34th Sunday (Christ the King) Deuteronomy 7:13–14; Revelation 1:5–8; John 18:33–37
Kierkegaard’s Parable Christ the King became one of us, to serve us and to teach us to serve one another.
Soren Kierkegaard was a philosopher and theologian who lived in Denmark about 150 years ago. In one of his books there’s a story about a king who fell in love with a peasant girl.
The king knew that it was next to impossible for him to marry the girl. Kings never married peasants. They always married royalty.
But this king was so powerful that he knew he could marry the girl and get away with it.
But another thought occurred to him. If he married the peasant girl and stayed king, there would always be something missing in their relationship.
The girl would always admire the king, but she could never really love him. The gap between them would be too great. She would always be conscious of the fact that he was royalty and she was merely a lowly peasant.
So the king decided on another plan. He decided that he would resign his kingship and become a lowly peasant himself. Then he would offer his love to her as one lowly peasant to another.
The king realized, of course, that if he did this, the situation could backfire. He could lose not only his kingship but the girl as well. She might reject him, especially if she thought him foolish for doing what he did.
And so, the king had a problem. What should he do?
The king finally decided that he loved the peasant girl so much that he would risk everything to make true love between them possible.
Kierkegaard never told how the story ended. He never told whether the girl accepted the king’s love or rejected it. He never told whether they got married and lived happily ever after.
Kierkegaard had two reasons for not telling how the story ended.
First, that’s not the point of the story. The point of the story is the king’s love for the lowly peasant girl. It was so great that he renounced his royalty and his throne for her.
The second reason why Kierkegaard never told how the story ended is that the story is not yet ended. It’s still going on. It’s a true story, whose ending has not yet been written. It’s the true story of God’s love for each one of us. The king in his story is God; the girl in the story is each one of us.
There are two differences, however. First, God is more than royalty; he is divinity. Second, God’s love for us is infinite; he loves us more than the king could ever love the peasant girl.
But the rest of the story is exactly the same. God could have loved us and kept his divine status. But that would have made the gap between us too great. It would be hard for us to love God freely.
So God decided to become one of us. In the person of Jesus Christ, he decided to become a lowly human being. He decided to declare his love for us in a way that would not overpower us. He decided to declare his love for us in a way that we could understand perfectly and respond to freely.
And this leads us to the second reason why Kierkegaard never told how the story ended. It’s because the love story between God and us is still going on. It’s because the love story between God and us is not yet ended.
Each one of us is in the process of writing his or her own personal ending to that story. Each one of us is in the process of deciding whether we’ll accept God’s love or reject it. Each one of us is in the process of deciding whether we’ll live happily with god for ever after.
Jesus Christ is indeed a powerful king who became like us so that he could love us and serve us. “The Son of Man,” says Jesus, “did not come to be served; he came to serve and to give his life to redeem many people.” Mark 10:45 Paul refers to this incredible mystery this way in his Letter to the Philippians:
“Christ Jesus . . . always had the nature of God, but . . . of his own free will he gave up all he had, and took the nature of a servant. He became like a human being. . . .
“For this reason God raised him to the highest place above and gave him the name that is greater than any other name.
“And so, in honor of the name of Jesus all beings in heaven, on earth, and in the world below will fall on their knees, and all will openly proclaim that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” Philippians 2:5–11
How can we reduce all this into some practical application for our lives?
Right after we were baptized the priest took holy oil and anointed our head, saying this prayer:
“As Christ was anointed Priest, Prophet, and King, so may you live always as a member of his body sharing everlasting life.”
In other words, each one of us, by baptism, shares in the kingship of Christ, our head.
And so, we can make this practical application. Christ can no longer walk about on our earth, teaching people and healing them as he used to. He can do that only through his body.
We are Christ’s hands; we are his feet; we are his tongue; we are his heart.
In other words, the kingdom of God, established by Jesus in his lifetime, must be completed by us in our lifetime.
And so, the Feast of Christ the King invites us to ask ourselves, What are we, personally and concretely, doing to bring to completion the kingdom of God on earth?
At the end of time Jesus will return as king. Matthew says in his Gospel:
“When the Son of Man comes as King . . . he will sit on his royal throne, and the people of all the nations will be gathered before him.
“Then he will divide them into two groups. . . . He will put the righteous people at his right and the others at his left.
“Then he will divide them into two groups. . . . He will put the righteous people at his right and the others at his left.
“Then the King will say to the people on his right, ‘Come, you that are blessed by my Father! . . . I was hungry and you fed me, thirsty and you gave me a drink; I was a stranger and you received me . . . naked and you clothed me. . . .
“ ‘Whenever you did this for one of the least important of these followers of mine, you did it for me’’ Matthew 25:31–36, 40
Series II 34th Sunday (Christ the King) Deuteronomy 7:13–14; Revelation 1:5–8; John 18:33–37
The Prince and the Pauper Christ the King became one of us and died for us. What are we going to do for him in return?
