A happy feast of title, everyone! It’s tough to beat a place who’s patron is Christ, the King Himself; King of kings, Lord of lords, alleluia, alleluia.
The subject of royalty has been popping up a lot lately in my own consumption of culture. On last Thursday’s episode of Elementary, Sherlock and Watson investigated a suspect who was working to bring the United States back under the rule of an English monarch. Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge was in the newspaper for wearing pantyhose, which wasn’t the worst thing her husband’s family was in the paper for that week. And what came on my iPod while I was lifting some weights? David Bowie singing I, I will be king; and you, you will be queen.
As a country that shrugged off kingly rule not so long ago, we have a complex relationship with the monarchy. We know what we’re missing and get to enjoy the spectacle from a safe distance.
Kings can be dangerous, but way back in the 11th century before Christ, the tribes of Israel were just itching for one. The tribes had been instructed by the Lord to set up a system of judges, which is one of the reasons there’s a book in the Old Testament called Judges, and that system worked really well. But Israel had grown as a people – their territory and riches were pretty substantial, and every self-respecting nation needs a king, right? The problem was that the prophet Samuel had heard from the Lord that Israel already had a king and that king was God Himself, and so they didn’t need an earthly king. The tribes insisted, though, and eventually the Lord, through Samuel, gave them Saul as their first king. Saul, though distinguished in battle and sometimes a decent king, went on to do things like visit a fortune teller to call up the dead and to fall on his own sword, only to need help in killing himself.
Israel’s kings had a mixed record, to say the least, but they were very slow to give up their dream of a righteous and powerful king. “King imagery is more problematic today, not only because of widespread suspicion of hierarchy and masculine dominance (a lordly word, that). We are also not likely to be drawn to chivalrous virtues. Notions like honor, obedience, duty, and loyalty vex anyone whose highest value is individualism. (We like to watch it on period pieces, but that’s about it) We love our autonomy. We celebrate choice because it is ours. Doing the will of someone else is another matter. Service? To serve? Servant? Servitude? The words insinuate dominance: dominion, Dominus, Lord.”1
But “The fact is, the language of Near Eastern kingship and kingdom sit at the core of Christian revelation. The reign of God was the centerpiece of Jesus’ preaching; proclaiming Jesus as the Christ (the expected royal Anointed One of the “age to come”) lies at the heart of our creed. Dismissing or thoroughly recasting that symbolism is simply not an option. Our only choice is to retrieve the meaning of biblical king-talk and discover afresh how it applies to the living of our faith today.”2
As we move through this glorious feast and into Advent, now is the time to do such a thing. Pontius Pilate did us a favor today, he asked the question the whole world wanted to know: “Are you the king of the Jews.” And by extension, then, is Jesus the King of, well, everything? “My kingship is not of this world,” Jesus said, and if we stop there, it sounds like this world is somehow separated from maybe a spiritual kingdom. But no. Jesus went on, “If my kingship were of this world, my servants would fight, that I might not be handed over to the Jews; but my kingship is not from the world.”
My kingship is not from the world. We didn’t make Jesus king, we didn’t have to. Jesus’ authority comes from God because He is God, Emmanuel, God with us, both the cosmic King we celebrate today and the humble Son whose birthday we will soon celebrate.
The good news of Jesus Christ is not just that He is King over all, but also that we get to share in His Kingdom. In our baptism we became adopted children of the living God, fellow heirs of His Kingdom, and that changes everything. It doesn’t change our circumstance, by the way – we still live in a terrifying world, a world in which the evil and the arbitrary seem to hound us on all sides. Remember that this is still the same world that executed the King we celebrate today, and so fear and uncertainly is natural and understandable. But today reminds us that that same King, though slain, still reigns; His Kingdom is everlasting to everlasting; His Kingdom cannot be shaken by terror, cannot be taken away from Him, and so it cannot be taken away from us. That makes those who live in His Kingdom truly free, free from eternal uncertainly, eternal fear; free to love those who might hurt us, to forgive those who do hurt us, free to live like Jesus because we will live forever with Jesus. All hail the King.
1John Kavanaugh, SJ http://liturgy.slu.edu/ChristKingB2015/theword_embodied.html
2Dennis Hamm, SJ http://liturgy.slu.edu/ChristKingB2015/theword_hamm.html