THE SOLEMNITY OF OUR LORD JESUS CHRIST, THE KING, YEAR C
2 Samuel 5:1-3; Psalm 122:1-2, 3-4, 4-5; Colossians 1:12-20; Luke 23:35-43
The Solemnity of Christ the King permanently replaces the 34th Sunday in Ordinary Time unless a pope places it at on a different Sunday, as has been done twice. Pope Pius XI in the encyclical letter “Quas Primas,” Dec. 11, 1925, established the feast of Christ the King. Honoring Christ as king originated in the honoring of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. Devotion to the Sacred Heart emphasized gentleness, mercy, forgiveness, peace within families, and through families, international peace. Devotion to Christ as king emphasized international peace through a religious-political reign of Christ through the Church. That reign would of course operate through the Vicar of Christ. Pius XI wrote in “Quas Primas,” “It would be a grave error . . . to say that Christ has no authority whatever in civil affairs. 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.”
The three readings for this Solemnity emphasize kingship. The first reading describes how David became king of a united Israelite kingdom. At first the ten northern tribes were not part of the kingdom of David. He was king only of Judah (and Benjamin). To achieve strength in unity under one leader, and through political maneuvering and political assassinations, the goal of a united kingdom was achieved. David was well-known through the Goliath experience and leading Saul’s troops against enemies when Saul was not engaged in attempting to have David killed. The approximate dates of David’s reign, 1000 to 961 B.C. There are key words/phrases that connect the story of David’s rule with that of Christ the King. “You will shepherd my people Israel.” The New Testament, Galatians 6:16, refers to the Church as “the Israel of God.” The New Testament refers to Jesus as shepherd nine times. One thinks especially of the Parable of the Good Shepherd in John 10, and the Shepherd/King/Judge of Matthew 25:31-46. The word “anointed” in the David-story is also key to connecting to King Jesus. From the Greek and the Hebrew verbs “to anoint,” comes the noun Christ and Messiah respectively. Both titles imply kingship, because of the custom of anointing Israelite kings.
The Responsorial Psalm, 122, is a poor choice for the Solemnity of Christ the King. Far better are the Psalm selections for Year B, “The Lord is king in splendor robed, etc.,” and for Year A, “The Lord is my shepherd.” There is nothing about kingship of God or anyone else in Psalm 122.
It is a song of praise for Jerusalem and the temple. Where the assemblers of the Lectionary faltered on their choice of Responsorial Psalm, they redeemed themselves in their selection of the Alleluia verse. In a reference to Jesus triumphal, royal entrance and reception into Jerusalem, we sing, “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord. Blessed is the kingdom of our father David that is to come,” Mark 11:9, 10.
The second reading is an early Christian Hymn of thanksgiving to God the Father, followed by a list of the accomplishments of his Son. This leads to praise of Christ as King of the universe, of all things visible and invisible, as the head of his body, the Church, as “the beginning, the first to rise from the dead, the great reconciler.” All these and other titles he merited in his humanity by “making peace through the blood of the cross.” There is one specific mention of Jesus’ kingly rule. Stating the reason for gratitude toward the Father, the hymn continues, “He delivered us from the power of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son.”
The gospel reading is Luke’s narrative of what happened during the hours on the cross before Jesus died. A series of three mockeries takes place. The first to come on stage are the “rulers.” These are the Sadduccean high priestly families who plotted to kill Jesus and became dangerous enemies of the new Christian movement — The Way. Luke gives some details of their campaign against Christians in Acts of Apostles. Their taunt: “He saved others. Let him save himself, if he is the Chosen One, the Christ of God.” For these two titles Luke reaches back into earlier parts of his gospel. The “Christ of God” is the exact term used by Simon Peter when Jesus asks, “Who do you say that I am?” “The Chosen One” occurs during the transfiguration of Jesus when the voice from the sky identifies Jesus as “my Chosen One.” The term is found first in Isaiah 42:1, one of the four Servant Songs. These poems became foundational material for our gospel authors as they constructed the four Passion Narratives decades after the events of the Passion.
The soldiers, the Roman military crucifixion detail, are next. Their taunt: “If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself.” They said this as they offered him a narcotic, wine on a sponge to lessen the pain endured during execution. Crucified on each side of Jesus were political rebels. One of them says, “Are you not the Christ? If you are, save yourself and us.” Notice Luke’s irony. The theme of salvation runs through all three taunts. The words of mockery conceal the purpose of Jesus’ crucifixion and death — salvation. The final act belongs to the second rebel crucified with Jesus. He rebukes his fellow-rebel. He admits that they, the two of them, are being punished because they deserved it. Admission of guilt is the first step to contrition and reform. He professes the innocence of Jesus. Then the famous words sung on Good Friday, “Jesus, remember me, when you come into your kingdom.” Jesus replies with an oath, “Amen, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.” A fitting gospel reading for the Solemnity of Christ the King? Yes! Jesus’ kingship was recognized in the dual use of the word “Christ,” in the title the soldiers accorded to him, “King of the Jews,” and finally in the words of the repentant criminal, “Remember me, when you come into your kingdom!”