The other day I had to call a "customer assistance" line. Of course you immediately get fed to the lions of the loop . . .. the answering machine loop, where the first choice you are offered is whether you want your instructions to come in English or Spanish. Of course the instructions for requesting English are given in English, while the instructions for requesting Spanish are given in Spanish. It would be ridiculous for the language choice options to all be offered in only one language. It would defeat the purpose of trying to communicate with the caller in their own language.
The same logic is suggested by the sign, the "epigraphe," hung over Jesus as he hung on the cross. According to Luke "This is the King of the Jews" was written in Greek, in Latin, and in Hebrew--the three world languages, the languages of power and learning in the first century. Of course this slogan angered the Jews but as we celebrate this feast of “Christ the King.” What does this mean too us?
This week is our last week of the liturgical year and when you return back next Sunday you will see purple again and we will have the ceremony of the lighting of the Advent candles which will be found in the sanctuary and it will remind us that we have begun the Season of Advent, a season that prepares the way of the Lord.
Looking at our American history we were a nation that never wanted a monarchy so it is difficult for us to picture this kingship of Jesus that we are celebrating this morning/evening. The only thing that we can relate to is what we see many times in our newspapers and on television and that is the royal family in Great Britain. Names like Queen Elizabeth, Prince Charles, Prince William, etc. and we see them always with pomp and circumstance but the person that the church celebrates today Jesus Christ is not a man that was ruler of an earthly kingdom but he is the ruler of Heaven and Earth. This Jesus didn’t come with pomp and circumstance but came as a poor child born in a humble stable. Jesus didn’t go around wearing a crown (the only crown he wore was made out of thorns), didn’t wear an expensive king’s robe (except the cloth that he was wrapped with as the soldiers mocked him), didn’t get places of honor but humbled himself and washed the feet of his disciples showing service to our neighbor. Jesus was a person that we could relate too and not someone that was sitting on a throne giving out commands to his servants. It was difficult for the Jews to conceive that this Jesus of Nazareth was the king, the messiah, the anointed one. They pictured that the Messiah would come down in glory but not as a poor man that died on the cross but as scripture says he came down and became like us in everything except sin.
The readings today do not permit a one-sided approach to this day by only celebrating Christ’s everlasting glory. In the second reading St. Paul’s exalted vision of Christ as ruling over all powers and all creation is tempered by the sober presentation of Jesus as a crucified “King of the Jews.” The tension between the two readings is that we can never celebrate an exalted Christ without also acknowledging the suffering Jesus.
Yes, even a jubilant celebration of Christ our King includes the reality of our King as savior—one who suffered and died for us. This is the pattern of own lives: we suffer, die to self, and only by joining ourselves to the suffering Christ will we share in the glory of the victorious Christ. Jesus in fact, has the power to “save himself,” he chooses, rather, to save a condemned criminal. The extent and reach of his kingship is revealed in saving mercy. In this gospel, one criminal acknowledges that “we have been condemned justly.” Yet, when the same criminal asks, “Jesus remember me,” Jesus responds, “today you will be with me in Paradise.” In this short exchange Jesus reveals the kind of King he is—one who is full of mercy and uses his power to save others. When we, like the criminal, confess our own sinfulness and seek divine mercy, then Jesus can be for us our merciful King. As the Good Thief had the insight of faith to recognize who Jesus was, so do we share in the same faith and the same glory, as we recognize who Jesus is for us. We can never celebrate the sovereignty of God revealed in Jesus without first acknowledging the suffering of Christ.
Pope Benedict said that, “God’s kingship—a rule of love that seeks and finds man in ways that are always new. For us, this means a trust that cannot be shaken. God rules as king over us still and, what is more, he rules over each one of us. None of us should be afraid...God can always be found...the feast of Christ the King is therefore not a feast of those who are subjugated, but a feast of those who know that they are in the hands of the one who writes straight on crooked lines.
So my dear brothers and sisters as we celebrate this great feast let it be for us a feast to honor the King and Lord. A feast to be recognized as a day of our salvation of course because of Christ being our King but a king that died for us and rose over death and to take consolation in the words he told the good thief, “today you will be with me in paradise.”
Living Liturgy, p. 256