In business, education, politics and sports we crave and seek success. With success comes fame, prosperity, power. The successful set the standard and they bask in the glory. Do people remember the team that lost the 1924 World Series? Do people buy advice books from the executive of a failed company or give grant money to researchers who have never achieved tangible results?
The Solemnity of Christ the King will be observed this weekend. The feast dates to the first part of the 20th century, when revolutionary governments were becoming increasingly hostile to the faith. Set against the background of vicious secular ideologies that denied or ignored God, this feast celebrated the sovereignty of God and of His only Son, Jesus Christ. Placed at the conclusion of the liturgical year, when the scripture readings emphasize the question of the final judgment, it also reminded Christians of their ultimate loyalty and leaders of their accountability to divine judgment.
In our own day, this Feast continues to challenge any ideology or dictator that would seek dominion over the human heart. But it also challenges each Christian by confronting us with the sight of a failed Messiah and a Crucified King.
The Old Testament struggled against the notion of any mere human claim to kingship. In their loose tribal confederacy, the people of ancient Israel envied the “success” of other nations who had kings and centralized governance. Those nations appeared more organized, better equipped for battle and more skilled in dominating their neighbors. The people failed to notice that such nations also sacrificed their freedom and dignity for the sake of such “success.” When Israel cried out for a king, the great Prophet Samuel reminded them of the sovereignty of God and the dangers of oppression and tyranny inherent in giving a human being such power over them. The Lord wielded power for the sake of the people, a human king would have used power for his own interests.
In the Letter to the Colossians, Paul wrote a “hymn” to the rule of Christ. If Samuel insisted that only the Lord could be the true king of Israel, then Paul’s hymn points to Christ as the one and only authentic head of the Church. The hymn acclaims the power and sovereignty of the One Who reconciled all things through His blood. There is a conscious irony spoken in the hymn as it exalts the One Who was humiliated and crucified.
Likewise, in the gospels, Jesus is rejected and mocked. However, the mockery of the rulers only confirms the truth that Jesus can save Himself, but chooses not to do so. He has lived His life for others and now He goes to His death for others. If He were to save Himself, we would be lost. Of course, this selfless service points to the hypocrisy of the rulers who have demonstrated their self-centeredness and lack of concern for the people throughout the Gospel. We witness the power of Jesus to save even as he appears helpless and dying. When a criminal repents in the presence of Jesus, healing, reconciliation and salvation burst forth.
In this feast, we acknowledge that the Lord is only true ruler of our hearts and minds. He is unlike any earthly ruler in His love for us and His capacity to save the world by pouring out His life for us. We look past the suffering and the appearance of defeat to the saving power of love.
Worldly leaders continue to use and abuse others, to divide and conquer, to enrich and empower themselves. In our own society, the political, cultural and financial elites dismiss the power of faith and see themselves as the arbiters of a new truth. But the marginal, the poor, the vulnerable, and the rejected see in the suffering face of Christ the One Who truly knows them. In His blood and sweat we see our struggles and in His presence we find our Hope – hope in the One Who did, can, and will “save others.”