Tuesday, November 15, 2022

The King is Dead – Long Live the King

This is the last week of the liturgical year. Next Sunday, the first Sunday of Advent, begins a new church year. (It also unofficially begins the Christmas season, which means this year has gone by WAY too fast!)

We close out this liturgical year by celebrating the feast of Christ the King.
In the second reading this week, a passage from St. Paul’s letter to the Colossians, it is very clear why we are proclaiming that Christ is king. Paul explains that Jesus “is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For in him were created all things in heaven and on earth.” Paul continues: “All things were created through him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.”

Since Jesus is part of the Trinity, He has all of the attributes of God. He is omnipresent, omniscient, and omnipotent — which means He is all-present, all-knowing, and all-powerful.

I’d say those are fairly good qualifications for being a king, wouldn’t you? So, as long as we believe Paul’s theological description of Jesus, as long as we understand that we owe our very existence to Jesus, we have no trouble bowing down in worship and proclaiming that Christ is the king. Then we come to the gospel reading. Do we find our sovereign king sitting on a glorious throne? Is our divine Lord and ruler resplendently attired in His palace as faithful subjects bow before Him? Not quite.
In the gospel reading our King of kings is bloodied and beaten, nailed naked to a cross. The soldiers who drove the nails and the religious leaders who manipulated the death sentence took turns mocking and jeering. At that moment on Calvary, He looked nothing like a king.

It requires eyes of faith to look past the obvious and see the underlying truth of a situation. One of the other criminals being executed that day, siding with the soldiers and religious leaders, did not see a king. Scripture says this criminal “reviled Jesus.”

But another criminal, hanging from his own cross, had eyes of faith. He replied, “Have you no fear of God?” Then he turned to Jesus and said, “Remember me when you come into your kingdom.”

This criminal looked at the bruised, bloodied, and dying man hanging next to him and saw a king. He knew that our natural world is not the only realm of existence.

The faith-filled criminal did not have St. Paul’s theological grasp of Jesus’ cosmic identity. But he knew there is more to existence than just this natural life. He knew death was not the end, but rather a transition to the next life. He had the faith to realize that Jesus had a special connection with that next life.

Jesus rewarded his faith by promising, “Today you will be with me in Paradise.”
We know what happened three days later when Jesus conquered death once and for all and burst forth from the tomb. And we know what happened forty days after that when He ascended into Heaven to be seated at the right hand of the Father. Knowing this, the irony is not so obvious when we read of Jesus’ utter humiliation during a feast called Christ the King.

But the faithful criminal did not know any of that. He put his trust and hope in Jesus anyway. His natural eyes saw a fellow criminal being put to death. But his supernatural eyes saw a heavenly king. Because of his faith, at this very moment and forevermore, he is in Paradise. We should all be like that faithful criminal and proclaim that Christ is indeed the king. If we do, we can one day join Him in Paradise. 

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