November 21, 2021

Brief synopsis of the readings: Continuing with the Old Testament prophet Daniel we see “one like a son of man” on whom was conferred sovereignty, glory, and kingship. All will be his servants and his rule will never pass away. John’s Gospel describes the meeting between Jesus and Pilate on the eve of Jesus’ crucifixion. Pilate asks if he is the king of the Jews. Jesus responds that his “is not a kingdom of this world; if my kingdom were of this world my men would have fought to prevent my being surrendered to the Jews.” Jesus then admitted that he was a king: “I was born for this, I came into the world for this: to bear witness to the truth; and all who are on the side of truth listen to my voice.”

The Catholic calendar bursts with commemorations, feasts and holy days. Many celebrate saints: we all know that we celebrate St. Patrick on March 17th, St. Joseph on March 19th, St. Francis on October 4th, etc. We also celebrate events like the Annunciation of the Lord on March 25th and the Immaculate Conception on December 8th.

And I think we assume we’ve always celebrated these feasts, that they started 2000 years ago. If you believe this, I have bad news. Today we celebrate the last Sunday of the liturgical year, the “Solemnity Of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King Of The Universe.” Mostly we call it “Christ the King.”

And it’s less than 100 years old. In 1922 Pope Pius XI instituted this feast because of the experience of much of the world. On November 11, 1918 World War I ended and much of the Western World struggled to find meaning amidst ashes of 15 million deaths and 23 million wounded. It was the first major war since the advent of the industrial revolution and we witnessed the results of poison gas, machine guns, and air warfare.

We also recognized that this war found its origins in secret treaties among a small group of national monarchs who knew next to nothing of the commoners, laborers or serfs that they led. When the war ended it’s not hard to imagine a world that would throw aside human hierarchies and embrace a communal future that would also throw away a belief in God.

We celebrate this feast not only because we’ve recognize the limits of human monarchy but also because we recognize that our future lies not in our human constructs but in an honest belief in a God who rules us.

Christ the King doesn’t mean we have an excellent human in charge. It means that we are ruled by a Christ that doesn’t fear. All kings, all human rulers, fear the end of their rule. It has caused them to murder those close to them, even if they were close relatives, and become increasingly paranoid and fearful of their futures. Instead of enjoying their rule they’ve spent their time fearing their end.

And it’s not been a picnic for those they rule either. Their subjects recognized that their existence, let alone prosperity, depended on the decisions made by their ruler and their poverty often drove them to choose rebellion and even treason.

But let us look at the dialogue between Pilate and Jesus. Pilate cared for nothing other than his ambition and he cared nothing for Jesus. Jesus was brought to him with the charge that Jesus wished to overthrow him and cause him to lose his job. Once again we see a leader who cares nothing for those he rules over, but only himself and Jesus’ answers clearly confused him. And in the end he allowed his fear to win out and he ordered Jesus’ execution.

We’ve had enough of leaders like Pilate, but what do we do with a king like Jesus? I like to think that we should focus not so much on the kingship of Jesus but on our role as his subjects. Since we need not fear Jesus’ selfish motives (his dying for our salvation makes that clear) we can celebrate our role as his subjects.

An earthly king, no matter how benevolent, cannot guarantee our prosperity. He cannot stop natural disasters, economic downturns, or his own mortality. Subjects of an earthly king always need a “plan B” when something goes wrong. They need to find ways of providing for themselves and their families even if it means taking a selfish share of limited resources.

But while Christ the King does ensure our prosperity, he does provide something much, much more. Christ the King promises our salvation, our admission into a Kingdom that provides more than we can imagine.

And that promise allows us to live with more generosity and kindness here. That promise allows us to look at those around us not a competitors for limited resources but sharers in an infinite kingdom.

In the 99 years since this commemoration was proclaimed we’ve seen the best and the worst of our capabilities. The ashes of World War I didn’t heal in 1922, and as a matter of fact the poverty in Europe allowed the rise of fascism in Germany and Italy and genocide in Germany and the Soviet Union. It also led to World War II.

But it also showed us that when that war was over the victors were able to rebuild and not dominate those who caused those awful events. It showed us the healing of the Marshall Plan in Europe and the determination to rebuild a Japan that did not lose its identity.

It showed us the United Nations, the Peace Corps, and the Civil Rights Movement. Today, here in the United States, people of different races and sexual orientations are able to marry and begin a family.

We’re far from done, and next year’s commemoration of Christ the King will challenge us to renew our commitment to continue to find justice. It will call us to recognize that with Christ as our King we are free to live in love.

Let’s hope that next year we are even a little closer to what Christ calls us to.