November 18, 2022

Christ the Cornerstone

Christ, Lord of heaven and Earth, and a different kind of king

Archbishop Charles C. Thompson

“My kingdom does not belong to this world. 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).

Millions of people throughout the world recently watched with rapt attention as Queen Elizabeth II was laid to rest in majestic, weeks-long ceremonies that celebrated her 70-year reign as a monarch. Attention also focused on the quiet, drama-free ascension of Charles, her firstborn son, as king. Even citizens of the United States of America, who long ago rejected monarchy as their form of government, seemed to pay a secular form of homage to the British queen and her successor.

There is no question that most of us are fascinated by the theatrics of royalty, and whether we love them or despise them, we find the drama surrounding kings and queens irresistible.

The kingship of Jesus Christ, which our Church celebrates this Sunday, is different.

Yes, there was the pomp and circumstance of Palm Sunday, but it didn’t last even a week. In fact, it was succeeded almost immediately by abject humiliation, cruel torture and ignominious death.

And at no time during his brief life on Earth did Jesus assume anything like the style or demeanor we have come to associate with royalty. In fact, during his public ministry, our Lord and Savior explicitly rejected the attitudes and behavior of most earthly rulers.

“My kingdom is not of this world,” Jesus told Pontius Pilate (Jn 18:36). The title “King of the Jews” was not something he aspired to. It was a title imposed on him by the Romans out of pure malice, and it was bitterly opposed by the Jews as blasphemy.

So when we celebrate the Solemnity of Christ the King each year, we need to be clear about the kind of king that Jesus is. We know from his statement to Pilate that his kingdom transcends our earthly existence. We also know from this Sunday’s Gospel reading that Jesus has the power to grant admittance to his kingdom to those he considers worthy—including the so-called Good Thief who acknowledged Jesus’ sovereignty while crucified next to him.

What must we do to imitate Christ the King? The Gospels, and indeed the Scriptures in their entirety, answer this question by revealing God’s will for us and by teaching us how to live. However, we can also point to certain spiritual principles that are drawn from the words and example of Jesus and that describe vividly why Christ’s kingship is unique and why we ought to imitate —and revere—this unearthly and uncommon king.

The first spiritual principle is humility. Christ the King never looks down on anyone or arbitrarily exercises his divine authority in any situation. He invites us, and tries to persuade us, to walk with him. But he values our freedom so highly that he allows us to choose—even when what we decide is clearly not in our best interests.

Secondly, our Lord is infinitely patient. He allows us plenty of time to experience his love and mercy, and to repent and follow him. When he says his kingdom is not of this world, he affirms that he has all the time in the world to forgive us and to show us the way to eternal life with him.

Third, the mind and heart of our Divine King are pure, totally uncorrupted by earthly desires. As a result, we can trust him implicitly. Unlike many earthly rulers, Christ our King means what he says, and he will keep all his promises. We need have no hesitation or doubt that Jesus walks with us, listens to us, and responds to our prayers. He wants only what is best for us—in conformity with God’s plan.

Finally, Christ the King is not an authoritarian ruler whose edicts are ill-considered or self-serving. Jesus only does the will of his Father, and his primary royal commands are that we love God and our neighbor as ourselves. We worship one who is close, not distant, and who rules exclusively by means of love and service. We acclaim him as Lord and King not because we fear his wrath but because we are in awe of his kindness and generosity to all.

When we celebrate the Solemnity of Christ the King this weekend, we proclaim our absolute conviction that Christ is Lord of heaven and Earth, and that his style of leadership—humility, patience, purity and obedience to God’s will—is the only form of governance that can hope to be truly effective in this world—“on Earth as it is in heaven.” †

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