Christ the King Sunday Yr C, 21/11/2010
Jer 23:1-6 & Lk 23:33-43
Rev. Garth Wehrfritz-Hanson
Chaplain of The Good Samaritan Society’s
South Ridge Village, Medicine Hat, Alberta
“Christ is a different kind of King”
Today is the last Sunday of the Church calendar year. We name it Christ the King Sunday or, in more up-to-date language, Reign of Christ Sunday. When we say Reign of Christ, we do not mean the rain that comes down to earth and floods us out, like it did this past spring and summer! No, not that kind of rain. Rather, reign as in the power and ability to lead people, like heads of state. I think that most of us, when we hear the word in this way—along with the word king, have some definite pictures and concepts of what such words mean. However, in both our first lesson from Jeremiah and our gospel, we are given quite a picture of a different kind of King.
If we stop and think about it, each one of us likely has certain pictures of Jesus to meet particular needs at different times in life. For example, if we happen to feel lost, we picture Jesus as the Good Shepherd and may even recite from memory the twenty-third Psalm or the Fourth Gospel passage: “I am the good shepherd.” If feel guilty about sins that we have committed, we may see Jesus as the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, as we sing in the liturgy of Holy Communion. If we are ill or suffering from some disability, we may see Jesus as the Great Physician, and remember that he healed the sick, the blind, deaf and lame. Or if we are learning something profound as we ponder and study the Scriptures, we may see Jesus as the Great Teacher who delivered his Sermon on the Mount, offering profound and eternal truths.
However, when we think of the need for power and leadership in our life and in this world, Christ the King Sunday gives us a different picture. We expect kings and other powerful leaders to live in rich palaces or castles and wear extravagant clothing and jewellery, and associate with other people of power, wealth and influence. Christ however is different. The following story gives us a clearer picture of Christ the King.
Once there was a time, according to legend, when Ireland was ruled by a king who had no son. The king sent out his couriers to post notice in all the towns of his realm. The notices advised that every qualified young man should apply for an interview with the king as a possible successor to the throne. However, all such candidates must have these two qualifications: They must (1) love God and (2) love their fellow human beings.
The young man about whom this legend centers saw a notice and reflected that he loved God and, also, his neighbours. One thing stopped him, he was so poor that he had no clothes that would be presentable in the sight of the king. Nor did he have the funds to buy the provisions for the long journey to the castle. So the young man begged here, and borrowed there, finally managing to scrounge enough money for the appropriate clothes and the necessary supplies.
Properly attired and well-suited, the young man set out on his quest, and had almost completed the journey when he came upon a poor beggar by the side of the road. The beggar sat trembling, clad only in tattered rags. His extended arms pleaded for help. His weak voice croaked, “I’m hungry and cold. Please help me…please?”
The young man was so moved by this beggar’s need that he immediately stripped off his new clothes and put on the tattered threads of the beggar. Without a second thought he gave the beggar all his provisions as well. Then, somewhat hesitantly, he continued his journey to the castle dressed in the rags of the beggar, lacking provisions for his return trek home. Upon his arrival at the castle, a king’s attendant showed him in to the great hall. After a brief respite to clean off the journey’s grime, he was finally admitted to the throne room of the king.
The young man bowed low before his majesty. When he raised his eyes, he gaped in astonishment. “You…it’s you! You’re the beggar by the side of the road.”
“Yes,” the king replied with a twinkle, “I was that beggar.”
“But…bu…buu…you are not really a beggar. You are the king for real. Well, then, why did you do this to me?” the young man stammered after gaining more of his composure.
“Because I had to find out if you genuinely love God and your fellow human beings,” said the king. “I knew that if I came to you as king, you would have been impressed by my gem-encrusted golden crown and my royal robes. You would have done anything I asked of you because of my regal character. But that way I would never have known what is truly in your heart. So I used a ruse. I came to you as a beggar with no claims on you except for the love in your heart. And I discovered that you sincerely do love God and your fellow human beings. You will be my successor,” promised the king. “You will inherit my kingdom.”1
This beautiful story illustrates that Christ is a different kind of King. When most of us think of kings, we probably picture people like David, Solomon, Henry VIII, or Richard the lion-hearted. In short, the kings of old were often the most powerful and wealthy people of the land.
How different was the king in our story, and how different is Christ our King. In today’s gospel, we are given a very surprising picture of kingship. Most of the people failed to recognise Christ the King. They were looking for a powerful military and political leader. They were expecting an elegant figure displaying his royal prowess by dictating his orders to the people.
Instead, they were given a humble man who had no intentions of being a military and political leader. A man who displayed his kingship by servanthood. A man who called and associated with even the poorest of the poor. He was prepared to show his love to humankind by suffering and dying the death of a criminal on a cross. He was willing to be scoffed at, mocked, and derided to save us all.
Christ the King, our Righteous Branch is a different kind of King than all other kings of this world. His kingdom differs from all other worldly kingdoms. So many worldly kingdoms are propped up and survive by the rich and powerful exploiting the poor and living off of personal, selfish gain by systems of injustice. King Jesus and his realm are different. His realm is rooted in true mercy and justice. As he rules from his throne, which is the cross—mercy and justice meet, embrace and kiss each other. We meet Christ our King and enter his realm whenever we give or receive self-giving, unconditional love and sacrifice; whenever his mercy and justice are lived out through us.
We have received the promise of Jeremiah: “The LORD is our righteousness,” Jesus our Messiah is Christ the King. We, like the one criminal on the cross are made righteous; are clothed in his righteousness; thanks to Christ’s suffering and death. Christ has chosen us, like he chose that criminal to be with him in Paradise, right now, today, as we gather to hear his Word and receive the sacrament.
The pages of history have shown that the kings and kingdoms of this world turn into dust and ashes because of sin, violence, evil, and greed. What a comfort it is for us to trust in Christ our King and live in his kingdom! Thanks to the saving power of his crucifixion and resurrection, we too can sing those wonderful words of George Friedrich Handel’s Messiah with joyful and confident hearts and minds:
For the Lord God Omnipotent reigneth! Hallelujah!
The kingdom of this world is become the Kingdom of
our Lord and of his Christ!
And he shall reign forever and ever.
King of kings, and Lord of lords.
Forever, and ever!
1 Cited from: Brian Cavanaugh, More Sower’s Seeds (Mahwah, N.J.: Paulist Press, 1992), pp. 6-8.