Sunday, November 24, 2019 • Solemnity of Christ the King
Liturgical Color: White
First reading: 2 Samuel 5:1–3
Responsorial Psalm: Psalm 122:1–2, 3–4, 4–5
Second reading: Colossians 1:12–20
Gospel: Luke 23:35–43
My focus this week is a single topic that runs throughout all the readings for this final Sunday of the Church’s liturgical year: the intimate link between Christ and his Church. We have touched on fragments of this theme at different times during the year; here we will have a summation of those fragments, bringing together the Old and New Testaments to describe Jesus, the Son of David, as the sole foundation of human liberation and supernatural joy.
Let us begin with an excerpt from the Collect (Opening Prayer) of the Mass for the Solemnity of Christ the King, which defines our odyssey:
Almighty ever-living God,
whose will is to restore all things
in your beloved Son, the King of the universe,
grant, we pray,
that the whole creation, set free from slavery,
may render your majesty service
and ceaselessly proclaim your praise.
This prayer speaks of the restoration of all things (see the Book of Revelation), the Son of God who is the King over all creation (see the Passion Narratives of the Gospels), the liberation of Creation, including Mankind, from slavery to sin and the futility of this world (compare the saga of the Exodus), and the final glorious hymn of Creation to its Creator and Redeemer (returning to the final chapters of the Book of Revelation, where Christ’s victory becomes complete).
The backstory of this reading is the gradual drifting apart of the northern tribes (Israel) from the southern tribes (Judah) of the original twelve who came out of the slavery of Egypt under the leadership of Moses. David had become king of Judah after Saul’s death. In our reading this week, a mere three verses in length, the leaders of the northern tribes come to him, proposing to reunite the two kingdoms, because all twelve tribes are kinfolk. David accepts and is anointed King of Israel, just as earlier he was anointed King of Judah.
David had set up his capital in Hebron, in the south. But now, as king over all God’s people, he deemed it best to move the capital to a more central location, accessible to all. Both cities had sacred and historic connections running back to the time of the patriarch Abraham. But it would be at Jerusalem, the traditional site of Abraham’s virtual sacrifice of his son Isaac, where the obedience of Jesus to the Father brought about our redemption through his self-sacrifice.
David is a figure of Jesus Christ on many counts, but they all derive from the fact that he is king: Jesus Christ, too, will be acclaimed King of Israel. “But what did it mean for the Lord to be acclaimed the King of Israel? What did it mean to the King of all ages to be recognized as the king of men? Christ did not become the King of Israel in order to demand tributes or to raise armies and make war against the enemies [of Israel]; he became the King of Israel to reign over souls, to give counsel that leads to eternal life, to bring those who were filled with faith, hope and love to the Kingdom of heaven” (St. Augustine, In Ioannis Evangelium, 51, 4). (Navarre Bible Commentary)
Jesus made it clear (John 17:11, 22; compare Matthew 16:18; Romans 12:4–5; 1 Corinthians 10:17; 1 Corinthians 12:12, 13, 20; Ephesians 2:16; Ephesians 4:4–6; Colossians 3:15) that his Church would be united in a single body, so that the faith and doctrine of the members would remain unified. Why? Because “there is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of us all, who is above all and through all and in all. But grace was given to each of us according to the measure of Christ’s gift” (Ephesians 4:4–7).
Left to themselves, and forgetful of their kinship, the tribes again drifted apart after the death of David’s son, King Solomon. It was left to the Messiah, Jesus of Nazareth, to again unite not only the estranged kingdoms, but all the nations of the world, in that one community, the Church, of which he is the eternal sovereign.
St. Paul speaks first of the natural state of mankind under the figure of darkness, by which he means the state of slavery to sin. He then compares this state to the supernatural condition of man once he is “delivered from the dominion of darkness and transferred… to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.” This is the state of grace. The Old Testament figure of the light is the mysterious pillar of cloud, which guided the Israelites through the desert. It appeared as a pillar of fire by night, illumining the darkness with the spiritual light of Christ, who is the “light of the world” (John 8:12; 9:5; compare Matthew 5:14, where Jesus states that we Christians are that light, having received it from him) as well as the giver of eternal life (John 1:4–5).
We Christians should be grateful to God for his great mercy in deigning to free us from the power of the devil, forgiving our sins and making us worthy to “share in the inheritance of the saints.” We have benefitted in so many ways: “In addition to the gift itself, he also gives us the power we need to receive it […]. God has not only honoured us by making us share in the inheritance, but has made us worthy to possess it. And so we receive a double honour from God — firstly, the position itself; and secondly, the capacity to measure up to it” (St. John Chrysostom, Homily on Colossians, ad loc.). (Navarre Bible Commentary)
Now we see Paul’s declaration that Christ the Son of God is supreme over all Creation, equal to God the Father, because he bears the perfect likeness to the Father, save that he is begotten of the Begetter, who is the Father.
