The feast of Christ the King is surely one of the strangest feasts associated with Christ. The very idea of him being a King doesn’t fit easily with the Gospel narrative. Maybe that explains why it is such a relatively young feast. In fact, it’s not even a hundred years old having been introduced by Pope Pius X1 in 1925 to celebrate the 1600th anniversary of the Council of Nicaea (AD 325), which solemnly defined belief in Jesus as both God and man.
Incidentally, another reason for its introduction was to address a world at that time suffering under the illusions of such false Gods as consumerism, free-market exploitation, secularism and mass injustice. In contrast to all this, the Kingship of Christ was about a King of peace who came to reconcile all things, not to be ministered to, but to minister to others.
In some ways it’s surprising that we celebrate such a feast at all. It’s hard to see from even a cursory reading of the Gospel narrative how the Jesus we find there would ever have claimed the title “king” for himself. The Gospels tell us that on those occasions whenever people after witnessing his miracles wanted to make him king, he would slip away to a quiet place to be by himself. And during his trial when Pilate asked him if he was the King of the Jews, his response was the same: YOU say I am a King. Yet, here we are, celebrating this feast, calling Jesus Christ our King, when the last thing he probably wanted to be identified as was a king. I still cannot get my head around the prayers in the new Mass translation referring to him as King and Your Majesty!
However, whatever about his kingship credentials, he did talk a great deal about his kingdom. In fact, it was to establish this kingdom that he came into the world in the first place. The strange thing is that whenever he speaks about his kingdom he isn’t referring to something in the future but something in the here and now. His kingdom may not be OF this world, but it is very much IN this world. Indeed, his whole ministry was focused on helping us encounter God in our lives in the here and now.
The other surprise is that the nature of the kingdom he came to establish is one where everything is the very opposite of what one might expect. It’s a kingdom where there is no violence or exploitation, no hatred or discrimination, and where peace reigns supreme. Moreover, this kingdom is established not by power but by the simple invitation to love one another as Jesus taught. It’s a kingdom where the “king” washes the feet of his followers, rather than using them as his footstool; a kingdom where service, love and compassion count for more than power, rank or privilege; where the one who serves is greater than the one who is served and where the one who dies begins to truly live. Talk about an upside-down kingdom!
In short, it is no ordinary kingdom and its king is no ordinary king. You and I have been invited to live in this kingdom and to encourage others to join us in building and making it permanent. We do this best by living out the values of the Gospel narrative and by acquiring the mindset of their author, whatever title we give him.