The Irish Times ran a story on August 2, 1999 regarding King Abdullah of Jordan. The article recalled a time when the young king would put on a “false beard, white robe and red and white checked headdress” and posed as a television reporter for a week. He had only been on the throne six months. He followed an example set by his father, King Hussein who in turn was inspired by the Caliph Harun al-Rashid, an Arab contemporary of Charlemagne.
King Abdullah along with the head of the palace press center, disguised as a videographer, traveled to the town of Zakra where they visited a free trade zone and interviewed investors, producers and customers.
The king was known to keep up the practice in the early years of his reign visiting ordinary citizens and the poor of Jordan. His purpose was to “be” with the ordinary people of his kingdom, to walk in their ways and to get in touch with the joys and challenges they faced in life. The practice was commendable for it is easy for leaders of state to get distanced from the people they lead.
The reigns of the kings of this world, as well as the terms of presidents and other government leaders – no matter what form of governance – will all come to and end, no matter how good and admirable they may be. Today, we celebrate a King whose reign has no end, whose Kingdom will last forever.
The Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe is the feast. Jesus, the Son of God, took on human flesh and walked among us. His was not a disguise but he actually became one of us. In Him we see the King of Kings subjecting Himself to the human condition. The creator becomes one of the created. He experienced everything we experience in life so that we might know His love.
The gospel passage for today’s liturgy recalls the moments just before the King dies on the cross. Pilate had the plaque reading “The King of the Jews” placed on the cross in somewhat mockery. The irony lies in the fact that Jesus truly is King. The passion and death that the Lord endured reminds us of the depth of God’s love. He takes on human suffering and the greatest fear that human beings face – death. In doing so we come to realize that there is no situation in life that is removed from God’s presence. Many times suffering leads one to feel isolated or alone. These are common to people who face not only persecution or unjust punishment but also suffering from illness, broken relationships, denials and so forth. Jesus in His passion experience so many of these in that one event. He is with us in our suffering and even in death. In His death and resurrection, the King subjects death to Himself so that it has no power to rob one of life.
Jesus’ interchange with the thief points to the Kingdom and the triumph of love over hate, good over evil, mercy over condemnation. The man now known in history as the “good thief” recognizes the unjust accusation, punishment and mocking of Jesus. He also recognizes Jesus’ authority as King when he says: “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” Jesus responds as the King: “Today, you will be with me in paradise.”
Significantly, His reign is inaugurated with mercy. Mankind is no longer bound by the ancient punishment, just as it was, for the King Himself took on that punishment and by it redeemed His subjects from that heavy load.
Jesus’ reign is prefigured in the kingship of David. He, the unexpected choice of Jesse’s sons, was anointed King in Hebron. The tribes of Israel acclaim God’s decision saying: “And the Lord said to you, ‘You shall shepherd my people Israel and shall be commander of Israel.” David as a good king but not perfect. He sinned – greatly. But he repented and God had mercy. Solomon is successor was know for wisdom. He built a great Kingdom in worldly standards yet he too sinned. And God had mercy. Among the kings that followed there were more notorious ones than noble. All the while the longing for a King who would truly shepherd Israel for the One King, God, was growing. One who would lead in goodness and truth, justice and peace.
The longing was and is fulfilled in Jesus the Christ (anointed one). He is our King who leads us through life to our heavenly Father. Saint Paul in the Letter to the Colossians, probably using a very early Christian hymn of praise, describes the Kingship we celebrate today. A King whose reign is eternal, merciful, life giving and unifying:
Let us give thanks to the Father,
who has made you fit to share
in the inheritance of the holy ones in light.
He delivered us from the power of darkness
and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son,
in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.
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.
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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