An Irish king had no heir and decided to choose a candidate from among the people of his kingdom. He sent word to all the towns and villages of his intent. Anyone who met two qualifications were invited to apply for the throne: love of God and love of neighbor.
Word went out. In one village there lived a young lad of twenty years, a poor man with a kind and caring heart. The townsfolk encouraged him to apply, even taking up a collection for him so he would have a coat and food for the long journey to the palace during the harsh winter.
The young man made the journey. As he came into the city, he met an old man sitting by the city gate, shivering in the cold. The young man immediately took off his coat, wrapped it around the man and gave him what he had left of the food for the journey home.
The young man then went into the city to look for the palace. Never having been there before, he wandered the streets winding streets and found the palace. At the gate, he asked the guard for directions, then made his way into the building.
The butler greeted him, saying, “The king is expecting you.” Surprised, the young man replied, “I have never met the king.”
“Oh, but he has met you,” said the butler. “This way please.”
The butler opened the door to the throne room. There, sitting on the throne, was the king, an old man wearing the coat he had received from the young man as he entered the city. He beckoned the young man, saying, “Come, my son, my throne is yours.”
Today we celebrate the Solemnity of Our Lord, Jesus Christ, the King of the Universe. Some say the image of kingship may be lost on us, since we live in a democracy where we choose our leaders. However, when we look back in history, we certainly have reminders of the king’s role. We can see powerful people in positions of majesty. Popular recent television shows and movies present the lives of British monarchs: Victoria, The Crown, The Tudors and so forth. The images of power (sometimes ruthless), pomp, wealth, and grandeur abound.
Yet the celebration of Christ the King reminds us that Jesus’ role as king were not defined by the standards of this world. His kingship is of the One who became poor so that we might become rich. He is the One who empties himself of life, in love, that we might have life and have it to the full. His kingship was not visible to all.
Recall in the Gospel account how the rulers tormented Jesus on the cross: “He saved others, let him save himself if he is the chosen one, the Christ of God.” Likewise, the soldiers: “If you are King of the Jews, save yourself.” And they unwittingly posted the placard above Him: “This is the King of the Jews.”
While the powerful of this world did not recognize him, the poor thief did. It was he who said: “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” To which the King replied, “Amen, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”
The first reading from the Book of Second Samuel recalls the enthronement of David as king of Israel, a nation David would shepherd on behalf of the Lord. Jesus is David’s heir. He takes up the vacant throne and becomes the Good Shepherd leading his flock to verdant pastures. He does this by showing us, in himself, how to love and how to forgive.
In this King we have pure integrity. He lives what he preaches. He embodies what he teaches. Everything about him reflects the Father’s design for human life and interaction. In the words of St. Paul:
“He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For in him were created all things in heaven and on earth, the visible and the invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or powers; all things were created through him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. He is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in all things he himself might be preeminent. For in him all the fullness was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile all things for him, making peace by the blood of his cross through him, whether those on earth or those in heaven.”
As we celebrate Christ the King, we are reminded that he shares his kingship and his kingdom with all his followers. At our baptism, the priest or deacon anointed our heads, saying: “As, Christ was anointed priest, prophet and king so may you always live as members of his body sharing everlasting life.”
So Jesus shares his kingship with us, as well as the responsibility of kingship — not the power, pomp and grandeur of an earthly king, but the charge of love and mercy, especially for the poor and needy.
In the story of the Irish king looking for an heir, we find the unknown, unnamed young man showing compassion for the old man sitting at the gate. For the love of God, he gave what he had so that the old man could find warmth and nourishment. The young man did not think of himself but of the other.
These were the marks the King was looking for in an heir. These are the marks that the King is looking for in us.
Msgr. Joseph Prior is pastor of Our Lady of Grace Parish, Penndel, and a former professor of Sacred Scripture and rector of St. Charles Borromeo Seminary.
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