Christ - a Powerless King

Homily for the Thirty-Fourth Sunday of Year C - Solemnity of Christ the King

by Fr. Tommy Lane

“King” is a word we do not normally use to describe Jesus because we associate the word “king” with power and majesty and Jesus did not display that kind of power or majesty. If you heard someone describing Jesus as king you might reply, “but he was born in a stable.” True, Jesus was not the kingly, majestic type. When Satan showed Jesus all the kingdoms of the world and said they could all be his if Jesus worshipped him (Luke 4:5-7), Jesus replied that only God is to be worshipped (Luke 4:8). Satan offered a temptation to display power. But Jesus resisted that temptation always. Jesus avoided all shows of earthly power and authority.

Jesus was a king because he has a kingdom but his kingdom is totally at odds with any display of power in this world. Some people like to dominate others, abuse their power, and manipulate others. But that has no place in Jesus’ kingdom. Those with power can unfortunately abuse their power in so many ways but Jesus is totally powerless on the cross; he cannot even save himself, “He saved others, let him save himself if he is the Christ of God.” (Luke 23:35) The values in Jesus’ kingdom are service and humility. If we want to be great we must be like children (Luke 18:17). We are to carry our cross after Jesus every day (Luke 14:27). There is no place for violence or retribution in Jesus’ kingdom. Jesus is a king but his kingdom is not of this world. It was because nations and states were abusing their power that Pope Pius XI introduced this feast in 1925. So this is only a recent feast in the Church, and abuse of power is what led to its introduction, using power in the opposite way to Jesus. Jesus did not abuse power, and he is our model. Jesus, the humble king, is an example to those who abuse power that abuse of power has no place in Jesus’ kingdom. There is no envy or greed or lust for power in Jesus.

In many ways we see that Jesus’ kingdom is totally at odds with any display of power in this world. Jesus kept company with tax-collectors, sinners and prostitutes, so much so that the authorities described Jesus as “a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax-collectors and sinners.” (Luke 7:34) You would expect kings to receive important people and dignitaries but Jesus received the lowly and rejected people of his time. A king might expect to receive a gift but Jesus gave gifts, he restored health to those who were sick. Jesus was not the kingly type according to our understanding of king; he is a powerless king! Kings wear a crown. What sort of crown did Jesus wear? It was a crown of thorns. What throne do we see Jesus sitting on in the Gospel today? (Luke 23:35-43) It is the cross. Instead of an army there were people beneath his cross asking him to come down if he was indeed the Son of God (Luke 23:35). So Jesus’ idea of king and power is totally opposite to the world’s idea of a king and power. That is why the preface to the Eucharistic Prayer in today’s Mass describes Jesus’ kingdom as

a kingdom of truth and life
a kingdom of holiness and grace
a kingdom of justice, love and peace.

In the Gospel today (Luke 23:35-43) we see Jesus sitting on the most unusual throne of the cross. ‘King of the Jews’ was written over it. But that moment of pain and humiliation was passing, and then Jesus assumed his real throne at the right hand side of his Father. This can teach us something; to bring about the kingdom of God we may have to abandon what the world considers important and even be prepared to be ridiculed as Jesus was on the cross. It was not easy for Jesus to begin establishing his kingdom with values at odds to those of the world; it cost him his life. It is not easy for the Church now trying to establish the kingdom of Jesus in a society growing daily more secular and pagan. But for those who die to themselves, who truly open themselves to Jesus, the reward is a share in Jesus’ kingdom, “Indeed I promise you, today, you will be with me in paradise.” (Luke 23:43)

This feast is an invitation to all those who have power or authority of any kind to compare their use of power or authority with Jesus. Are they using their power to serve others or to manipulate? Are they using their power for the building up of a more just society or to feather their own nest? Are they using their power in any way that might cause pain to others or in a way that could help to alleviate pain? In the prayer Jesus taught us, we pray, “thy kingdom come.” Jesus has shown how to bring about that kingdom. Let us pray that nations and individuals will be humble enough to look at how Jesus used power and bring about the kingdom of God.

Copyright © Fr. Tommy Lane 2013

This homily was delivered when I was engaged in parish ministry in Ireland before joining the faculty of Mount St. Mary’s Seminary, Emmitsburg, Maryland.

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