When we hear the name Mark Twain, we usually think of such books as Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn. But Mark Twain wrote another book called The Prince and the Pauper.
In some ways The Prince and the Pauper is a more important book than either Tom Sawyer or Huckleberry Finn.
It concerns two boys born in England. The first boy was born to the royal family and was direct heir to the throne of England. He was given the title the Prince of Wales, and eventually he became King Edward VI. Commenting on his birth, Mark Twain says:
“England had so longed for him, and hoped for him, and prayed to God for him, that now that he was really come, the people went nearly mad for joy. . . . Everybody took a holiday, and high and low, rich and poor, feasted and danced and sang.’’
On the very same day that the prince was born to the royal family in the palace of London, another boy was born to a poor family in the slums of London. He was given the name Tom Canty, and eventually he became a beggar boy. Commenting on his birth, Mark Twain says:
“He was an unwanted boy.’’ Nobody longed for him; nobody hoped for him; nobody prayed to God for him. And now that he was come into the world, nobody feasted, nobody danced, nobody sang.
Both boys grew up in totally different surroundings. Both boys grew up with totally different views of the world. But one thing about them was totally the same. Both grew up with the same freshness, the same sparkle, the same enthusiasm that you find in all boys on the verge of entering adolescence.
One day Tom Canty found himself outside the gates of the royal palace. He was awestruck by its beauty. As he edged closer to the gates to get a better look at the palace, the royal guards charged him and brutally threw him to the ground.
The young prince happened to see the incident and came running to Tom’s defense. Then to the consternation of the guards, the prince invited Tom to visit his royal quarters.
Tom was absolutely flabbergasted. He’d never seen anything like this before. And the prince was charmed by the spontaneity and genuineness of his new friend. Then something unusual happened. As the prince was showing Tom the huge mirror in his room, the two boys couldn’t believe what they saw in the mirror.
Except for Tom’s rags and dirty face, he was a perfect look-alike of the prince. Amazed by their similar appearance, the prince said to Tom:
“Thou has the same hair, the same eyes, the same voice . . . the same form and . . . face . . . that I bear. Fared we forth naked, there is none could say which was you and which was the Prince of Wales.’’ The two boys were practically identical twins.
Then they both got the same idea. Wouldn’t it be fun to switch places and play a trick on everybody? So the prince put on Tom’s beggar clothes and wandered off through the slums of London and rubbed elbows with the poor and exploited.
Meanwhile, Tom put on the prince’s clothes and rubbed elbows with the rich and famous.
After a while the boys tired of their game. The prince returned to the palace and tried to enter it. But the guards seized him. When he refused to go away, they threw him into the palace prison. No amount of persuasion would convince them that he was really the Prince of Wales.
Even Tom’s attempts to set things straight failed.
To make a long story short, the situation finally got ironed out. But something important happened in the process. As a result of his experience, the prince learned firsthand what it meant to be poor, to be treated badly, and to be oppressed unfairly by those in authority.
The prince eventually became king and was one of the most merciful and best-loved kings ever to reign on the throne of England.
The story of The Prince and the Pauper is not unlike the story of Jesus Christ and each one of us. We are the beggar boy; Jesus is the prince, destined to become the king of all creation.
Jesus switched places with us. He exchanged the royal robes of his divinity for the dirty rags of our humanity.
Like the prince in Mark Twain’s story, Jesus learned firsthand what it is like to rub elbows with the poor and with the downtrodden.
Unlike the prince in Mark Twain’s story, Jesus did something infinitely more. He died at the hands of his own subjects, rose from the dead, and now reigns as king of heaven and earth.
This is the great mystery that we celebrate on this feast of Christ the King.
We celebrate the fact that Jesus, the king of heaven and earth, understands our situation. He became one of us and experienced firsthand what we experienced. He did more; he suffered and died for us.
About the time that Mark Twain wrote his story The Prince and the Pauper, Abraham Lincoln was president of our nation. On Good Friday of April 1865 he was assassinated in Washington, D.C.
His body was placed on a funeral train to be taken to Springfield, Illinois, to be buried. The train stopped in various big cities along the way for people to view the remains of the president.
In the line of viewers in Cleveland, Ohio, was a poor black lady and her little son. When they got to the president’s body, the poor lady lifted her son up and said, “Honey, take a long look. That man died for you.’’
On Good Friday Jesus also died. He was not the president of our nation. He was the king of heaven and earth. And what the black lady said to her little son, I now say to each one of you: “Honey, take a long look. That man died for you.’’
If the king of the universe died for us, the beggars of the world, what should we do for him in return?
