November 20, 2022
“The rulers sneered at Jesus and said,
‘He saved others, let him save himself
if he is the chosen one, the Christ of God.’
Even the soldiers jeered at him.
As they approached to offer him wine they called out,
‘If you are King of the Jews, save yourself.’
Above him there was an inscription that read,
‘This is the King of the Jews.’
Now one of the criminals hanging there reviled Jesus, saying,
‘Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us.’”
Today, we celebrate the Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe. That’s a mouthful, but it has been traditionally known as the feast of Christ the King. In either case, it is triumphalistic. The end of the liturgical year focuses on the end of the story, the ultimate end. The culmination of time brings the second coming of Jesus, a new heaven and a new earth, and all things made right. In the final tally, the victory belongs to Jesus. At the end of the age (an age, as I mentioned last week, which has already begun, but is not yet finished), God triumphs. It is good news, filled with hope, that gives us strength in the midst of suffering, resilience in the face of challenges, endurance for the long haul, and purpose when things just fall apart. On that final day, I can almost imagine The Heavenly Herald (or whatever heaven’s newspaper is called) running a single word headline, “VICTORY!”
It can seem odd that with such a focus for this solemnity the Gospel reading for today has Jesus being taunted by rulers, soldiers, and a criminal as he hangs defeated upon the cross. Above him is posted the sign saying, “This is the King of the Jews.” In view of the world, it is a moment of utter weakness and abject failure. In the eyes of his taunters, his weakness is proof that Jesus is not the chosen one, the Christ, or the king. His death at the hands of others demonstrates to them how powerless Jesus truly is. What they do not see and we sometimes have a hard time grasping is that Jesus’s death is the moment of victory. The all powerful God entered our history, became one of us, and gave his life as an act of love to free us from the power of sin and death. Love conquered death. We are not waiting for a new headline, the victory has already been won. It is why Catholics hang crucifixes in all of our churches. The sign of Jesus’s defeat at the hands of the world is our sign of his victory.
The nuance here can be missed, but it has enormous ramifications. The God, who could by power and violence enforce his will and kingdom, chose instead the path of love and freedom. God proposes, not imposes. He invites, not demands. A victory and kingdom built on love is different than one built on force. We are not subjugated to a rule. We are invited into a relationship. God’s kingdom is created from his total gift of himself (death on a cross) for us and our free response to that gift. Our salvation is based upon our freedom to choose or reject the path of love. It is, literally, in our hands. We are free to choose the path of selfishness and hold on to all that is ours, or to choose the path of love, and let go of our claims to what is mine and generously give ourselves in love for the good of God and others. It is a paradox and counterintuitive when viewed from the values of this world. Lose your life to gain it. Give to receive. God gives us the choice. The way of violence and power or the way of freedom and love. The kingdom and power of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe, is the kingdom and power of love. The victory has been won. Not by force, but by sacrifice. Love has conquered sin and death by embracing the cross. Jesus is the king of love. Do you accept?