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Acknowledging God as ultimate power

Friday November 24, 2017 Written by Published in Church Talk

“Christ the King” is a title of Jesus Christ.


It refers to the concept of the Kingdom of God where the Christ is imagined as seated at the Right Hand of God (as opposed to the secular title of King of the Jews mockingly given at the crucifixion)”.1

In this celebration, which in the Catholic Calendar comes on the last Sunday of October, we seek to acknowledge God as the ultimate power in the universe. This is expressed in some churches by holding a public procession. This celebration poses a challenge to preachers each year, involving how we understand kingship in relationship to Christ, who refused to be called a king during his earthly life.

Jesus steered his apostles away from proclaiming him a king. He shied away from political or physical power other than the power of words. He was a preacher, teacher, storyteller. He sought out powerless people, often the victims of power: the poor, the sick and social outcasts.

In his confrontations with the power structures of his own time, Jesus did not resist, but surrendered himself to violent abuse and an unjust death. The writers of the gospels depict his death as a kind of parody of kingship. Jesus is cloaked in purple, crowned with thorns, enthroned on a cross between two thieves, mocked as King of the Jews. His crucifixion is a sign of contradiction in that it turns upside down any notion of power and control.

There is a powerful lesson in the model of kingship presented by Jesus in the gospels. Jesus points out that the worldly notion of kingship implies that kings have power; kings have wealth; and kings lord it over others.

What do the gospels have to say about having power over others? There is that incident in the Gospel where James and John come seeking the first place in his kingdom. (Matthew 20: 20 - 23) They are thinking of a human kingdom; they want to be on the right hand and on the left hand.

Jesus is upset by this request, and not only rebukes them, but he calls his disciples together and he says to them; “You know among the pagans the rulers lord it over them, and their great men make their authority felt. That is not to happen among you. No: anyone who wants to be great among you must be your servant, and anyone who wants to be first among you must be slave, just as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom.” (Matthew 20: 24 – 28)

That is what Jesus showed them dramatically at the last supper, when he got down and knelt in front of each disciple and washed their feet. (John 13: 1 -15) He took the role of a slave, a servant. He said, “As I have done to you, you must do to others. You must be servants.”

This example would be completely foreign to any worldly king!

What about wealth? Kings are identified with wealth. They have everything they need. They draw money from the poor and build up their own wealth so that they can always do whatever they want that money can obtain. There is that incident in the gospel where the young man comes to Jesus and says, “What must I do to gain eternal life?”

When Jesus says, “Well keep the commandments,’ he replies, “I have done that from my youth, my early years.” (Mark 10: 17 – 27)

Then Jesus looks on him with love and says, “If you truly want to be perfect, go sell everything you have. Give it to the poor and then come follow me” (cf. Matt 19:21)

Don’t depend on your riches any longer, your wealth. Follow me. Live a life of simplicity and of poverty, having what you need, but not more than you need. In that Gospel incident, the young man went away sad because he had great possessions. He wasn’t willing to let go. It was too great a risk not to keep on trying to build up and accumulate wealth and to get more and more and more.

The third aspect of being King is to use force. Many kings go to war to get their own way. Jesus rejected violence.

In the Garden of Gethsemane, when one of the disciples saw that the soldiers were arresting Jesus, the disciple says: “I must defend him. I must prevent this.” And so the disciple draws his sword and slices off the ear of one of the high priest’s servants. Jesus responds by reminding the disciple that those who live by the sword dies by the sword. (cf Matt 26:50-55)

One of the stronger texts about the use of power is demonstrated in the entry into Jerusalem when the people were ready to proclaim him king. He came riding on a donkey and not a horse (John 12: 12 – 19).

Jesus responds by finding a young donkey to sit on (v. 14), thereby making a mess of the picture they were creating. He should have found a horse to ride on or made use of some other symbol of power. His action undercuts their nationalism and points in a different direction, evoking an image from the Prophets: “Do not be afraid, O Daughter of Zion; see, your king is coming, seated on a donkey’s colt.” (Zech 9:9). He is indeed king, but not the sort of king they have in mind.

Given this scriptural back ground how do we handle the notion of kingship today, in 2017?

Right from the third century the church was uncomfortable with the radical witness of Jesus to servanthood and poverty. The church began to accumulate wealth and power down through the centuries.

The gospel chosen for this Sunday is Matthew 25:31- 38 which is the story of the Last Judgment illustrated by the separation of the goats from the sheep.

It tells that the Lord of the Universe has disappeared among the hungry, thirsty, naked, lost, sick imprisoned, the alien and persecuted of this world. Our King is hiding in the least of our brothers and sisters.

The one power Jesus exhibits is to move our hearts to compassion. His very poverty invites us to exercise the power we share with God in whose image and likeness we are made. This is the essence of our royal priesthood, the power to sacrifice ourselves for others. Jesus asked James and John the question: “Can you drink the cup that I am going to drink?” (Matthew 20: 22.

Do we, like the apostles James and John look for Christ the King in the wrong place?

The following is a story from New Caledonia which may help you understand the gospel and answer this question.

The story is set in a village church somewhere in New Caledonia where an artist, who was a leper, had painted on the back wall of the church a mural depicting the arrival of the first missionaries to the island.

The painting showed the sailing ship out in the bay at anchor, with the missionaries coming ashore in long-boats with all their boxes and baggage, goats and animals. Meanwhile, on the shore the local population was lined up with various expressions of wonderment and anxiety shown on their faces. Amongst the crowd on the shore was a person who was different from the others. He was of lighter colour and partly obscured.

When asked who this person was, the artist said that this was the Melanesian Christ waiting for the missionaries.

Two questions to ponder. Are you looking for Christ the King?

If so, where?

1. From Wikipedia.

            Bishop Paul Donoghue

            (Catholic Church)

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