty themselves, they are victims of the folly of their commanders; they must obey orders.
People these days too sell their consciences. People who don’t want to lose their jobs collaborate in the oppression of the poor.
At the centre of today’s gospel is the inscription over the head of Jesus. Luke invites us to contemplate the king on the cross! All our seeking after glory, all our desires to be first to receive applause and praise now appear ridiculous. From the cross Jesus tells all of us the kind of king God has chosen, that the only way to give glory to God is to serve the poor.
At the foot of the cross are three groups of disappointed people.
The crowd is disappointed. They were expecting a messiah to free them. They had set their hopes on this Jesus of Nazareth, but now he is dying, a victim of the injustice he had fought.
Disappointed too are the leaders who had expected heaven to send down somebody capable of saving Israel, a new Moses. Instead they see a man who can’t even save himself.
The soldiers are also disappointed. For them Jesus is a loser.
One of the two thugs is not pleased either. What he wants from any messiah is to be released from his torture. Jesus does nothing to help him.
All are disappointed except one, the second thug. He is the only one who sees in Jesus the king who was expected and calls out to him by name, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” He addresses him in a familiar way, because he sees in him a friend of those who have gone wrong in life. He does not look on him as “lord,” one of too high a social standing for him to approach, but as a companion. He does not expect Jesus to help him by a miracle. He asks only to be allowed to be with him for the last minutes of his life, a life spent in crime. Jesus says to him, “Today you will be with me in Paradise.”
The story of this man is the story of each one of us. Have we ever caused anyone harm through our unjust actions?
Some people might think deep in their hearts that Jesus’ kingship is not properly celebrated in the cross, that the cross is but an unhappy moment and that his real kingship will be evident, at the end of the world, that Christ will come with a powerful army of angels and will show us all, particularly those who crucified him, that he was right.
If this is how we think we have failed to understand the gospel of Luke. It is difficult for us to give up the idea of a triumphant king who defeats and humbles his enemies. We imagine Christ as a king of this world. It is difficult to understand that his triumph comes at the very moment when he seems to have lost, when he gives up his life.
This king who reigns from a cross disturbs us because he demands that we change our life, that we forgive unconditionally all those who have wronged us.
Is there a sin that is stronger than or that can resist the love of Christ?
The Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe
*Adapted from: Celebrating the Word, Year C by Fernando Armellini— Paulines Publications Africa, Revised Edition 2007
“They anointed David king over Israel.”
A reading from the Book of the Prophet Malachi
In those days: All the tribes of Israel came to David at Hebron, and said, “Behold, we are your bone and flesh. In times past, when Saul was king over us, it was you that led out and brought in Israel; and the Lord said to you, ‘You shall be shepherd of my people Israel, and you shall be prince over Israel.’” So all the elders of Israel came to the king at Hebron; and King David made a covenant with them at Hebron before the Lord, and they anointed David king over Israel.The word of the Lord.
Let us go rejoicing to the house of the Lord.
I rejoiced when they said to me, “Let us go to the house of the Lord.” And now our feet are standing within your gates, O Jerusalem. R.Let us go rejoicing to the house of the Lord.
It is there that the tribes go up, / the tribes of the Lord. For Israel’s witness it is / to praise the name of the Lord. There were set the thrones for judgement, the thrones of the house of David. R.Let us go rejoicing to the house of the Lord.
“He has transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son.”
A reading from the Letter of Saint Paul to the Colossians
Brethren: We give thanks to the Father, who has qualified us to share in the inheritance of the saints in light. He has delivered us from the dominion of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. He is the image of the invisible God, the first-born of all creation; for in him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or authorities – all things were created through him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. He is the head of the body, the Church; he is the beginning, the first-born from the dead, that in everything he might be pre-eminent. For in him all the fulness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.The word of the Lord.
GOSPEL READINGLuke 23:35-43
“Lord, remember me when you come in your kingly power.”
A reading from the holy Gospel according to Luke
At that time: The rulers scoffed at Jesus, saying, “He saved others; let him save himself, if he is the Christ of God, his Chosen One!” The soldiers also mocked him, coming up and offering him vinegar, and saying, “If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!” There was also an inscription over him, “This is the King of the Jews.” One of the criminals who were hanged railed at him, saying, “Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us!” But the other rebuked him, saying, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed justly; for we are receiving the due reward of our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.” And he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come in your kingly power.” And he said to him, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”The Gospel of the Lord.