My friends, I will begin today letting you know once again, why I choose to not name this feast, “Christ the King.” First of all, this title was not claimed by Jesus—it was a title we humans gave him and one, he did not want.
People, mainly some of his early followers, wanted a “Messiah” who would take on their enemies, the Romans. They didn’t realize that Jesus’ mission was about so much more—to show humankind, the way, the truth, and the life—that of justice for all.
It is important for us to remember that this particular feast is only about 100 years old, so fairly new for us Catholics and other Christian denominations. All the Christian denominations carry in their belief systems the notion of Christ as “King” who will come to judge us at the end of time.
Pope Pius XI, in 1925, established this feast as he felt that Catholics were forgetting about Jesus and that this feast would re-establish his place in our lives. It was too bad that the emphasis was in “Jesus’ power over us” rather than uplifting his life and encouraging us humans to “walk in his footsteps.”
All of the Scripture readings for this weekend give us aspects of what it is to be a “king” or “leader,” in the best sense of the word. Let’s take a look. In the first reading from Samuel, the people came to David calling him forth to lead them. Their prophetic words, “Here we are,” thus presenting David with a community to lead. This people saw previously, David’s ability and reminded him, a former shepherd, that God was now calling him to “shepherd” people. As an aside, in the early days of Roman Catholic Women Priests ordinations, many of us, myself included, placed the words, “Here we are,” on banners, and added, “We are ready” as our statement of faith in what God was doing within us.
One of the reasons why it is important to use the correct names for our leaders is our human tendency to “take the power” and run with it, forgetting “why” this power was entrusted to us in the 1st place. The story of David lets us know this—he forgot to “shepherd” and opted for “reigning” instead, until he once again found his way.
In present day, we see those with power in our Church wanting titles and other privileges—we call it “clericalism” –something Pope Francis has cautioned against. In fact, he has advocated that those called to serve, remember that they are “servants” and to be more like “shepherds” than “lords.”
In the second reading from Corinthians, again we see Paul’s lack of having known Jesus in his humanity. Paul’s relationship was with “the Christ” and unfortunately, he is, kind of stuck in the language of, “forgiveness of sins” and that the Christ, in the person of Jesus took care of that by “dying on the cross.”
Let’s look then to the gospel from Luke and jump into the conversation between Jesus and the “more open-minded criminal” dying next to him on the cross to perhaps get some clarity around the issues of “kingship” and “servanthood.”
The more open-minded criminal is taking issue with the one on the other side of Jesus, complaining to him about if he is the Messiah, why then doesn’t he save himself and them. “We deserve it after all, [he says]—we are paying the price for what we have done, but this one has done nothing wrong.” Now we know Jesus’ answer that indeed the more open-minded one would be with him, in paradise, soon. But for our purposes, let’s look at this more open-minded criminal’s assessment of Jesus.
The fact is, what he said about Jesus is not entirely true—that “Jesus had done nothing wrong.” In the eyes of the powers-that-were in Jesus’ time—he had done plenty wrong! Jesus was advocating that the leaders deal out justice for all, especially the least among them, and criticizing them for not being the “servants” that true kings and leaders should be. The only way to silence such a one was the punishment that Jesus was suffering.
So my friends, if we are to be true followers of our brother Jesus, then we cannot get caught up in the theology “that God sent Jesus to die for our sins.” If we stay there, then Jesus “does” it all—there is nothing for us to do, but live, without ever questioning, never looking at ourselves, never taking the responsibility for our own actions and doing our part.
Jesus came to show us how to live our human experience in the best way. Sometimes that may get us into trouble, as it did Jesus, but we will be standing on some pretty strong shoulders. We are expected as Jesus’ followers to get out into our world, in the midst of the sometimes mess we find there and to do our part to make things better. A friend recently shared a favorite quote from Dan Berrigan with me, which seems appropriate here. “If you want to follow Jesus, you better look good on wood!”
In conclusion then, let’s hone in on Jesus’ true mission for each of us—anything that isn’t ultimately about attempting to be our best through kindness, mercy, and justice for all, including ourselves—basically about love, should not be wasting our time. And you will notice that I included, “ourselves,” as we can’t, in love, be there for others if we forget ourselves. It’s a balance.
So, we end where we started—what to call this feast. As we conclude one Church Year and start another next Sunday, with the beginning of Advent, I would suggest that we remember Jesus, our brother, as a “servant” instead of a “king” as walking in the footsteps of the first might be much more doable than the second. Amen? Amen!