“Do you have a king?”
“Do you have allegiance to a king?”
“To what kingdom do you belong?”
Suppose someone came up to us on the street or in the mall and asked us one of these questions or a question like one of these. Most of us would probably get a confused look on our face and say something like: “No, I live in the United States, we do not have a king.”
Yet we do have a king. A king that is far more important than any president, senator, political leader, business leader, civic leader, or cultural leader. The king we serve is not just a king over particular nations, cities, or states. The king we serve is king of the universe, the king of life, the king of love.
On Sunday we celebrate his kingship in the Solemnity of our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe. The theme of his kingship is woven throughout the Gospel. Recall in the beginning of Mark’s Gospel the words that inaugurate the public ministry of Jesus: “This is the time of fulfillment. The kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel” (Mk 1:15). Jesus comes to reveal and establish the Kingdom of God, and this “kingdom” has a “king.”
When we think in terms of “king” and “kingdom” we should think of “reign.” God “reigns” over all creation for he is the one who created it, it belongs to him. We belong to him. He is the one who redeems creation through the self-offering of his Son, Jesus. Jesus becomes the “king” through this act of self-offering.
The beautiful hymn of Philippians 5 recalls: “Rather, he emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, coming in human likeness; and found human in appearance, he humbled himself, becoming obedient to death, even death on a cross. Because of this, God greatly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, of those in heaven and on earth and under the earth and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Phil 2:7-11).
The passage from the Book of Revelation that serves as the second reading for Sunday’s liturgy speaks of Jesus as “the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead and ruler of the kings of the earth. To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood, who has made us into a kingdom, priests for his God and Father, to him be glory and power forever and ever. Amen” (Rev 1:5-6).
In the Gospel passage for Sunday’s celebration we are taken to the scene of Jesus’ trial before Pilate. Pilate asks the question: “Are you the King of the Jews?” Jesus answers: “My kingdom does not belong to this world.” His answer might seem to contradict our celebration of Jesus as “King of the Universe” but this is not so.
In the Gospel according to John, the term “world” (whether Jesus is using it or someone else) usually has a negative connotation. It is not used the same way we would colloquially use the term today. It is one of those words that is used for contrast between those things that are “of God” and those that are “not of God.” Other words used in this structure of contrast are “above” and “below,” “light” and “darkness,” and so forth.
In this sense the term “world” is used of things that are opposed to God. So Jesus is not king of those things that are “not of God” but rather those things that are “of God.”
We are called to be part of the Kingdom of God. Jesus comes and invites us to be part of the kingdom. This kingdom is a kingdom of love and mercy, peace and joy, truth and goodness. Jesus says to Pilate: “For this I was born and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.”
Being a citizen of the kingdom requires loyalty, service and obedience to the king. All of these in love. All peoples of the earth are invited to citizenship in the kingdom for he is the one who has “received dominion, glory, and kingship; all peoples, nations, and languages serve him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that shall not be taken away, his kingship shall not be destroyed” (Dan 7:14).
Life in the kingdom requires the recognition that the reign of God has begun. He is the one who has sovereignty over our lives. Great things happen when we recognize this and respond to it. Our participation in the kingdom requires our “will” to be aligned with his “will.” Jesus himself taught us how to pray and in that prayer we always say: “thy will be done on Earth as it is in heaven.”
This is no mere cursory or summary statement. It is a profound prayer that Jesus captures in his very life, death and resurrection. The prayer involves the whole person and the “whole of the person.” Every aspect of our life is transformed when God reigns over us. Every aspect of our life is open to his will. Every aspect of our life is governed by his grace.
Our role as subjects of so great a king is one of obedience; but before we can become obedient we have to know him and his will. This demands discipleship whereby we become “students” of the “teacher.” St. Paul sometimes uses the language of a “slave” to a “master” in this regard, for Paul was keenly aware of his debt of gratitude to Christ Jesus (cf. Rom 1:1; Gal 1:10; Tit 1:1).
The celebration of Christ, the King of the Universe, is one of triumph — his triumph, and our triumph in him. Having the kingdom realized in our lives requires of us the discipline of prayer, study and service.
Our king is not one who dwells aloft on a throne distant from his people but one who walked and walks among us. He gathers us to himself in love. He speaks to us in the depths of our being and invites us into a loving relationship.
Through prayer we converse with the king. Simple methods are the best start. Taking time in quiet to say: “Lord, be with me today,” or “Lord I need your advice, show me the way,” or “Lord, help me through this suffering,” or “Lord, let me know your joy.” Prayer is essentially a conversation. In this conversation the most important part is listening.
Jesus has revealed himself to us and has made known his kingdom. The path to life in the kingdom involves knowing him and his ways. Study helps us grow in this understanding. The king is rich and wants to share the wealth of life with us. Reflection on the faith, pondering the mystery and longing to understand is the quest of study. Reading the Scriptures or a book on the faith help draw us into life in the kingdom.
Our king is a shepherd of love. He calls us to share in his kingship through service. Jesus washed the feet of his disciples before the passion after which he says: “Do you realize what I have done for you? You call me ‘teacher’ and ‘master,’ and rightly so, for indeed I am. If I, therefore, the master and teacher, have washed your feet, you ought to wash one another’s feet. I have given you a model to follow, so that as I have done for you, you should also do. Amen, amen, I say to you, no slave is greater than his master nor any messenger greater than the one who sent him. If you understand this, blessed are you if you do it” (John 13:12-17). Sharing in Christ’s kingship involves giving of ourselves in loving service.
For most of us, no one will come up to us on the street or in the mall or on the ball field and ask: “Who is your king?” However, if a stranger ever encountered us wanting to ask such a question, hopefully they would not have to ask — they would see it — by the way we live, by the way we speak, by the way we interact, and by the way we love.
Msgr. Joseph Prior is pastor of St. John the Evangelist Parish, Morrisville.