The Feast Christ the King
November 20, 2016
A friend gave me a gift. It is intended to hang on a wall as a decoration. It is a miniature deer mount. It is shiny chrome. I like it. But, it is a mere image of a real deer head, preserved and hanging as a trophy from a successful hunt. That’s a really beautiful thing…although the living animal in the wild is what is most beautiful. My gift is eye-catching, it fills a space, and it is a reminder of something much more authentic and real…but that is all it is…a reminder…a space-filler…a decoration. It is the mere suggestion of majestic, wild game roaming free in the woods, and the thrill that hunters know when they bring home their prize.
I remember asking my friend what made her think to give me such a gift. She answered: “Oh, they are very popular in home decor catalogues right now…you see all kinds of these. They are the rage.” In fact, I now have a small collection of these faux trophies. Something possessed me to buy one as a companion to the first. Another friend saw and admired the pair, and when Christmas came along, I was the proud owner of a third. Eventually, I acquired a little “trophy room.” But, in truth, there is no pride or admiration to be had in this room. There is evidence of shopping skills and generosity, but not marksmanship.
For many generations after being settled in the Promised Land, The Chosen People were ruled by leaders known as “Judges.” They were not elected, and this was not a hereditary title passed on through a family. Judges were appointed by God. When Israel would rebel against God’s will and God’s way, they would encounter disasters. When they repented, God would send a Judge to deliver them from whatever oppressed them, quite often a neighboring pagan nation.
With time and exposure to pagan ways, Israel became infatuated with the idea of being governed by a king. Like my shiny deer mount, hereditary monarchs and the glitz and glamour and even intrigue of court life appealed to them. Royalty was…and for many centuries remained…”the rage.” And so, Israel begged to be like other nations. They wanted a king. Samuel, the last in the line of Judges, was distraught. But God told him: “Grant the people’s every request. It is not you they reject. They are rejecting me as their king. But at the same time, warn them.” I Sam 8:6
Samuel did describe what life under a monarch would be like. But the people ignored the warning and persisted in their demand for a king. This is a classic example of the old adage: Be careful what you wish for, you might just get it. They got their king.
The story of the brief monarchy is checkered at best. Even David and Solomon had their shortcomings. Solomon, for example, was still humble enough when he took the throne to acknowledge his faults and recognize the dangers of power. He prayed that God would give him wisdom so that he could be a wise and just king. God listened to his prayer and gave Solomon what he needed to be a good shepherd. But Solomon did not rely exclusively on God’s counsel. He allowed himself to be influenced by others, including pagans. He gave in to his own appetites and greed. He even fell into the grave sin of public idolatry.
In the history of Israel…the first part of the story of salvation…the Kings were certainly decorative and they filled space while the people waited for the Messiah. We remember the good things they accomplished, and most often, overlook their shortcomings. In fact, when all was said and done, they fell short of the authentic and real leadership of the patriarchs called by God to protect, teach, and guide the Chosen People. What pride or admiration was to be had from the decisions made in their throne rooms was blemished by human weakness. Possibly the most destructive result of the longed-for monarchy was that it gave the people a false and unreal image of what a king should be. And so when God the Father sent The Son into the world to initiate a new reign…The Kingdom of God…THE PEOPLE DID NOT RECOGNIZE HIM FOR WHO HE WAS!
From His humble birth to His humiliating death, Jesus was the exact opposite of the image of a civil leader. There was no pomp and circumstance, only a gentle and loving Shepherd who “smelled like His sheep.” (Pope Francis) There were no military drills or buildup of armaments; rather a call for unity and peace. There was no royal court or cabinet. Jesus was surrounded by a rag tag band of fishermen, tax collectors, and public sinners. Jesus was in no way, shape, or form what the people expected from a king. The people rejected Jesus. His crown was thorns, and His throne The Cross.
What Christ’s Kingship does have in common with worldly monarchs is the right of succession. Through our Baptisms, we are called to share in what we celebrate today…Christ’s dominion and the Reign of God. When confirmed, we are anointed like queens and kings, only we are anointed with the Holy Spirit and become part of a royal priesthood ordained to serve all, especially those in greatest need. Like the patriarchs and matriarchs, the prophets and judges, we have been chosen by God to show the rest of humankind how to live in harmony and peace. To insure that we are up to that enormous task, we are invited to a banquet unimaginably more important than any state dinner. We are guests at the Eucharist, where we first hear God’s Eternal Word that defines our mission. And then we are nourished by the Bread from Heaven and The Cup of our Salvation so that we have the strength to carry out our ministry…telling the whole world that Soon, very soon, we are going to see the King! Then our ending will be like our beginning…Christ!
Monarchs, dictators, prime ministers, and presidents come and go…but Christ is the Eternal King!