Pope Pius XI instituted this feast of Christ the King as a response to the Europe of the dictators. His reaction to the bizarre certainties and all-too-human schemes for redemption that were on offer at the time was not to say, “Look at me, listen to me,” but, “Look to him, behold the wood of the cross on which hung the Saviour of the world.” This feast is a call to realise that truly solving the problems of the world, bringing about the reign of peace and justice, cannot come from any social movement or political programme. It can only come from realising that the eternal desire for a “one, true, king” who will fix everything can only be fulfilled in Christ.
In our Gospel this Sunday, Jesus proclaims himself as King by declaring himself as judge and, indeed, the source of justice. Jesus overtly equates himself with God the King of the Universe, the one enthroned upon the cherubim who will come to rule the earth, who will come in judgement, as the Old Testament foretells. Jesus’ ministry, in a world overshadowed – as it is today – by wickedness and want, is the triumphal procession of God the King.
It would, perhaps, be easier to acknowledge him as king if he did come to us immediately in that way, in a display of power and might. But the displays of power and might in this world are all too often disconnected from the true king and rather encourage us to bow done before other figures, be they political, or sporting, or entertainment.
The Passion we hear each year on Good Friday makes clear what our real choice is: accept this pitiful figure as King – ‘Behold your King’, Pilate scoffs – even as he hangs in agony on the cross … or choose instead to cry out with the chief priests ‘We have no king but Caesar’. If we choose Christ as our King, then we become citizens of the new Israel; rejecting the pretensions of earthly rulers, we acknowledge Christ as our King because he is our Lord and our God.
But if we do truly intend to accept him as our king, and commit ourselves to serve him, then we should not be looking to see him in scenes of power and glory. Not yet, at least. One day, we trust, we shall indeed see him thus. But if we are to do so we must serve him now, when we are more likely to see him on a cross rather than a throne. If we wish to see the “one, true, king” reigning in perfect justice and peace we must serve him in the least of his brothers and sisters because, here and now, that is where we shall find him.
Fr Chris Denham