Jesus couldn’t do much for the man on the cross… his own hands were nailed. He couldn’t take him off, but he gave him more than he could ask for. He gave him paradise. Where is God in our suffering? What sort of hope can we find this week in our country? What with so many horrible atrocities taking place, and the economic mess we have. What has God and the Church to say? God in his love for his people, and the Church with its social teachings – have they any message of hope?
Where is God? God did not cause the recession nor murders. We may learn a lot through it and good may come later or now. Our suffering at the moment is of human making, not of our making, but of some of our leaders and bankers, mostly through greed. God is with us suffering like he was with the thief. He didn’t cause the suffering of the man on the next cross to him. He wants our happiness and wants justice and prosperity for all.
God is with us, holding our hands, asking us to support each other. The Church will offer a place and space to find the love of God, and its social teaching will ask us to look for the common good in the future. It offers also a place where we can hear the Church’s approach to our economic future, reminding us all the time of the needs of the poor and the ordinary in education, medical care, housing and the ways in which the very old and the poor will suffer most in a situation which has been none of their doing. We are the Church and called on to make our voices heard for those who, like the man on the next cross, have little voice except to ask for help.
One of the oldest images of Christ the King, we have is a third-century fresco from the catacombs depicting Jesus as a young Good Shepherd. At the other end of the spectrum is a sixth-century Orthodox icon of Christ the “Pantocrator,” the all-powerful or all-sustaining One. A common Latin American image depicts Christ the King robed in purple, crowned with thorns and with his hands tied in front of him. Sadao Watanabe, a Japanese artist, depicted a serene Christ with light streaming from his cross and small figures of a kneeling man and woman praying on either side of him. Most crucifixes place the INRI scroll above Jesus’ head, reminding us that he was executed as “Jesus Christ, King of the Jews.”
A google search for images of Christ the King adds pictures that look very much like St. Louis, king of France — and many more. If we take them seriously, true icons lead us to contemplate the mystery of Christ, others may trivialise him or even seem heretical.
What do we celebrate on this last Sunday of the church year? The feast called the Solemnity of Christ, King of the Universe is less than a century old, a very recent addition in light of our 2,000-year history. Pope Pius XI said he established this feast in 1925 to combat the rise of secularism and nationalism. Although the name sounds ostentatious, the readings convey a distinctly different tone. Luke’s Gospel doesn’t refer to Jesus as a king until the time of his passion. Then Luke tells us that when Jesus made his triumphant entry into Jerusalem, the crowd on that day cried out, “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord!” and soon thereafter shouted, “Crucify him!” Jesus avoided claiming the designation for himself when Pilate asked him, “Are you the King of the Jews?” At the crucifixion, his executioners turned the title into a way to mock him. Luke’s way of using the term indicates that if we want to think of Christ as a king, we must allow Jesus’ own actions to define the meaning of his kingship. In Luke’s Gospel, Jesus exercises his sovereignty by pardoning his persecutors and offering a place in his kingdom to a condemned criminal. He demonstrates his intimate relationship with God through the filial obedience of saying, “Not my will, but yours be done.” Jesus exhibited his invincibility by accepting death with unshakable faith in the Father’s power to give life.
In other words, Jesus lived up to the title placed over his head by redefining kingship, revealing what it looks like in the divine realm rather than in the world of politics and power. As we celebrate this feast, the readings prod us to examine how seriously we want to take it. Paul not only called Christ the image of the invisible God, but also said that God has made us fit to participate in his kingdom. It is our choice. Jesus’ life reveals that obedience is the way to share in divine life. Jesus’ practice of forgiveness shows us how to live in true freedom. His passion and death reveal what God’s power is like. Christ the King offers us a model of grace, liberty and unfathomable love. Christian art is graphic theology. The Christian community makes theology experiential. The life of the baptised can never be neutral. We who pray, “Thy kingdom come,” are always presenting an image of Christ to the world. Our history is replete with heretical dominating images that mirror the power structures of our world. Our call is to create communities that provide true icons of Christ’s kingship expressed through the grace of God’s reconciling love and life-giving power.