Gospel Reflection for Christ the King Sunday
Have you ever looked at any of the great works of art depicting the coming of the Kingdom of God?
If you have, you will have noticed that most of them are pictured as apocalyptic events, with imagery taken from the Book of Revelation. In them you will find armies of angels with swords and armour, choirs and trumpets, vast crowds, some adoring and happy, others dejected and sad. In the middle will be a cloud, tinged with gold, a throne glowing in sunlight and on the throne, majestic and aloof, will sit God – King of the Universe, and judge of all mankind.
They are pictures to stir the heart with pride and confidence – if you are on the right side of God’s judgement. If you are not, you join the dejected and sad group, heading off with the angels of darkness to eternal condemnation.
In fact, these images are borrowed from the City Kingdoms of the late Middle Age and Renaissance periods in Europe. God is presented as King, presiding over his court, rewarding friends, and punishing enemies. He rules with absolute power, supported by his army, and backed by gold and awesome wealth. He is sovereign, supreme, answerable to no one.
Most of us get our image of God, Heaven, and the Kingdom of God, from these images and descriptions of the ‘last days’. They are comforting when we consider ourselves on the side of ‘good’, and despite our sins and guilt, most of us do imagine ourselves as, at least, trying to be ‘good’. We therefore await the coming of this Kingdom of God with confidence that we will be secure and happy under the protection of our King, while our enemies will be vanquished and destroyed.
It is a pleasing image, except for one thing. It is almost impossible to reconcile it with the Kingdom of God spoken of by Jesus.
Look, for example, at today’s Gospel. The King we meet in this Gospel, hangs on a Cross, bloodied, broken, dying! There is nothing majestic or glorious about this King. No power or wealth has saved him from what he now suffers.
If this is Christ the King, then we might be justified in asking what kind of Kingdom he offers us.
Equally shocking is the fact that the first person he brings with him into his Kingdom is a convicted and condemned criminal. Notice, this man is not accused of crimes against Rome; no, we are told explicitly that he deserves his fate because he is guilty as changed. Is this Kingdom of God to be populated by convicted criminals?
Why, then, do we celebrate the great Feast of Christ the King with a Gospel of Jesus on the Cross, being jeered at by the Jewish leaders, mocked by the Roman soldiers and abused by one of those criminals crucified with him? Would it not be so much nicer to choose a different text – maybe the triumphant entry into Jerusalem where the crowds threw branches at his feet and proclaimed him the Messiah?
This might be nicer for us, but it would not be accurate or reflect the Kingdom he talked of.
From the time he began his ministry with the message that the “Kingdom of God is near”, Jesus was absolutely clear that the Kingdom of God he talked about was nothing at all like they were expecting.
They expected a King to come with the power to free them from their Roman oppressors. Instead, they got a man executed by the Romans and ridiculed with the inscription “King of the Jews” on his Cross of humiliation. They expected a King who would punish and condemn their enemies. Instead, they got a man whose dying words were, “Father forgive them, for they know not what they do.”
They expected a King who would honour and respect them above others because of their history and traditions. Instead, they got a man who promised first place in his Kingdom to a condemned and guilty criminal who simply said sorry.
Celebrating “Christ the King” with a Gospel depicting Jesus dying on his Cross is not a poor or unfortunate choice to make. No, it is the ideal choice to make because it brings into sharp focus the reality of the Kingdom Jesus offers us.
In the Kingdoms of power, greed, and wealth, lies become truth simply by repeating them over and over again. In the Kingdoms of power, greed, and wealth, the word ‘sorry’ indicates weakness and must never be said. In the Kingdoms of power, greed, and wealth, generosity exposes vulnerability which can be exploited to increase our own gain. In the Kingdoms of power, greed and wealth, ‘fear’ is a friend to be promoted, because it sows seeds of doubt, and creates anxiety.
Power, greed, and wealth are the ‘virtues’ of our worldly Kingdoms. Ambition, indifference, and cruelty are the tools of success.
We are all, unknown to ourselves, part of the Kingdoms of power, greed, wealth, ambition, fear, indifference and lies. These Kingdoms surround us, entice us, attract us. We are told they are good, positive, and valuable.
…And then, seemingly from nowhere, into these Kingdoms of power, greed and wealth walks a man more at home in small towns and villages than in cities; a man not afraid to be different, not afraid to be seen with the unpopular or outcast, a man who finds joy in giving and peace in forgiving.
He offers a Kingdom so utterly different as to seem impossible.
Why, then, should we be surprised to find that in this Kingdom of God, victory can be found in a cross, and entry requires no ticket of worthiness, except a quiet, “sorry.”
We must be careful of seeing works of Art as windows into God’s Kingdom. Frequently, they depict our Kingdom as God’s Kingdom.
We must also reject those who seek to sell us a Kingdom where power, greed and wealth bring happiness and contentment. They might seem to do so, but they are false.
God’s Kingdom hangs with Jesus on his Cross and rises with him in his Resurrection.
Christ is King of both. Christ on his Cross is just as much a King, as Christ coming in glory from the tomb.
There is something uniquely wonderful in finding “Christ the King” on the Cross, as we do today. Something wonderful, yet surprising; something wonderful and comforting and peaceful and so much the God we meet in the Gospels.