The Son of God and of the Blessed Virgin must be called the head of the Church for the special reason of his pre-eminence. For the head holds the highest place. But none holds a higher place than Christ as God, for he is the Word of the Eternal Father and is therefore justly called “the first-born of all creation.” None holds a higher place than Christ as man, for he, born of the immaculate Virgin, is the true and natural Son of God, and by reason of his miraculous and glorious resurrection, by which he triumphed over death, he is “the first-born from the dead.” And none stands higher than he who, being the “one mediator between God and man” (1 Tim 2:5), admirably unites earth with heaven; who, exalted on the Cross as on his throne of mercy, has drawn all things to himself. (Pope Pius XII, Encyclical Mystici corporis, 15)
“He is the head of the body, the church”: this image shows the relationship of Christ with the Church, to which he sends his grace in abundance, bearing life to all its members. “The head,” St. Augustine says, “is our very Saviour, who suffered under Pontius Pilate and now, after rising from the dead, is seated at the right hand of the Father. And his body is the Church […]. For the whole Church, made up of the assembly of the faithful — for all the faithful are Christ’s members — has Christ, as its head, who rules his body from on high” (Enarrationes in Psalmos, 56, 1).
St. Paul unequivocally teaches that the Church is a body. “Now if the Church is a body, it must be something one and undivided, according to the statement of St. Paul: ‘We, though many, are one body in Christ’ (Rom 12:5). And not only must it be one and undivided, it must also be something concrete and visible, as our Predecessor of happy memory, Leo XIII, says in his Encyclical Satis cognitum: ‘By the very fact of being a body the Church is visible.’ It is therefore an aberration from divine truth to represent the Church as something intangible and invisible, as a mere ‘pneumatic’ entity joining together by an invisible link a number of communities of Christians in spite of their difference in faith.
“But a body requires a number of members so connected that they help one another. And, in fact, as in our mortal organism, when one member suffers, the others suffer with it, and the healthy members come to the assistance of those who are ailing, so in the Church, individual members do not live only for themselves but also help one another, alleviating their suffering and helping to build up the entire body” (Pius XII, Mystici Corporis, 7).
“He is the beginning, the first-born from the dead”: this can be said because he was the first man to rise from the dead, never again to die (cf. 1 Corinthians 15:20; Revelation 1:5), and also because, thanks to him, it enabled men to experience resurrection in glory (cf. 1 Corinthians 15:22; Romans 8:11), because they are justified through him (cf. Romans 4:25).
So, just as the previous verses looked to Christ’s pre-eminent role in creation, the hymn now focuses on his primacy in a new creation — the rebirth of mankind, and all creation in its train, in the supernatural order of grace and glory. Christ rose from the dead to enable us also to walk in newness of life (cf. Romans 6:4). Therefore, in every way, Jesus Christ is “pre-eminent.”
“If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!” Indeed, the charge was nailed to the cross over his head: “This is the King of the Jews.”
But on the third day after his death by torture, Jesus returned to life, glorified and ready to begin his eternal reign over all creation. He saved not only himself, but all of mankind — starting with a repentant criminal crucified next to him.…
“Jesus, remember me when you come in your kingly power.” — “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”
…And culminating in ourselves and others in the Church today, the latest witnesses to his merciful sovereignty. In contrast, the Navarre Bible Commentary reminds us of how easy it is to make ourselves enemies of the Son of God:
The Roman governor’s soldiers join the Jewish people and their leaders in mocking Jesus; thus, everyone — Jews and Gentiles — contributed to making Christ’s passion even more bitter. But we should not forget that we too make a mockery of our Lord every time we fall into sin or fail to respond sufficiently to grace. This is why St. Paul says that those who sin “crucify the Son of God on their own account and hold him up to contempt” (Hebrews 6:6).
By way of informing, here is a piece of trivia from the Ignatius Catholic Study Bible:
Paradise (2 Cor 12:3)
Paradeisos (Gk.): a Persian loan word meaning “garden” or “park,” used three times in the New Testament. The term makes its first biblical appearance in the Greek version in Genesis 2:8, where it refers to the Garden of Eden. Here, before his rebellion, man lived enfolded in the blessings and peace of God. Centuries later, the Prophets foretold that the blissful conditions of Eden would reappear in the future (Isaiah 51:3; Ezekiel 36:35). The New Testament sharpens this expectation, indicating that the true garden of paradise is supernatural and heavenly, not natural and merely earthly. It is nothing less than the eternal dwelling of God, where Jesus promised to accompany the good thief after death (Luke 23:43) and where Paul was transported in a mystical journey (2 Corinthians 12:3). This heavenly paradise is the eternal dwelling that awaits the saints (Revelations 2:7).
And in a more solemn way, let us end with a prayer suggestion from the Catholic Commentary on Sacred Scripture, based on the repentant criminal’s plea:
Jesus, remember me. These words are brought to mind by a line from the eucharistic hymn Adoro te devote, attributed to St. Thomas Aquinas: “I ask for what the repentant thief asked” (Peto quod petivit latro paenitens). “Jesus, remember me.” What a beautiful short prayer! Each day and throughout the day we can ask Jesus for the many things we need, summing up our prayers of petition by asking Jesus to remember us, according to his mercy, remembering not our sins (Psalm 25:7). And, like the good thief, let us ask at the moment of our death: “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom” (Luke 23:42).