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November 20 2016 (C) Thirty-Fourth Sunday of Year (c)—Feast of Christ the King

A. The bible as Guide in Life and Liturgy (Sunday Readings)

B. Reflection & Dialogue: Reflections on the kingship of Christ    

Introduction to the Feast of Christ the King

Pope Pius XI instituted the Feast of Christ the King in 1925 in response to the then growing nationalism and secularism. It was first celebrated on the last Sunday of October. In 1969 Pope Paul VI gave the celebration a new title: (The Solemnity of) “Our Lord Jesus Christ King of the Universe”. He also gave it a new date: the last Sunday in the liturgical year, a time for reflection on the kingdom of God and of Christ on earth and the fulfilment of God’s plan for humanity at the end of time. The feast is also a fitting preparation for the new liturgical year with Advent. The celebration was also adopted by Anglicans, Lutherans, and many other Protestants with the new Revised Common Lectionary, as well as by the Russian Orthodox Church outside of Russia. The feast has a very rich biblical background, with texts containing various aspects of the doctrine behind it. These are presented in the Lectionary readings over the three-year cycle.

The Bible as Guide in Life and Liturgy (Sunday Readings)

First Reading (2 Samuel 5:1-3). They anointed David king of Israel. Christ the King, as the title over the Cross indicated is Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews, Jesus son of David. It all began with anointing of David as king, about a thousand years before the birth of Jesus son of David, to whom the angel promised Mary that the Lord God would give the throne of David his ancestor, and that of his kingdom there would be no end (Luke 1:32-33). Today’s reading tells of this anointing of David as king. In the early centuries of their settlement in the Promised Land the Jewish tribes lived without any king, in two great groupings, the northern group (later to become the kingdom of Israel) and Judah. At a given time they wished to have a king over them, like the nations round about. At first there was resentment to this idea, as endangering their fundamental belief that their only king was the Lord God. However in due time they did get a king, Saul from the northern group. After the death of Saul all the tribes of Israel anointed David as king of Israel, both of the northern and southern tribes. This was but the beginning. God promised David that his throne would be established for ever (2 Samuel 7:16). The Davidic dynasty did not last. It ended with the fall of Jerusalem to the Babylonians in 587 (586) and would never be restored historically. Judah was subject to the Babylonians, the Greeks and later the Romans, but the hope for the coming of a successor to David, the son of David, persisted, giving rise to Jewish messianism, preparing the way for Jesus as fulfilment of the promise to David, and the development in the New Testament and the Christian Church of the rich meanings of the universal kingship of Christ.

Responsorial Psalm (Psalm 121[122]). I rejoiced when I heard them say: Let us go to God’s house”.

Second Reading (Colossians 1:12-20). He has created a place for us in the kingdom of the Son that he loves. This passage speaks of believers having created for them a place in the kingdom of the Son that God loves, hence a very apt reading for this feast. Because of the immense dignity of the Christian calling, Paul begins with a prayer of thanks to the Father “who has qualified us (believers) to share in the inheritance of the saints in light”. For the Jewish monks of Qumran their inheritance meant the association of the earthly community with the heavenly community, with the “lot of the saints, with the children of heaven”, by which the angels seem to be meant. In our present text the saints may indicate the angels, but more probably the sanctified members of Christ’s kingdom on earth. This is the kingdom of light, Christ being the light of the world. The kingdom of God implies holiness, redemption and the forgiveness of sin. These words re-echo the words of Christ to Paul at his conversion, as given in Acts 26:18: “I send you to the Gentiles, to open their eyes, that they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and have a place among those who are sanctified”.

