All the tribes of Israel came to David at Hebron and said, "Look, we are your bone and flesh. For some time, while Saul was king over us, it was you who led out Israel and brought it in. The Lord said to you: It is you who shall be shepherd of my people Israel, you who shall be ruler over Israel."
So all the elders of Israel came to the king at Hebron; and King David made a covenant with them at Hebron before the Lord and they anointed David king over Israel.
I rejoiced when I heard them say:
'Let us go to God's house.'
And now our feet are standing
within your gates, O Jerusalem. (R./)
Jerusalem is built as a city
It is there that the tribes go up,
the tribes of the Lord. (R./)
For Israel's law it is,
there to praise the Lord's name.
There were set the thrones of judgment
of the house of David. (R./)
We give thanks to the Father, who has enabled you to share in the inheritance of the saints in the light. He has rescued us from the power of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.
He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; for in him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers-all things have been created through him and for him.
He himself is before all things and in him all things hold together. He is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that he might come to have first place in everything. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell and through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross.
The people stood by, watching; but the leaders scoffed at Jesus, saying, "He saved others; let him save himself if he is the Messiah of God, his chosen one!" The soldiers also mocked him, coming up and offering him sour wine and saying, "If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!" There was also an inscription over him, "This is the King of the Jews."
One of the criminals who were hanged there kept deriding him and saying, "Are you not the Messiah? Save yourself and us!" But the other rebuked him, saying, "Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed have been condemned justly, for we are getting what we deserve for our deeds, but this man has done nothing wrong." Then he said, "Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom." He replied, "Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise."
While Jesus hung on the cross, he was mocked as "the king of the Jews." The inscription on the cross over him calling him by that title was meant to be ironic. And yet Jesus had told Pontius Pilate, "I am a king. I was born for this. I came into the world for this" but he also declared that his kingship was not of this world. Today it is only with difficulty that we can empathise with kingship. To the mind of most people in the modern world the concept of kingly rule has echoes of authoritarianism, class distinction and a world of unjust, unearned privilege, but this is far from the biblical notion. The kingship of Christ is non-political, universalist and non-national. Its core is a special kind of justice, not based on fallible human laws, but with help and protection for the weak, the poor and the helpless. If the justice of God really operated in our world it would bring peace between nations, and between individuals.
It is interesting how people vested with royal and imperial power were at a loss when confronted with the moral power of Christ. Their reaction was to strike out blindly, to use violence against his threat to their power. For power is often recognised only by winning in a contest. In Jesus' time, justice in many ways trampled underfoot by the rule of the powerful in the days of the Roman empire. To remedy this a completely fresh start was necessary, something that he alone could initiate, ultimately through the complete sacrifice of himself. Although Christ died in apparent powerlessness, nevertheless he holds real, spiritual power, which will be revealed at the end of time. The repentant thief caught a glimpse of this when he called out, "Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom."
Jesus described the kingdom of God in parables, evoking its mysterious presence in this world. For example, to Jews the mustard seed was the smallest of all seeds, the most insignificant of all things. Yet out of it comes a huge tree. God's kingdom comes in a hidden way, in spite of seeming failure. As with the mustard seed, this small beginning holds the promise of a magnificent ending. "I think that what we suffer in this life can never be compared to the glory, as yet unrevealed, which is waiting for us," wrote Saint Paul. Seemingly contradictory things occur in Jesus' teaching about the kingdom. The kingdom is here and now, we are told and yet we are asked to look forward to its coming. But there is no contradiction if we consider that the Kingdom is both a present and a future reality. It is already here in part, but its completion is in some unknown future. As Jesus says, "The kingdom of God does not come in such a way as to be seen. No one will say, ' 'Look here it is,' or 'There it is' . . . because the kingdom of God is within you" (Lk 17:20f).
A random act of kindness, a glass of water given out of goodness, seems like a very low threshold for a personal friendship with Christ. Christians have always had a strong trust in Christ's humanity; he was like us in every way except that he did not sin. Although this Sunday portrays him returning in regal splendour, the judgments of Jesus are not like ours either. He seeks good among the ordinary and the bad alike; too often we seek bad among the ordinary and the good alike. For Jesus, the sinner who does a single act in kindness can be saved. For the rest of us, the saint that does something wrong is tarnished forever.
