November 19, 2021

Christ the Cornerstone

Christ is both king and servant

Archbishop Charles C. Thompson

“As the visions during the night continued, I saw one like a Son of man coming, on the clouds of heaven; when he reached the Ancient One and was presented before him, the one like a Son of man received dominion, glory, and kingship; all peoples, nations, and languages serve him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that shall not be taken away, his kingship shall not be destroyed” (Dn 7:13–14).

This Sunday, we celebrate the Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe (Christ the King). We Americans have a difficult time relating to the idea that Jesus is a king. We rejected the idea of royalty more than 200 years ago in favor of an experiment in democratic governance that our founders insisted was the best way to organize society and ensure human rights and freedom. We accept no earthly kings, queens or dictators, but we can accept Christ as our king when we understand that, as he tells Pilate in Sunday’s Gospel reading, “My kingdom does not belong to this world” (Jn 18:36).

The key to understanding Jesus Christ as “king of the universe” can be found in the readings selected by the Church for this great feast. In the responsorial psalm (Ps 93), the psalmist celebrates the splendor and the permanence of the reign of God and of his precepts. God alone rules in heaven and on Earth, and his decrees alone are trustworthy. The prophet Daniel (Dn 7:13-14) tells of a king whose dominion shall never be overcome, “his kingship shall not be destroyed” (Dn 7:14). And finally, we have the images presented to us in the Book of Revelation (Rev 1:5-8), which presents Jesus in triumph, and in the Gospel of St. John, which shows Jesus as defeated and preparing for his crucifixion.

What kind of king stands before a representative of Roman authority and power in absolute humiliation and apparent helplessness? What kind of king accepts willingly the unjust punishment and cruel death that is waiting for him on the cross? Surely this is a very different kind of king who can say, “If my kingdom did belong to this world, my attendants would be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Jews. But as it is, my kingdom is not here” (Jn 18:36).

Jesus is a king who is also a servant, a slave occupying the lowest rung on the socio-political ladder of his time—and of all times. He rules not by asserting earthly power, or by manipulating the opinions of others, but by accepting the will of his Father and by giving his life as a ransom for our sins.

Jesus is the ultimate servant-leader. As he tells his disciples, and all of us, the pathway to the kingdom of heaven is a service road not a grand highway, and true greatness is measured by our willingness to serve others. If we wish to follow Christ our King, we must give up our old ideas about leadership, governance and political power and replace them with humble, self-sacrificing service.

The Solemnity of Christ the King is a day for Catholics to rededicate ourselves to the truth of Christ’s sovereignty over all things visible and invisible by listening to his voice and by obeying his word. It is only under the reign of Christ who is both king and servant that we will experience true freedom and see renewal in our Church and in our country. Especially as we journey together in the “synod of synods,” we must listen prayerfully to God’s word as it reveals who Jesus is and who we are as women and men called to follow him. His way leads unfailingly through the pain of the cross to the joy of everlasting life.

As missionary disciples of Jesus Christ, we realize our freedom most fully in service to God, to his people and to all his creation. We achieve freedom and the realization of our fundamental rights and dignity when we empty ourselves of our own comfort and bear witness to the kingdom of God even when it demands suffering and obedience—even unto death.

The sovereign ruler that we adore is nothing like the earthly rulers who claim our obeisance, our deferential respect, because of their political authority or persuasive rhetoric. Our sovereign Lord is also our servant. He is ruler over all things seen and unseen because he is God’s only-begotten Son who has given himself unselfishly for the redemption of the world.

“I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, “the one who is and who was and who is to come, the almighty.” (Rev 1:8). Come, let us adore him, Christ our King. †

Local site Links: