“If you are a king …save yourself” (Luke 23:37).
The Feast of Christ the King, placed in the liturgical calendar in 1925 to assert Christ’s sovereignty over all earthly powers, is clearly loaded with paradox.
The most powerful Being in the universe is a Lamb sacrificed to expiate sin, whose flesh and blood nourish us on our exodus from slavery to freedom in the Promised Land. King Jesus is crowned with thorns, lifted high on a cross between two criminals, ridiculed and rejected by the leaders of his own people and executed by the Roman empire as a dangerous subversive. If this is God’s idea of sovereignty, then what can this mean for us, his followers in the world today?
The paradox of victory through apparent defeat was the “messianic secret” at the heart of the Gospel. The early church preached the Risen Christ, but then had to explain how Jesus saved the world from sin by submitting to a cruel and unjust death. The Scriptures lit up to reveal an alternative to the Davidic messiah, a warrior king sent by God to restore Israel and punish its enemies. Instead, the evangelists found a figure in the Servant Songs of Isaiah and in the Psalms who reveals God’s unconditional love for a sinful world by sacrificing himself for sinners. Jesus is that divinely appointed hero, the Christ, raised up from the grave to proclaim that love is stronger than death.
We ponder the compelling majesty revealed by an innocent person put to death for speaking truth to power and standing with the poor and the rejected of this world. In every age where violence protects wealth and privilege by trampling on human dignity, history judges that as evil.
God came among us not as a king but as a small town preacher from the hill country of Galilee. Jesus’ message was not about self-advancement but about how to be a humble in community, focused on service and fairness. Jesus affirmed that we journey together toward the Beloved Community not by force but by self-sacrificing love. All the real heroes of history have lived this paradox.
The Risen Christ moves among us with the marks of his crucifixion to remind us of the cost of discipleship. He is a king who does not save himself, but saves others. There is no way to celebrate this king except to imitate him. This is the royal priesthood and prophetic call of our baptism. If we share the paradox of this humble servant of love, we will also share in his glory.