November 22, 2019

Christ the Cornerstone

Christ is king and the image of the invisible God

Archbishop Charles C. Thompson

“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” (Col 1:12–14).

On Sunday, Nov. 24, we celebrate the Solemnity of Christ the King. It’s an important feast day which concludes the Church’s liturgical year, and prepares us to begin again with the new Church year that starts the following week on the First Sunday of Advent.

In this feast, we proclaim Christ as King of the Universe, the Lord of all things visible and invisible. Was there ever a more unlikely king than Jesus of Nazareth? He had no political ambitions. He did not espouse an economic system or a particular style of government, but he clearly distinguished “what belongs to Caesar” from “what belongs to God.”

His love for the poor and suffering people of his time was not based on any social theory. He didn’t associate his ministry with any ideology or party platform. As he responded to Pontius Pilate during the interrogation that preceded his crucifixion: “My kingdom is not of this world ” (Jn 18:36).

Why do we consider Jesus to be our king? During his time on Earth, and especially during his Passion, this title was not something he claimed. In fact, his enemies taunted him saying, “If you are King of the Jews, save yourself” (Lk 23:37). And above his head on the cross there was an inscription placed there by Pilate (which infuriated Jewish leaders) that read, “This is the King of the Jews” (Lk 23:38).

According to the Gospel for this Sunday (Lk 23:35-43), as he hung on the cross near death, Jesus acknowledged his kingship, or sovereignty, with this dialogue:

“Now one of the criminals hanging there reviled Jesus, saying, ‘Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us.’ The other, however, rebuking him, said in reply, ‘Have you no fear of God, for you are subject to the same condemnation? And indeed, we have been condemned justly, for the sentence we received corresponds to our crimes, but this man has done nothing criminal.’ Then he said, ‘Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.’ He replied to him, ‘Amen, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise’ ” (Lk 23:39-43).

The first criminal taunted Jesus, but the man tradition calls “The Good Thief” had the wisdom and humility to acknowledge Jesus as the Christ, and to ask simply that he be remembered when Jesus returned to his heavenly realm. His reward is Jesus’ assurance that that very day they would be together in God’s kingdom.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church tells us that the word “Christ” comes from the Greek translation of the Hebrew word Messiah, which means “anointed” (#436). In ancient Israel, those consecrated to God for a mission were anointed in God’s name. This was true for kings, for priests and, in some cases, for prophets.

According to the catechism, “This had to be the case all the more so for the Messiah whom God would send to inaugurate his kingdom definitively. It was necessary that the Messiah be anointed by the Spirit of the Lord at once as king and priest, and also as prophet. Jesus fulfilled the messianic hope of Israel in his threefold office of priest, prophet and king” (#436).

In the second reading for this feast day, St. Paul tells us that God the Father “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” (Col 1: 13-14). Sacred Scripture attests that Jesus is the Messiah, the anointed one, Christ the King, but his kingship is not of this world. It is something radically different from what we have come to expect from earthly monarchs.

We proclaim Jesus as Christ the King because, as St. Paul says, “He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. … 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” (Col 1:15, 19-20).

As we celebrate the Solemnity of Christ the King this weekend, let’s remember that, by virtue of our baptism, we are the loyal subjects of a ruler whose kingship consists of love and mercy, justice and peace. May we acknowledge him as our sovereign Lord and humbly ask him for the privilege of one day being with him in paradise. †

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