What is a king? Today as we celebrate The Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe, we are encouraged to examine our understanding of this title. The literal definition of king is a male ruler of an independent state, especially one who inherits the position byright of birth. This is a simple enough definition, however, there are many other understandings and uses of this title. For example, in chess, the king is the most important chess piece. Each player has only one, which the opponent must checkmate in order to win. In addition, there can be a King of Diamonds, a King of Clubs, or Spades, or even the Kingof Hearts, all of which have certain strengths and abilities based on the type of game played.
In popular culture you can claim to the be the “king of the world” and really not be the king of anything. However, thanks to a movie about a sinking ship everyone understands that phrase to mean that you are in love with a young woman in a doomed relationship. Another Pop Culture reference, one can claim to be the king of New York, or some other large American city, but that identification is most often associated with crime and corruption; a pseudonym for a crime boss or mobster.
It is possible to catch a kingfish, or find the prize in the king’s cake, but in either case, your friend’s jealousy notwithstanding, nothing of great importance occurs. You can live like a king, or, when someone comes to visit your home, you might welcome them to your kingdom. In the game of checkers, you can demand to be“kinged”, or, if you are rich enough or famous enough it is possible to be treated like a king. Yet, in all of these examples, the use of the title king entitles no one to anything.
In today’s modern world, and most specifically in our modern American culture, the title of king is mostly associated with a figure-head, an ideal, or a throwback to some ancient tradition orcustom. The modern-day king is romanticized and marginalized and has been fantasized to such a degree that the only kings we know about are those in our favorite hallmark movie. If not that, then our modern day understanding of an actual king is typically that of an oppressive ruler in a 3rdworld country manipulating his people for personal gain and prestige. In other words, for us sitting here this morning it is possible that we may have a skewed and biased opinion of a king, therefore, making it difficult to understand the relevance and significance of a Solemnity celebrating a king’s authority and power.
In today’s Gospel, Pilate is struggling with this issue as well. Twice in today’s Gospel Pilate asks Jesus to confirm that he is indeed a king, and, in both instances, Jesus responds by asking Pilate what he believes to be true. Jesus is very clear in who he is. He states that his kingdom does indeed exist, and that his kingdom is populated, and that he has both a birth right and destiny to be king, King of the Universe. This idea that Jesus is a king was a difficult concept to understand then and it is a difficult concept to understand now.
Pope Pius XI addressed this same issue, this same struggle with this idea of kingship, when he instituted The Feast of Christ the King in 1925. He connected the increasing denial of Christ as king to the rise of secularism. At that time many Christians began to doubt Christ’s authority and existence, as well as the Church’s power to exercise Christ’s authority. Pope Pius intended that the institution of the feast would have the following 3 effects; 1) that nations would see that theChurch has the right to freedom, and immunity from the state, 2) that leadersand nations would see that they are bound to give respect to Christ, and 3) that the faithful would gain strength and courage from the celebration of the feast, as we are reminded that Christ must reign in our hearts, minds, wills, and bodies.
The purpose of today’s celebration is not an attempt to convince us that Christ is indeed the King of the Universe, rather it is to assist us in understanding what kind of King Jesus Christ truly is.
Jesus is a king who esteems humble service. He himself, as the model, commanded his followers to serve others in the same manner. His kingdom is connected to his passion and death, and though we are currently living in age of his kingdom, it is yet to befully realized. His kingdom is indeed a kingdom of justice and judgment, yet it is also balanced with radical love, mercy, peace, and forgiveness. Jesus Christ, as the King of the Universe, is the judge of nations, and will establish his kingdom, in its fullness and in completeness, at the appointed time. When we celebrate Christ as King, we are not celebrating a romanticized figure head or an oppressive ruler, but one willing to die for humanity and whose “loving-kindness endures forever.” Christ is the king that gives us true freedom, freedom in Him, the King of the Universe.