Much of the Christian way seems paradoxical, not just for those looking in, but for active followers of Christ, too. And it was always thus. Jesus spent much time trying to make his disciples understand when they got the wrong end of the stick. We, his disciples in 2019, often have the same problem by missing his message entirely. But today’s feast of Christ the Universal King, and it’s accompanying Gospel, is a reminder that Jesus remains one of the most misrepresented and misunderstood characters of all time – now, just as when he was nailed to the cross.
We looked at Jesus on the cross, the world of humanity looked at him, and we judged him: “As for the leaders, they jeered at him. “‘He saved others,’ they said, ‘let him save himself if he is the Christ of God, the Chosen One.’ The soldiers mocked him too, and when they approached to offer vinegar they said, ‘If you are the king of the Jews, save yourself’. Above him there was an inscription: ‘This is the King of the Jews’.” In other words, we did to Jesus what we still do to him today: we gave him an ultimatum: do what we want you to do or we won’t believe. Do as we think a king should do, or you are no king. Satisfy us, or you’re not good enough for us.
But Jesus didn’t do those things. Instead, he remained humble, he didn’t respond to our jibes. And in the midst of the cries of abuse, he listened to the wonderful words of the penitent thief rebuking the third crucified man. The humble and God-fearing penitent said: “Have you no fear of God at all? You got the same sentence as he did, but in our case we deserved it: we are paying for what we did. But this man has done nothing wrong.” Then he went on: “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”
Earlier, in the desert wilderness, the Israelites put God to the test. They gave him ultimatums. They made a construct of God and challenged him to adhere to it, or they wouldn’t believe. And this is what we – that is, humanity – still do, today. In Christ’s ministerial life, the world was looking out for the new Messiah. But many were so full of themselves that they couldn’t see him when he appeared in their midst. They were looking out, not for the Messiah, but for what they thought a Messiah should be.
We humans have a propensity to seek out kingship, and yet, our understanding of kingship can still be woefully inadequate. Christ’s kingship is one of love, because his is the King of Love. But we can all run the risk of taking his kingship and rubbishing it. After all, what does this world, our culture, our workplace, make of true humility, of turning the other cheek, of sowing peace, of true understanding, of giving until it hurts? In a world where we watch television shows that make entertainment of people being pitted against each other and distressing each other, we have begun to forget true kingship.
And the penitent sinner? We know what Jesus said in reply: “Indeed, I promise you, today you will be with me in paradise.” This is a wonderful moment. In the midst of a world that couldn’t or wouldn’t let go of their own notions of God, even when God incarnate was there in their midst being murdered, Jesus turned to the most broken, the least person in the scene. A sinner, someone condemned, rebuked, hated by society. And to him – and to him alone – he promised eternal happiness. This didn’t shame the religious leaders who looked on scoffing, because they had lost the ability to see outside themselves, to see that a thief could be loved. No, to them this was more evidence that this man, Jesus, was a fraud.
On this Feast day, we ask for the grace to let God work in us, allowing him to act beyond our own small, parochial boundaries, so that we may be affected by his kingship. Let us gain the peace, the understanding, the true humility on which love depends. And let us fall down and worship, whether it is in a cold dark stable or on the hill of Golgotha: let us worship Christ the King, the king of love. Amen.