And so on this feast of Christ the King, it is appropriate for me to point at the crucifix in this church and say, “My brothers and sisters, take a long look. That man died for you.’’
And it is appropriate for you to respond by asking yourselves three questions: What have I done for that man in the past? What am I doing for him right now? What will I do for him in the future?
Series III 34th Sunday (Christ the King) Daniel 7:13–14, Revelation 1:5–8, John 18:33b–37
Christ the King Christ is Lord of my life, if only I’ll let him be.
Jesus said, “I came . . . to speak about the truth. Whoever belongs to the truth listens to me.” John 18:37
England’s Arnold Toynbee is generally regarded as one of the great historians of all time. His masterpiece is a 12-volume work called A Study of History.
It studies in detail the history of 26 civilizations. It analyzes how they began, how they developed, and how and why they declined and eventually died.
Summing up the place of Jesus in the parade of these civilizations and their people, Toynbee writes, poetically:
When we set out on this study, we found ourselves moving in the midst of a mighty host.
But as we pressed forward, the marchers, company by company, have fallen. . . . And now as we stand and gaze with our eyes fixed on the farther shore, a single figure . . . fills the whole horizon.
That figure is Jesus of Nazareth.
Another student of history spelled out Toynbee’s summary of Jesus’ place in history this way—and I quote:
He is a man who was born in an obscure village, the Child of a peasant woman. He worked in a carpenter shop until He was thirty, and then for three years He was an itinerant preacher.
He never wrote a book. He never held an office. He never owned a home. He never had a family. He never went to college. . . . He never did one of the things that usually accompany greatness. . . .
While still a young man, the tide of popular opinion turned against Him. He was turned over to His enemies. He went through a mockery of a trial. He was nailed to a cross between two thieves.
His executioners gambled for the only piece of property He had on earth while He was dying—and that was His coat.
When He was dead, He was taken down, and laid in a borrowed grave through the pity of a friend. Such was His human life. . . .
Nineteen hundred centuries have come and gone and today He is the Centerpiece of the human race. . . . I am far within the mark when I say that all the armies that ever marched, and all the navies that ever were built . . . and all the kings that ever reigned, put together, have not affected the life of man upon earth as powerfully as has that One Solitary Life. James C. Hefley, quoted in J. B. Fowler Jr., Great Words of the New Testament
All of this prompted another British historian, H. G. Wells, to draw this conclusion about Jesus. He said:
The reader and I live in countries where to millions of persons, Jesus is more than a man.
But the historian must disregard that fact. He must adhere to the evidence that would pass unchallenged if his book were to be read in every nation under the sun.
Now it is interesting and significant that a historian . . . like myself who does not even call himself a Christian finds the picture centering irresistibly around the life and character of this most significant man. . . .
The historian’s test of an individual’s greatness is “What did he leave to grow?”
Did he start men to thinking along fresh new lines with a vigor that persisted after him?
By this test Jesus stands first. “The Three Greatest Men in History,” Reader’s Digest (May 1935)
That brings us to today’s feast: the feast of Christ the King. It serves as a kind grand finale to the entire liturgical year. As such, it invites us to do two things.
First, it invites us to honor Jesus as the Lord and King of all creation and of all human history, as we are doing here at this Mass.
Second—and more importantly—it invites us to express that honor in a practical and personal way in our lives.
Rather than talk about it in prose, let us turn once again to a story and to poetry.
Consider this true story of a young woman who, for anonymity, we shall call Christine. She was excited about being received into the Catholic Church at the Easter Vigil Service.
She had one apprehension, however. Her deceased father had been active in a church that was openly hostile toward the Catholic Church. She feared he would not approve.
The priest at the Easter Vigil Service had prepared a keepsake for each of the candidates being received into the Church.
On it was typed a poem dealing with the kingship of Christ.The poem was entitled “I Carry a Cross in My Pocket.” It read:
I carry a cross in my pocket. . . . It is not for identification For all the world to see.
It’s simply an understanding Between my Savior and me. . . .
It reminds me to be thankful For my blessings day by day And strive to serve him better In all that I do and say. . . .
Reminding no one but me That Jesus is Lord of my life If only I’ll let him be. Anonymous
When the priest handed Christine the card, she looked at the poem and burst into tears. She told the priest later that just before her father died, he reached into his wallet, pulled out a piece of paper, and handed it to her as a keepsake. On it was a copy of the poem “I Carry a Cross in My Pocket.”
She told the priest that when he gave her the poem, it was as if her father was reaching down from heaven, putting his hand on her shoulder, and saying, “It’s all right, Christine. I approve!”
That poem and that story explain in a heartwarming way what the feast of Christ the King is all about.
It’s about inviting Christ into my heart and asking him to become Lord of my life.
This is my hope and my prayer on this feast of Christ the King for all of us, including me.