Christ The King
Christ’s mission is as priest, prophet, and king. As priest, he is the mediator between God and human beings. As prophet, he is the messenger of God, the actual word of God made flesh. As king, he establishes peace and justice in the world, achieved through serving others. In baptism, we are called to take on Christ’s mission. We also have to be a priest, prophet and king. The three missions of priest, prophet and king are interconnected. As a prophet, we declare the word of God, but by doing so, we will also mediate between God and human beings, and contribute to the establishment of peace and justice.
Of the three terms, ‘priest’, ‘prophet’, ‘king’, the last is probably the most uncomfortable. Firstly, it may appear related to the political sphere, into which, some would say religion should not venture. Secondly, there are not many kings around anymore. Monarchy is now seen as a poor system of government. Many countries fought civil wars to remove monarchies. At one time, the ‘divine right of kings’ and ‘absolute rule’ were widely supported concepts, but now they are part of history.
In the gospel reading for today (Lk 23:35-43), those who ridiculed Jesus, obviously held a view of kingship where a king wielded absolute power for its own sake or for the benefit of the king alone, hence why Jesus should have been able to save himself. Jesus’ kingship though was about establishing a kingdom of peace and justice achieved through serving others.
In name at least, later Christian kingships were modelled on Jesus’ concept of kingship rather than that of his persecutors. A king was there to foster peace and prosperity for his people. It is arguable at least that this was best achieved through wielding absolute power. Such a king was even divinely ordained to do so, because his kingly function was indentified with that of Christ’s.
No doubt some kings genuinely perceived themselves to be fulfilling Christ’s kingly mission. Queen Elizabeth II, in her very limited monarchy, is a devout woman who perceives herself as serving the nation. Even if absolute monarchy ever fulfilled, to any extent, the Christian kingly mission of bringing peace and justice, many would suggest that modern democracies are a more likely vehicle.
That doesn’t mean that we can or should forget Christ’s kingly mission on the grounds of using unfashionable language. No matter what some may think, Christ’s mission, and ours, is overtly political. Also, the concern is about how power is wielded, rather than whether it is by a king or some lesser mortal. We all wield power to greater or lesser extents: physical strength, mental capacity, rhetorical skill, material wealth, military force, and political office. These can all be used or misused in regard to establishing Christ’s realm of peace and justice.
In today’s gospel, Jesus is crucified between two thieves. They had done something, but as the second thief says, Jesus had done nothing. Jesus had done nothing, in the sense that he had stolen nothing, and was not about to rescue the first thief from his cross, but that does not mean that he had no influence on the world in which he lived. Just by existing and being who he was, Jesus challenged the world in which he lived, and that meant having a political influence. Kingship is about exercising power. We all have power to exercise, and to that extent we are all kings. We will all do things that will affect those around us: either negatively or positively.
Jesus in his day to day witness to his mission, even as a priest or prophet, challenged people in a kingly or political sense. He dined with tax collectors simply because they were fellow human beings, but for some that meant he was collaborating with the Romans. He told the Pharisees they were hypocrites because they did not practise what they preached. He threw the moneylenders out of the Temple because they cheated people. By pursuing his mission, Jesus made himself a political threat to a lot of people. We can be a prophet by communicating the word of God to our fellow human beings. We can be a priest by making personal sacrifices that bring our neighbours closer to God. We can be a king by wielding the power we possess to establish justice in the community. Doing one achieves the others.
Posted in Ordinary Time on Nov 19, 2016