Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ the King, Year C

Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ the King, Year C

First Reading: 2 Samuel 5:1-3; Response: Psalm 122:1-2, 3-4, 4-5; Second Reading: Colossians 1:12-20; Gospel: Luke 23:35-43

Historical background to the Solemnity of Christ the King: Pope Pius XI in the encyclical “Quas Primas” (Dec. 11, 1925), established this liturgical celebration. Honoring Christ the King evolved from devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. Devotion to the Sacred Heart emphasized gentleness, mercy, peace and forgiveness among individuals, as in the memorable statement of Jesus, “Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart” (See Matthew 11:28:30). Devotion to Christ the King emphasized international peace through a recognition of Jesus Christ’s religious/political reign, exercised through the Church and through Christ’s Vicar on earth. Pius XI wrote, “It would be a grave error … to say that Christ has no authority in civil matters. He is the author of … true prosperity … for every nation. If rulers of nations want to preserve their authority … they will not neglect the public duty of reverence and obedience to the rule of Christ. Our world has a long way to go toward such a goal.” The Solemnity of Christ the King permanently replaces the 34th Sunday in Ordinary Time.

Our three readings emphasize kingship, beginning with King David, the major human, royal ancestor of Jesus according to the New Testament. The reading from 2 Samuel describes how David became king of the united kingdom of the 12 tribes of Israel. Up to this point, he had ruled only over the southern tribes, Judah and Benjamin. David was well-known through the Goliath experience, and as a leader of King Saul’s troops against the first kingdom’s enemies. The dates of David’s reign: 1,000B.C.-961 B.C. The key phrase connecting this first reading with Christ the King: “You shall shepherd my people Israel, and shall be the commander of Israel.” In Galatians 6:16, St. Paul refers to the Church as “Israel of God.” The New Testament refers to Jesus as shepherd 13 times. The two most memorable of these references occur in the parable of the Good Shepherd (John 10:11-18) and the parable of the Shepherd/King/Judge (Matthew 25:31-46). The word anointed in the David story also connects the first reading to Christ the King. The Hebrew and Greek verbs “to anoint” are the source of the titles Messiah and Christ, respectively. Both titles imply kingship, since it was the Israelite custom to anoint their kings.

As a response to the theme of kingship in the first reading, we might expect a psalm celebrating the kingship of God. Psalm 145 would have been ideal. It begins, “I sing your praises, God my King.” Instead, we get Psalm 122 – celebrating Jerusalem and the temple. The assemblers of the Lectionary had a bad day. They redeemed themselves, however, in their choice of the Alleluia verse, a quote from the Gospel of Mark. It is a tribute to Jesus during his royal entry into Jerusalem, “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord. Blessed is the kingdom of our father David, that is about to arrive.”

The second reading is an early Christian hymn of thanksgiving to God the Father for sharing the inheritance with us. How did God do this? “He transferred to us the kingdom of his beloved Son.” The remainder of the hymn lists the accomplishments of the Son: redemption; forgiveness of sins; his role in creation; his role as head of his body, which is the Church; his resurrection; and his role in our reconciliation with God, making peace between heaven and earth by the blood of his cross.

The gospel reading is taken from the Passion of our Lord Jesus Christ according to Luke. The scene is immediately after Jesus’ crucifixion, during which he asked his Father to forgive his executioners. After Jesus was suspended from the cross, a series of three sets of mockeries take the stage. All three have the theme of Jesus as Savior, a deliberate irony on the part of Luke. The one they ridicule as Savior in reality is the Savior. The first mockery is by the Sadducean high priestly families who plotted to kill Jesus and were the deadly enemies of the Christian movement after the ascension. Luke calls them “the rulers.” Their taunt: “He saved others. Let him save himself, if he is the Chosen One, the Christ of God.”

Luke was very precise in choosing these two titles. The Chosen One takes us back to Luke’s version of the transfiguration of Jesus. While Jesus shines in glory, the voice from heaven thunders, “This is my Son, the Chosen One.” Thus, Luke proclaims that the one on the cross, once seen in glory, is the Son of God. Luke is also aware of the origin of the title Chosen One. He found it in Isaiah 42:1, a hymn that describes the mission of an unidentified Servant of the Lord. Christian teachers, preachers and our New Testament authors used the Servant’s mission statement in this hymn and three similar hymns in Isaiah to form the theology of Jesus suffering, death and resurrection.

The second set of mockers arrives on stage. They are soldiers of the Roman military’s execution squad. Their taunt: “If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself.” They said this as they offered him a narcotic – vinegar or sour wine on a sponge to lessen the pain of crucifixion. Here again we see Luke’s irony. The centurion of these soldiers who taunted Jesus about saving himself, will soon be saved by Jesus, when after his death the centurion proclaims, “Indeed this man was innocent!” Two criminals were crucified with Jesus, one on each side. The third mockery comes from one of them. “Are you not the Christ (Messiah)? Save yourself and us.” Again Luke’s irony, as he shows that Jesus is indeed their Savior. The other criminal rebukes the mocker, and says, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” Salvation is at hand, as Jesus replies with an oath, “Amen, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.” This unknown repentant criminal is privileged to be the last in Luke’s gospel to proclaim Jesus’ kingdom.