His hands stretched out in forgiveness to those who had nailed them down. Ours stretch out to point in criticism at the wrongdoer. But we have a dominant image of what a judge is like and how a judge should act. It is not surprising that the image of Jesus as a fair but stern judge is deeply set with many Christians. There are even some who delight in the idea of bad people getting their just deserts. Just as Jesus told the soldiers arresting him that his kingdom was not of this world; his standard of judgment is not of this world either. That should be good news, although not everybody sees it that way.
“Vengeance is mine,” said the Lord. Traditionally Christ has been represented as coming in majesty and power. From Michelangelo's ceiling of the Sistine Chapel to the mosaics in many a church apse, that image is prominent in western art. It is familiar because it is like what we do in every way, except that we don't forgive. The classic picture includes tormented souls being dragged off to eternal flames.. It is likely that almost all of us have an idea of some of the people who should be in that category.
In the 1970s musical Godspell, Stephen Schwartz recreated that judgment scene. Only, this time, Jesus has second thoughts and brings the damned along too. They had sung a song asking for mercy and they received it. That is an image which is very much in keeping with the words of Christ the King: “Judge not and you will not be judged. Condemn not and you will not be condemned. Forgive and you will be forgiven.” He brings a different kind of rule, a rule where boundless mercy trumps self-righteous justice.
(with thanks to Fergal Mac Eoinin)
Paul speaks of Jesus Christ at the end of time handing over the kingdom to God the Father. Today's Preface repeats this, describing Christ's kingdom as one of truth and life, of holiness and grace, of justice. love and peace. This ideal is not to be merely a future hope but is to be worked for in the present. The kingdom is our hope, but somehow it is also in our midst, in the process of becoming. The gospel tells us how we are to promote the fuller coming of God's kingdom among us. It comes whenever justice is done for the hungry, the thirsty, the naked, and the oppressed. To behave in this way is to imitate the Shepherd-King himself who is presented in our Gospels as one who rescues from situations of alienation, who feeds, gives rest, heals and makes strong. Among his final words was a promise to the thief being crucified at his side, that he would be enfolded by the eternal love of God, in paradise.
The best way to honour Christ our King is to work to make his kingdom a reality among us. Anything we do for the relief of the deprived and underprivileged is alse a service to Christ, because he identifies himself personally with people in need. The disciple of Christ the King cannot afford the luxury of comfortably keeping myself to myself or "Well I do harm to anyone." To be deaf to the cries of the neighbour in need is to close our ears to Christ. To be blind to the anguish of the dying is to shut our eyes to him. If we follow Jesus Christ as our Shepherd-king we must in some way be shepherds ourselves, for his sake.
Is the notion of kingship of any value to us, as democrats and republicans? Democracy, with all its complexities, is our preferred form of regulating society, business, law and order. Except in figurative phrases like "king of the road," words like royalty and kingship, implying an absolute demand for respect and subservience, evoke a bygone structure of inherited privilege and power. The so-called "divine right of kings" sustained this structure and favoured the suppression of individual rights. So if kingship is an unsuitable image for our times, how do we explain today's feast, celebrating Christ as our king?
Does he demand our service and submission? Would he suppress our right to self-expression and all other rights? When faced by Pontius Pilate, Jesus says clearly what kind of king he is. He tells the Roman Governor, "My kingdom is not of this world." His rule is far removed from a dictatorship. This noble prisoner, robed in purple and crowned with thorns as a mock king before this ruthless Roman judge, claims a spiritual authority that has nothing to do with the power to compel by force. His authority is the authority of truth. He is our king, with authentic authority, because he lives the truth and has the power to lead others to the truth — the truth that can save them to eternal life: "for this I was born and came into the world, to bear witness to the truth. All who are on the side of truth listen to my voice" (John 18:37.)
Christ lived by the truth and he died for it. His followers commit their lives to his guidance, as our king and shepherd. In his truth, millions find inspiration for their lives, the truth which makes them free. Christ the King joins word and action in perfect harmony. Truth was vitally important to him, who hated all sham and pretense. To get deeper in touch with the truth may require some change in our lifestyle. It needs periods of quiet, even spending time with him in personal prayer. Truth in our lives needs the inspiration of Christ our King. A new commitment to him give us purpose, and a willingness to share. Far from oppressing us, Christ the King of truth is the one who sets us free.