Last Sunday’s feast day, Christ the King dates back only 85 years, to Pope Pius XI, who hoped to counter the rise of secularism and the common distrust of authority that followed the First World War. Today, distrust of authority is even more common, and each person is their own authority. The idea of Christ as king seems strange to us. This makes the feast even more important, as we think about what the Church means us to understand by this title.
Thinking about kings
When I think of kings, I think of fairy tales, of history, of movies – benevolent kings, bombastic kings, tyrannical kings, ineffectual kings bamboozled by a wicked queen. We use the term ‘king’ to bigger or better than all the rest – king-sized, king of the road, king of the hill, the King of Rock. The king is the winner, the one on top, the leader or boss.
A different sort of king
You know that those who are recognized as rulers over the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones make their authority over them felt. But it shall not be so among you. Rather, whoever wishes to become great among you will be your servant; whoever wishes to be first among you will be the slave of all. For the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many (Mark 10:42-45, NAB).
Pilate said to Jesus, “Are you the King of the Jews?”… Jesus answered, “My kingdom does not belong to this world. If my kingdom did belong to this world, my attendants would be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Jews. But as it is, my kingdom is not here.” So Pilate said to him, “Then you are a king?” Jesus answered, “You say I am a king. For this I was born and for this I came into the world,to testify to the truth (John 18:33b, 36-37).
So let’s think about the contrast between Christ and our common image of kings.
Kings wear royal robes and crowns (at least on state occasions), and carry symbols of their authority. They have lots of treasure, and jewels, and gold.
Christ wore a crown – a crown of thorns. He carried something that showed what His life was for – the Cross on which he was to be crucified. His treasure is the hearts and minds of his disciples – of all those who have loved him down through time.
He is the King of Heaven, the King of Love, the King of Sacrifice.
The final authority
But when we’ve said that, we haven’t said all that there is to say.
In this age, we have a problem with the concept of someone who has suthority over us; someone we ought to be loyal to and serve no matter how we feel about it; someone who can command us and expect us to obey.
Yes, Jesus is our friend, our shepherd, our brother, our healer, our teacher. All of these are true.
But Jesus is also our King: the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end; the one who is, and who was, and who is to come. He doesn’t demand our unconditional obedience – but he has a right to it, and he asks us to offer it.
Perhaps we feel very virtuous, even a bit resentful, when we give up ‘our time’ to do something for others – perhaps staying a few minutes to talk to the bore who buttonholes us after church, or calling around to visit an elderly relation even though he’s smelly and obnoxious, or any one of a number of ‘ought to’ tasks that we avoid.
Is this treating Christ as King? If He really reigns over our lives if we really believe that He is our King, then every minute of every day belongs to Him, and if He only wants half an hour of it – as CS Lewis once pointed out – then we should be grateful that He has given us such an easy task, and we certainly shouldn’t expect any prizes for doing what is, after all, our duty.