Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ The King
Partly Same Partly Different
Sisters and brothers, a young family has just finished watching a movie together in their own home. Mommy then walks into the dining room and is shocked to find little Richie eagerly licking the top of the dinner table. What are you doing?! she exclaims. Looking up innocently, Richie replies: In the movie, Forrest Gump said that life is like a box of chocolates. I just wanted to get a taste.
What do you think, sisters and brothers? Is life really like a box of chocolates? Then why does the thought of Richie licking the dinner table seem so silly? The answer is quite obvious. In the movie, Forrest Gump doesn’t say that life and chocolates are the same thing. The box of chocolates is used only as an analogy to help us to understand the real thing. That’s what analogies do. An analogy helps us to understand something because it is similar to it in some way. So, according to Forrest Gump, you can gain an insight into life by looking at a box of chocolates. In both cases, you don’t know what you’re going to get.
But even if they do share something in common, a box of chocolates and life are also very different in other respects. You can’t expect to experience a chocolatey taste when you lick a table. If you do, then you’ve mistaken the analogy for the real thing. And, instead of helping us, the analogy has become an obstacle. For the analogy to do its work, we need to pay attention not only to the similarities, but also to the differences. Only then can we truly enter more fully into the mystery of life. Otherwise, like Richie, we will only end up sliding our tongues on a piece of wood.
And it’s important for us to keep this in mind today, as we celebrate the solemn feast of Christ the King. For just as Forrest Gump uses a box of chocolates to help us gain an insight into life, today’s feast invites us to consider kingship as an analogy to help us enter into the mystery of Christ. Our readings do this by bringing together two images in a very striking way. In the gospel, we have the very painful and distressing image of Jesus dying on the Cross. After having been betrayed by his friends and tortured by his enemies, our beloved Lord is cruelly put to death between two criminals. What is really happening here?
To help us understand, the first reading gives us another image, from another time and place. On Mount Hebron, about a thousand years before the crucifixion of Christ on Calvary, David is anointed King of Israel. In the first reading, we have the coronation of a conquering king. In the gospel, the crucifixion of a convicted criminal. The image of David is presented to us as an analogy, to help us enter more deeply into the mystery of Christ’s crucifixion, the same mystery we are celebrating at this Eucharist. But to benefit from this analogy we need to consider carefully both the similarities and the differences.
The crucifixion of Christ is similar to the coronation of David in that neither of these events happen by accident. Instead, it is God who uses what happens for the benefit of God’s people, to bring them peace. In the first reading, we are told that it is God who chooses David to shepherd my people Israel. Similarly, the second reading tells us that by Christ’s suffering and death, God transferred us into the kingdom of his beloved Son. Just as King David brings peace by unifying the twelve tribes of Israel, so too does Christ reconcile all things to himself. The crucifixion is also a coronation. The condemned criminal is also a king.
But we cannot stop here. To enter more deeply into the mystery of Christ, it is important that we also consider the differences between Jesus and David. First, they each bring a different kind of peace. In the first reading, David brings about a political peace that extends as far as the borders of Israel. In contrast, from John’s gospel, we know that Jesus does not come to establish an earthly kingdom (18:36). Nor is the peace of Christ limited to any one nation. As the second reading tells us, Christ’s peace extends to all creation. All created things, including even the angels, are part of the Kingdom of Christ.
And not only do David and Christ bring different kinds of peace, but the means that they use are also very different. The peace that David brings comes through the power of the sword. David had led the Israelites to victory in battle. In contrast, the second reading tells us that the peace of Christ is won not through the taking of an enemy’s life in battle, but by the shedding of Christ’s blood on the wood of the Cross.
We can also see another difference between the kingship of David and that of Christ when we pay attention to how David becomes king in the first reading. The elders of Israel accept David’s authority on behalf of the rest of the people. In contrast, in the gospel, the rulers of the people are among those who reject Jesus. We’re told that they even sneer at him as he hangs upon the Cross. The only one who acknowledges Christ as King is an outlaw. And notice how he does this. No one does it on his behalf. Humbly admitting his own sinfulness, the repentant criminal uses the Lord’s name to make a very personal appeal. Jesus, he says, remember me when you come into your kingdom. And Jesus grants him his request. Today you will be with me in Paradise. Unlike David's, the kingship of Christ cannot ultimately be accepted by others on our behalf. Each person must submit to it for oneself.
But having said all this, there is still a problem that we need to consider. As we said at the beginning, an analogy works by relating something we wish to understand to something we know already. So we try to enter into the mystery of Christ through the analogy of kingship. But some will argue that few of us know the meaning of kingship today. There aren't many kings left in the world. In this country, there is a President, but he is not a king. Even so, isn’t it also true that many of us still submit to kings of a different sort. Aren’t many of us ruled by things like money and power and fame? And isn’t this modern society of ours constantly trying to gain king-like control over things? With our machines, we try to conquer nature. With our medicines we try to prolong life and delay death. Even if there aren’t many kings left in the world, for better or for worse, aren’t we still very familiar with kingship? Isn’t this how many of us try to be happy?
All of which makes it important for us who are Christian to bear witness to the truth that these forms of kingship are not the real thing. At best, they are only analogies that might help us to enter into the mystery of Christ. But, for that to happen, we need to pay close attention to the ways in which the Kingship of Christ differs from them. Otherwise we will simply be the same and no different from everyone else. We will mistake the analogy for the real thing. And, like little Richie, we may even end up licking the dinner table in an attempt to enjoy the taste of chocolate.
Sisters and brothers, who is our king today?