Christ the King Oxford, 24th November 2013
Homily by Dom Alex Echeandía
“This is the king of the Jews”
As we come to this final Sunday of the Church’s year, the Church herself gives us the vision of Christ as King of the Universe.
Let us start by asking what kind of king Christ is and how he exercises his power. “The King of the Jews”, as it was written in Hebrew, Latin and Greek, and proclaimed to the world at the crucifixion, was the title given by Pilate to Jesus after his discussion with him. Jesus admits that he is a king in reply to Pilate’s question: Yes, I am a king, and he continues: I was born for this: to bear witness to the truth, and all who are on the side of the truth listen to my word. However, people did not listen to Jesus and refused this truth because they were expecting a different kingship. This is reflected in what the priests said, “We have no king but Cesar.” So, this authoritative public figure of kingship, the Messiah announced by the prophets, was conceived as highly worthy of the highest dignity.
The first reading not surprisingly talks about a king coming from the house of Israel. Here the people see David as leader, shepherd and king, the role given him by God. They identify with him when they say, “Look, we are your own flesh and blood.” Is this figure of kingship the same as that of the One hanging on the cross?
The problem lies in that Jesus seems powerless. The prophet Isaiah foretold that the events of the passion would leave him no dignity at all. He was dressed as a king in royal purple, but only to show mockery; he was crowned with thorns rather than gold and jewels; instead of a triumphant procession, he carried a cross; and instead of sitting on a throne, he was hung and nailed to that cross and people looked upon him from afar.
It is at this point that he manifests the fullness of his new kingship as shepherd, leader and king, and it is far greater than David’s. In one of his sermons, St Augustine contrasts the attitude of hopelessness among Jesus’ disciples after the crucifixion with the Good Thief's eagerness to learn to hope in Christ. Augustine says that the disciples had forgotten their Master whereas the Good Thief had found his. He says, “That cross was a classroom; that is where the Teacher taught the thief; the cross he was hanging on became the chair from which he taught.” So the cross becomes a throne for the king, teacher and shepherd of his people.
What we see in the cross is a man mocked as king. The posing of a worldly kingship is mocked, but as the Crucified, Jesus reigns from the cross and reveals his self-giving love to the last drop of his blood. It is the crucified Lord, the worthy Lamb slain of the Apocalypse, who receives power, strength, honour and glory from God. The Firstborn of all creation set us free from slavery to sin and has the power to draw all mankind to Himself and to his kingdom.
With a king comes a kingdom, because Christ the King cannot be inseparable from the Kingdom of God. This kingdom is not of this world, he tells Pilate, and now, from the cross, he tells the thief that he will be with him in paradise. The King, Shepherd and Master leads his people, leads us all, not to a new political period or a new age of earthly riches and prosperity, but to a kingdom of light, truth and love, where things are restored through the King of the Universe. He is the True King, as St Paul tells us in the second reading, not only because he is the first-born of all creation, but because he is the first-born of the re-creation as well. He rose from the dead, making everything new. A divine and human reality has begun for us through Christ’s death on the cross.
By acknowledging the Crucified Lord, by whom we were created and re-created, may God bring us the fruits of this reconciliation throughout the new liturgical year and enable us to share in his kingship, that began at our baptism, to serve our God and Father. On our part, let us allow the King of the Universe make us new here and now through his Body and Blood, shared at this Eucharist.