Today we end the Liturgical Year by marking the Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe. This Feast is sometimes a puzzle to me. Too often we cast Jesus as a triumphant powerful king: a kind of mashup of Thor and King Arthur. I find this image hard to reconcile with the Jesus of scriptures, who eschewed power, lived simply, and was crucified. Yet it is precisely remembering that Jesus is the Crucified King, which helps me find a doorway into celebrating this Feast. For Jesus is king in ways that defy our understanding of power and might, and is the ruler of a kingdom that is beyond our human conceptions. We must remember that the Kingdom of God is about transformation not domination, and Jesus’ leadership is marked by solidarity and compassion, not might and vengeance.
In our world today we know the importance of good leadership. Perhaps because we’ve been plagued by politicians who sit on their hands while hundreds of thousands die during this pandemic, religious authorities who care more about their reputations than the safety and wellbeing of those they serve, civil servants who kill with impunity, corporate tycoons who get richer while exploiting their workers…the list of lamentable leadership is long. In the face of great failures of leadership in our church, in our communities, country, and around the world, what does it mean to proclaim that Jesus Christ is King of the Universe, not just someday in the future, but now?
Our scriptures unveil for us the promise of God’s compassionate leadership. In the first reading, in response to the cataclysmic leadership of the temporal leaders of Israel, God promises to draws near to the people in love, and to take on their shepherding personally, by feeding, restoring, healing, tending, and reconciling all those in need of God’s tender care. As Christians, we believe that God’s promise of love culminates in the incarnation, life, ministry, death, and resurrection of Jesus. Jesus embodied God’s shepherding love in concrete terms, as he proclaimed the Kingdom of God with words and action throughout his life.
This Kingdom that Jesus proclaimed was one where the oppressive systems of domination, exploitation, dehumanization, empire and death were overturned in favor of transformed relationship, justice, abundance, dignity, peace, joy, and resurrection hope. When we proclaim Christ is King today, we join with Jesus in lamenting the reality of systemic injustice we live in, and cry out in hope for the promised Kingdom of God to unfold in our midst.
To name the Crucified Christ as King invites us into the challenging and risky work of citizenship in this Kingdom. To trust and hope in God’s reign, unfolding through God’s grace, and allow it to transform our reality now, through concrete actions which embody love and enflesh hope in God’s reign of justice and peace in our context and communities. By our baptism we have been empowered to be disciples who are like Christ: compassionate leaders who carry on the healing, feeding, reconciling mission of Jesus, and who draw near in love to those most in need of tender care in our world today.
When we proclaim the Christ as King of this Kingdom of God, then today’s famous and familiar Gospel story of the last judgement becomes not an invitation to just altruism and philanthropy in the hopes of gaining salvation points before a judgemental Jesus, but a reminder that our call as Christians is to yearn for and embody Christ’s love and dream for our world in compassionate service; to live in solidarity with the poor, sick, imprisoned, immigrant, and every marginalized person, so that in our transformed relationships we can bear witness to God’s Kingdom.
To proclaim Christ as King is an act of hopeful imagination and prophetic prayer that inspires our action. We are called to, as Fr. Greg Boyle, imagines for us, “a community of kinship such that God might recognize it. Soon we imagine, with God, this circle of compassion. Then we imagine no one standing outside of that circle, moving ourselves closer to the margins so that the margins themselves will be erased. We stand there with those whose dignity has been denied. We locate ourselves with the poor and the powerless and the voiceless. At the edges, we join the easily despised and the readily left out. We stand with the demonized so that the demonizing will stop. We situate ourselves right next to the disposable so that the day will come when we stop throwing people away.” This is the Kingdom of God of which Christ is King, this is the dream of transformation we are invited to participate in. To Love as God loves, in ever-widening circles of compassion.
So let us proclaim with hope today that Our Lord Jesus Christ is King of the Universe, and let us allow that hope-filled proclamation to transform us and our world.