What Manner of King?

November 24, 2018

Memorial of Saint Andrew Dung-Lac and Companions (+ Eve of the Solemnity of Christ the King)

The Catholic Church officially begins its new year with the first Sunday of Advent, about a month before everybody starts using new calendars. Tomorrow (if you are reading this on Saturday, Nov 24) is thus the last Sunday of the liturgical year. Since 1970, this Sunday has been marked as the Solemnity of Christ the King.

While I am not generally a fan of monarchies, I must admit that a number of individual monarchs have been truly admirable. Nonetheless, I dislike seeing Christ depicted with the trappings of worldly rulers, because I am afraid that doing so can lead us to forget who he was during his lifetime and how much human misfortune he shared. I also dislike seeing expressions of worldly power such as golden scepters and crowns associated with the sacred. After all, haven’t these been signs by which people have historically been separated from one another rather than brought into communion as Jesus wanted?

Another way of looking at Christ the King though is thinking of Christ as an alternative to the kings of this world. What if the different nations and interests fighting among each other looked to God for guidance instead of their own flawed leaders? More concretely, what would it be like if I truly proclaimed Christ as King of my heart, not only in my words but in my actions?

Jesus was not born to Mary in order to become the new Caesar of a worldly empire, but rather to share God’s Reign with us that is only made present by the law of love. When Pilate directly questions Jesus’ kingship, Jesus replies that his kingdom is not of this world, because if it were, his subjects would be coming to liberate him. It is precisely because Jesus’ model of kingship was so different from worldly standards that Pilate could not recognize it.

Why was it so hard to see Jesus as king? Let’s remember who he was:

  • Homeless at birth, and again later in his life, when the “Son of Man had no place to lay his head”
  • A child refugee, when his parents sought safety by crossing into Egypt
  • As both a Jew and a Palestinian, a member of an occupied people, with darker skin that the ruling class
  • Even within Palestine, a member of a despised ethnic minority—Galileans were recognizable by their accents
  • A poor rural laborer
  • A migratory vagrant
  • A friend of prostitutes and other sinners
  • A political dissident
  • A religious non-conformist
  • A convicted criminal who was sentenced to death

No wonder, he wasn’t honored. Aren’t these some of the same kinds of people that even “good Christians” so often neglect or abuse today? When Jesus actually was presented as a king shortly before his death, it was only in mockery and meant to expose him to scorn as illustrated in the painting by Hieronymus Bosch, below. His only crown was one of thorns.

Would we do any better today at recognizing his glory and kingship? How well do we respect the dignity of those listed above who share these characteristics? True, Jesus was more than this assortment of traits, but so is everybody else. If we really want to make Jesus the center of our lives, bringing these people out from the margins and into the center of our caring concern would be a good place to start.


The “ear candy” and “brain food” for this week relate to different aspects of this post. In his classic “Living for the City”, Stevie Wonder draws attention to some unfortunately common struggles faced by people who are unjustly marginalized. The reading selection is by a Mennonite pastor, and primarily reflects on the difference between the Kingdom described by Jesus in the Gospels and the kingdoms of this world.

Ear Candy: “Living for the City” by Stevie Wonder

Brain Food: “The Kin-dom of Christ” by Melissa Florer-Bixler

Come back next Saturday for a new post!