21 November 2021
Daniel 7:13-14 Apocalypse1:5-8 John 18:33b-37
The solemnity of Christ the King marks the end of ordinary time and the culmination of the Church’s liturgical year. This feast was instituted by Pope Pius XI in 1925 to promote devotion to the Universal Lordship of Christ in response to the growing secularism of the Western world. In 1969, Pope Paul VI gave the celebration a new title ‘Jesus Christ, King of the Universe’, moving it from the last Sunday in October to the last Sunday in the liturgical year. He also transformed it from a feast to a ‘Solemnity.’ But what does it mean to worship Jesus as King of the Universe? And what kind of kingship are we celebrating?
In today’s gospel reading, Jesus, on being questioned by Pilate, does not deny that he is a king but makes it clear that his kingdom is ‘not of this world’ (Jn 18:34). This does not mean, however, that it belongs to a purely spiritual, other-worldly realm that has nothing to do with this world. To the contrary it has everything to with this world and with our lives here and now on earth. However, it is a kingdom utterly different from the kingdoms where rulers impose their will on people and exercise their power by force and fear – the kind of kingdom that Pilate administered as Governor of the Roman Province of Judea (cf. Mk 10:42). The kingdom of Jesus is a kingdom born in the heart of God, and that only the heart of God could hold – ‘an eternal and universal kingdom, a kingdom of truth and life, a kingdom of holiness and grace, a kingdom of justice, love and peace’ (Preface of Christ the King). To see more clearly what the Kingdom of Jesus is about, we need look no further than the testimony of the gospels about Jesus’ life and public ministry.
Hardly anything is more certain about the life and ministry of Jesus of Nazareth than that he proclaimed the kingdom or reign of God. The phrase ‘Kingdom of God’ occurs 122 times in the Gospels, 90 of which are on the lips of Jesus. The synoptic gospels introduce Jesus’ public ministry with the concise phrase: ‘The time is fulfilled. The kingdom of God is at hand. Repent. Believe the Good News’ (Mk 1:15). The kingdom God was not only the central theme of Jesus’ teaching; it was the event that shaped all his actions – his table-fellowship with sinners and outcasts, his healings and exorcisms, his forgiveness of sins. God’s kingdom, as lived and proclaimed by Jesus, meant good news for the poor, healing for the sick, and liberation for the enslaved and oppressed: ‘The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, for he has anointed me to bring good news to the afflicted. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to captives, sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim a year of favour from the Lord’ (Lk 4:18-19). The Kingdom inaugurated by Jesus and embodied in his ministry implied nothing less than a total, global, and structural transformation of human life on this earth. It is indeed a kingdom in which the entire cosmos is purified of all evils and filled with the reality of God, a universal kingdom of which the now Risen and Glorified Jesus is now King.
The kingdom manifested in the life and ministry of Jesus was based on, and empowered by, his experience of God as unconditional and unrestricted love – his Abba experience. In Jesus we meet a God who loves us without conditions or limits, and who invites us to share the divine communion of love and so experience the fullness of life (cf. Jn 17:24-26). The kingship of Jesus is thus inseparably linked to his call to conversion and the invitation to experience the wonderful closeness of Abba. Only God’s power can overturn the evil and negativity in human life and history. What we must do is respond to the invitation of Jesus, ‘Repent and believe the good news’ (Mk1:15), and so be converted to a new way of living, if the reign of God is to become real in our lives.
Today’s celebration challenges us to give our hearts more completely to Christ and invite him to reign in our lives, in our families, businesses, and in the entire world. I will end with a short poem, entitled The Kingdom, by Welsh poet, RS Thomas, which captures very well what the kingship of Christ means and what it requires from us:
It’s a long way off but inside it
There are quite different things going on:
Festivals at which the poor man
Is king and the consumptive is
Healed; mirrors in which the blind look
At themselves and love looks at them
Back; and industry is for mending
The bent bones and the minds fractured
By life. It’s a long way off, but to get
There takes no time and admission
Is free, if you will purge yourself
Of desire, and present yourself with
Your need only and the simple offering
Of your faith green as a leaf.
Michael McCabe SMA, November 2021
To listen to an alternative Homily from Fr Tom Casey of the SMA Media Centre, Ndola, Zambia please click on the play button below.