            After these opening words on the kingdom of God, of God’s beloved Son, the text moves on to the a hymn on the supremacy of Christ. The hymn on the supremacy of Christ in the universe and the church re-uses images of Wisdom personified in the Old Testament (in particular Proverbs 8). Christ as the image perfectly reveals the invisible God. As first-born he has priority to, and supremacy over, all creation. Every created thing had it origin in him, and was created for him, including various ranks of angels (Thrones etc.). As stated elsewhere in the New Testament (Hebrews 1:3), Christ holds all things together, a concept of Greek philosophy found also in the Old Testament (Wisdom 1:7; Ecclesiasticus 43:26). As stated elsewhere (Ephesians 1:22-23; 4:15) Christ is the head of the Church, his body. Christ is the Beginning, and by his resurrection is the first-born from the dead, ushering in a new age, and confirming belief and hope in the resurrection of our bodies. Next comes .a verse to be rendered literally as: “And it pleased God to make all the entire fullness (in the original Greek text: pleroma) dwell in him”. (Some texts render: “Because God wanted all perfection to be found in him”.) The text is to be understood through Colossians 2:9: “For in him (that is Christ) the whole fullness of God dwells bodily”, that is, all that God wants to communicate himself in Christ so as to introduce us to Christ and make us perfect in him. Some see this idea close to that of the work of the Holy Spirit. This all-powerful presence of God in Christ is intended to make through him a universal reconciliation, including both heaven and earth. This reconciliation was effected by the blood of the cross, by Christ’s death on the cross.

The Gospel (Luke 23:35-43). Lord, remember me when you come into your kingdom. This beautiful passage is also about Jesus, the king and his kingdom. The title over the cross identified him as Jesus king of the Jews: “This is the king of the Jews”. He is mocked by the leaders of the Jews, the soldiers, and one of the criminals. The soldiers say: “If you are king of the Jews, save yourself” The repentant thief expresses belief in Jesus’ kingship: “Lord, remember me when you come into your kingdom”. We are not informed what the thief thought what this kingdom was or would be. For Luke and New Testament writers Jesus would enter his kingdom at his resurrection and ascension. Jesus says that on that same day the good thief would be with Jesus in paradise. For one section of Judaism paradise was the place where the souls of the just would abide before the resurrection. A central message of the passage is that at the humiliating crucifixion scene Jesus was proclaimed king, a scene in which he was mocked and forgave his enemies. The scene would bear witness to one important aspect of the kingship of Christ the king, kingship through humiliation not as this world knew kingship.

                                                                                               

B. Reflection & Dialogue: Reflections on the kingship of Christ

In his letters Paul rarely speaks of the kingdom of God. In exhorting the Roman Christian community to live in harmony, he remarks: “The kingdom of God is not food and drink but righteous and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit (Romans 14:17). To the Corinthian community, given to debates and personality cult, he writes that the kingdom of God does not consist in talk, but in the transforming power of the Gospel (1 Cor 4:2). The author of the letter to the Colossians, as can be seen in today’s second reading, prays that the Christian community there “may be strengthened with all power, according to God’s glorious might, for all endurance, patience and joy, giving thanks to the Father who has qualified us to share in the inheritance on the saints in light. He has delivered us from the dominion of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in who we have redemption and forgiveness of sins” (Col 1:11-14). For Paul, then, the kingdom of God is a present reality as well as an otherworld eternal one. 

The kingdom of God was central to the teaching of Jesus. He proclaimed it coming in his teaching and miracles. He was destroying the power of Satan. Without mention of the kingdom he also made himself central to his mission. “He who loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me ...; he who does not take up his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. He who finds his life will lose it and he who loses his life for me sake will find it” (Matthew 10:37-39). Without mention of the kingdom the apostle Paul stresses the centrality of Christ for believers and all creation. “God has highly exalted him, ... that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father (Philippians 2:9-11). The kingdom of God is centered on obedience, the obedience of Christ and the obedience of faith of believers. Christ was obedient to the Father, obedient even to death (Phil 2:8); he learned obedience through what he suffered (Hebrews 5:8). Acceptance of the Christian faith means obedience of heart and mind to Christ and his saving work. Paul had been given the mission to “bring about the obedience of faith for the sake of his (i.e. Christ’s) name among all the nations ... who are called to belong to Christ” (Romans 1:5-6; see also Rom 15:18)). The mystery of the Father’s saving plan, kept secret for long ages, revealed through Christ, the Church and Paul, was made known to all nations, according to the command of the eternal God, to bring about the obedience of faith” (Rom 16:25-26). Believers are sanctified through obedience to Jesus Christ (1 Peter 1:2, 22). The life of Christians is a success against all obstacles when their obedience is complete (2 Corinthians 10:5-6).

With regard to today’s readings, we are reminded of the simple origins of the Davidic kingship in the anointing of David as king of all Israel; the second reading stresses the presence of the kingdom in this world, a kingdom of light, in a life of freedom from sin, while the Gospel text stresses that Christ reigns as king from the cross.