At Jesus’ Nativity, wise men asked, “Where is He Who has been born King of the Jews?” Herod wanted to kill Him. Thirty-three years later, the people finally acknowledged their King. How?
Gospel (Read Lk 23:35-43)
Today, on the Feast of Christ the King, St. Luke describes a scene from Christ’s Crucifixion. As Jesus moved through His earthly ministry, He stirred up a great deal of Messianic expectation. That excitement reached fever pitch on Palm Sunday, when the crowds welcomed Him to Jerusalem as One Who came in the Name of the Lord. Within a week, the mood had entirely changed. The religious elites of the city bore down on Him, to kill Him, just as Herod had tried to do when He was born. Even Jesus’ closest friends deserted Him at this dark time. Why did the hope of His eager followers die so quickly?
The cause for disillusionment is voiced here by one of the criminals being executed with Jesus: “Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us.” This mocking incredulity completely enveloped the Lord in His final hours. Hear it in the jeer of the rulers and soldiers: “He saved others, let Him save Himself if He is the chosen one, the Christ of God.” No one could believe that a man who had done such miraculous works and who claimed to be the Son of God could come to such a pitiful, impotent end. It was Jesus’ refusal to fight back, His powerlessness that so shocked everyone. To His detractors, this weakness was proof that He had been an impostor all along. The Messiah, the Son of David, simply could not lead His people this way—bloodied, beaten, nailed to a Cross. To His friends, this spectacle must have been particularly bitter. He had said and done much that was inexplicable while He was with them, but even that did not prepare them for this. How painful was it for them to watch that sign being hoisted above Him that read: “This is the King of the Jews”?
There was one person there, however, who saw something in Jesus perhaps no one else, other than His Mother, did. He is the one who gives us our final lesson about faith before we begin a new liturgical year. Of the two criminals being executed with Jesus, one of them had a revelation. He had perhaps also been reviling Jesus, too (see Mk 15:32), but then something changed. In vss 32-34, not included in our reading, we hear that Jesus prayed aloud for His persecutors: “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” Who does that sort of thing? Did this extraordinary act of mercy and love drive a shaft of conviction and faith into the heart of the guilty man? We don’t know for sure, but we do know that this criminal did not see weakness and failure in Jesus. He saw that the inscription above His head was true: “This is the King of the Jews.” He saw that the kingdom over which Jesus reigned was not of this world. He saw not an end but a beginning: “Jesus, remember me when You come into Your kingdom.” There is no deeper act of faith than this! To be able to see and believe in what lies on the other side of the senses, because we are looking upon Jesus, is the essence of the life of faith. The converted criminal teaches us not to flinch or draw back from trusting Jesus’ Kingship, no matter what we see in this life. Someday, as today’s feast assures us, what can only be seen by faith now will be manifested for all to see. This is the hope of the Church, and what a glorious hope it is.
Possible response: Lord Jesus, help me have the faith of the believing criminal whenever I am tempted to look at suffering and accuse You by asking, “Why don’t You do something to stop this?”
First Reading (Read 2 Sam 5:1-3)
This reading takes us back to the time when David, anointed by the prophet, Samuel, as the new king of Israel when he was still a shepherd boy, was finally recognized as king by “all the tribes of Israel.” He was thirty years old and reigned for thirty-three years. As a result of his anointing in his youth, King Saul, the first man to sit on the throne of Israel, sought to kill him. David never lifted a finger against Saul; he trusted that God would secure the throne for him in His own time. After Saul’s death, his supporters struggled against David in military skirmishes. Eventually, however, the Israelites acknowledged him as their rightful leader: “In days past, when Saul was our king, it was you who led the Israelites out and brought them back. And the Lord said to you, ‘You shall shepherd My people Israel and shall be commander of Israel.’” In this confidence, “they anointed him king of Israel.”
We should note the language the people used to describe their relationship with David: “Here we are, your bone and your flesh” (Gen 2:23). This evokes the delight of Adam when God gave Eve to him: “This, at last, is bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh.” It is nuptial language; the king of Israel was also her husband. Think of Jesus’ description of Himself as the Bridegroom in the Gospels. He came not only to shepherd His people but also to marry us. The gift of the Eucharist is His nuptial act of love for His kingdom, which, as He taught us, is in us (see Lk 17:21). When Jesus said to the converted criminal, “Today you will be with Me in Paradise,” He used a Persian word meaning “garden” or “park.” This word first appears in the Greek Old Testament in Gen 2:8, when it refers to the Garden of Eden. Centuries later, the prophets foretold that the blissful conditions of Eden would reappear in the future (see Isa 51:3; Ezek 36:35). Beginning with that converted criminal, Jesus is the King Who marries His people in the Paradise of His Church, His kingdom on earth and in heaven.
Possible response: Heavenly Father, Your people once asked for a king out of lack of faith. You turned their weakness into our strength by giving us Christ, our King. Thank You.
Psalm (Read Ps 122:1-5)
The psalm reminds us that the City of David, Jerusalem, was the holiest place on earth for the Israelites, because it was there the Temple stood. “Let us go rejoicing to the house of the Lord” was the happy song of Israel’s people. Jerusalem was also the seat of the throne of David, upon which God promised that a descendant of his would always sit. As we celebrate God’s fulfillment of that promise in the eternal Kingship of Jesus, we, too, can sing: “I rejoiced because they said to me, ‘We will go up to the house of the Lord.’”
Possible response: The psalm is, itself, a response to our other readings. Read it again prayerfully to make it your own.
Second Reading (Read Col 1:12-20)
Here, St. Paul writes explicitly about the joy of being in the kingdom over which Christ rules: “He delivered us from the power of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son, in Whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.” Then, St. Paul goes on to give us a description of our King that is dramatically different from the one in our Gospel reading. The One Who seemed powerless and defeated on the Cross, mocked as a fool, is actually “the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation.” St. Paul gives us a majestic vision of our King, one that can counter all our doubts and misgivings about whether King Jesus truly reigns, right now, over all we can see. His willingness to endure His Passion and taste death, refusing to flee from it, and submitting to the ridicule of those present was the exact opposite of defeat. In that veiled work, He was able “to reconcile all things for Him, making peace by the blood of His Cross through Him, whether those on earth or those in heaven.”
In the Resurrection, revealed only to those who believed in Him, Jesus proved that the sign above His head on the Cross was the eternal truth about Him: “This is the King of the Jews.” All of us who live the faith of Abraham, father of the Jews, by trusting God to keep His promises are heirs of Abraham (see Gal 3:28-39). In that sense, all Christian believers are “Jews.” We know that “all things were created through Him and for Him.” He is, as our feast day assures us, our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe.
Lord Jesus, remember us as You reign in Your kingdom today.
Possible response: Lord Jesus, it is hard to take in all that St. Paul says about You in these verses, but they leave no doubt that this universe is Yours. Help me remember that today.