Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe – Year C
The feast of Christ the King was instituted by Pope Pius XI in 1925. In his encyclical letter Quas Primas the pope was addressing the spread of a climate in which respect for religion was waning in the western world. People, including many Catholics, began to doubt both the authority and the very existence of Jesus Christ. Europe was also witnessing the rise of dictatorships, which were developing the kind of propaganda that deceived people into placing more confidence in these narcissistic leaders than in spiritual values. Pius, impelled by the idea that the authority of Christ needed reinforcement, was hoping to remind leaders and nations that they owed respect to Christ (Quas Primas 31). More particularly, he wanted to institute a feast that would strengthen and encourage Catholics to allow Christ to reign in their minds, hearts and whole lives (33).
The Cosmic Christ is the ultimate expression of divine love The whole idea of regal sovereignty does not sit well with the Jesus of the gospels, who directed his charisma and energy at dismantling authoritarian values and establishing a realm of God in which all would be equal. But if we direct our thinking toward the Christ as a figure of transcendent love then we get close to the notion of the Cosmic Christ. What can we mean by the Cosmic Christ? It is really that aspect of God that fills the universe or the multiple universes.
The Cosmic Christ is that expression of the divine Love that gave rise to existence as we know it. The Cosmic Christ is described in the letter to the Ephesians as the one ‘who fills all in all’ (Eph 1.23), which is a statement of completeness. This, of course, goes way beyond our common view of kingship, which, in the history of the human society, was tied to authority figures who controlled and governed people and places.
Getting back to the intention of Pope Pius XI, just how do I allow Christ to reign in my life? What is a practical way of bringing this about? In a world where authority is distrusted, and so often people in authority are found to be guilty of self-service and corruption, this is a fair question.
Jesus’ attitude to authority is counter-cultural It is well to recall Jesus’ own attitude to authority, bearing in mind he belonged to a society that was not individualistic; a society and culture that was structured as a pyramid, in which it was accepted that ordinary folk submitted to authority. James and John came to Jesus asking that they might sit with him in his kingdom, one on his right hand and the other on his left. Clearly, they had a traditional idea of kingship and the wielding of authority that prevailed in their world. Jesus offered an astoundingly counter-cultural reply,
You know that among the Gentiles those whom they recognize as their rulers lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them. 43 But it is not so among you; but whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant, 44 and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all. 45 For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many. (Mark 10:42-45)
One key feature of the theology of the Cosmic Christ is that the person of Jesus represents an incarnation of divine Love. That is to say, Christ did not come to die for our sins, but rather to open us to the fullness of Love. His life and death were instruments of self-giving. He himself was and is pure gift.
Quality life is all about solid relationships in our life
This blows all common and familiar ideas of kingship (ancient, medieval and modern) out of the water. Jesus is talking about a kingship of service based on profound respect, justice and compassion for all people. Notice the use of the words ‘servant’ and ‘slave’ to reinforce the main idea here. So, one authentic way of looking at Christ is to recognise that he is the best example of the life of love that finds its expression in the practical application of respect, compassion and service of others – qualities that prevent love from being spineless or wishy-washy. As always, the words and example of Jesus Christ mesh beautifully. Isn’t it remarkable, though, how some figures in a hierarchy, secular or religious, believe their authority will be eroded if they show collegiality or equality with others? But look at Jesus Christ. His compassion and authenticity continued to impress and draw followers. He was a risk-taker, with nothing to hide or defend and not given to sweet talk. He knew full well that quality life was all about solid relationships with God, fellow human beings, self and the world around us.
The Gospel writers describe Jesus as the one who was to bring in the Reign of God and so their descriptions of Jesus show him to be the herald of a new age in which the values of goodness would take over people’s lives if only they were prepared to sign on to them and become followers of Christ.
The responsorial psalm is clearly a royal psalm extolling the sovereignty of God and paying due tribute to the Almighty as the source of life and of all that exists. According to the rather simple worldview of the ancient Israelites God ruled in the heavens above the earth and looked down on creation. The psalmist expresses great confidence in the firmness and stability of God’s rule, which has none of the ambition, self-service or fickleness that can typify the governing principles and decision-making of human kings and modern politicians.
The second reading is from the book of Revelation or the Apocalypse, the last book in the Bible. Apocalypse is Greek for ‘revelation’ and the whole book is a series of revelations and visions that were experienced by a first century Christian community elder known as John of Patmos. John wrote his visions down in the form of a long letter, which was a unique way to register such visions. John is stating that the new era of God’s Reign has been inaugurated by Jesus Christ and the opening section of this reading is a doxology, which is an expression of praise attributing glory to God and/or Jesus Christ. The doxology contains titles of Christ that express the importance of his death, resurrection and exaltation in glory. The highly metaphorical imagery of Christ coming on the clouds to preside over the last days is a common one in ancient apocalyptic literature. The author is here picking up the symbolic imagery of the first reading from Daniel, in which the son of man comes to God on the metaphorical clouds of heaven.
Christ is also described as the beginning and the end of all creation – a reference to the Cosmic Christ. The prophet Isaiah referred to God as the beginning and the end of all creation and Christians extended this connotation to Jesus Christ. Everything starts and finishes with Christ. The first and last letters of the Greek alphabet, Alpha (Α) and Omega (Ω), are used as symbols of the beginning and the end, and, as bookends, encompass and signify totality.
The feast of Christ, King of the Universe means we put Christ as number 1 in our value system One cultural viewpoint of today’s Scripture readings is that kings on thrones rule with supreme authority over underlings. Another important aspect is that good kings were seen as the protectors of their people providing them with prosperity, peace and security. However, in his reply to Pilate, Jesus insists that his kingdom is not of this world and is not marked by the standard characteristics of earthly kingdoms. We know that in his teachings and engagement with others Christ offered a totally new and radical concept of kingship.
We need to appreciate that king, kingdom and kingship are metaphors, not physical realities. Christ is king in our lives when we allow his person and values to take over our spirituality, our attitudes and all our relationships.
If we look at today’s feast and say, ‘so what!’ a meaningful response is: this feast celebrates the centrality of Christ in our lives. It is certainly not a feast about power since the Christ of the gospels was not a figure of power as our world understands power. Jesus was definitely not a control freak. He had the kind of serenity that accepts the fact that we cannot control everything in our lives, nor should we try to. Rather, he stood for the kind of honesty, respect, compassion and integrity that comes with sound relationships in our life. The example of his own relationships as well as his teachings clearly demonstrates that fact. Living according to the teachings of Christ as put forward in the gospels, enables us to have Christ as ‘number one’ in our value system.
Negative thoughts are the world’s most communicable disease. Gene E. Clark (American author)
I have often regretted my speech, never my silence. Publius Syrus (1st century B.C. Latin writer)
Why is psychanalysis quicker for men than for women?
When it’s time to go back to childhood, they’re already there.