November 21, 2004 Homily by Fr. Robert Altier Christ the King
Reading I (2 Samuel 5:1-3) Reading II (Colossians 1:12-20)
Gospel (St. Luke 23:35-43)
Today we celebrate the glorious solemnity of Jesus Christ as King of the Universe. When we think about the kingship of Christ, we would naturally be tempted to assume that He is king because He is enthroned in heaven, because He is the Son of God, because He is the creator of all things, and therefore, being the one who is all-powerful, He is the one who is king. However, that is not the reason why He is the king.
We see what the kingly office is, for instance, in the first reading when the people of Israel come to David in Hebron and they ask him to be their king. They point out that God Himself had said to David, You will be the shepherd of My people Israel. Now if we were to just look quickly at that statement, it would seem to make no sense. To be the king was the most exalted position in all of Israel, indeed in any land, but to be a shepherd was the lowest position in the ancient world. It was completely unskilled and it was considered to be the lowliest of all the professions one could enter. Yet what we see is that to be the king and to be the shepherd is one and the same.
This is not the way the worldly kings see things. They look at their power; they are the exalted ones; they are the ones whom everyone else serves. That is not the way Jesus looks at His kingship. His kingship is one of service; it is one of authority. The difference between power and authority is that power is something which is lorded over other people and authority is something that is given to one in order to serve others. Just as parents have authority over their children – it is to serve their children, not to lord it over them – so too with Our Lord; He exercises His royal office in service to us.
This is precisely what we see in both the second reading from Saint Paul’s Letter to the Colossians and also in the Gospel reading. Saint Paul makes very clear twice in this very short reading that the kingship of Christ has to do with His work of redemption. We have been brought into the kingdom of the beloved Son of God through Whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of our sins, Saint Paul says. Then at the end of the reading he tells us that all things in heaven and on earth have been reconciled in Him through the blood of His Cross. And that is precisely where we see Jesus: crowned as a king, with the inscription above His head, the INRI above the cross, the first four letters of the Latin words that mean Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews. He is the king. He was held up in mockery by the Roman soldiers and He was jeered at by the Jewish leaders. Yet it is precisely in this point of being raised up from the earth that He has been enthroned as the king of the universe.
If we look at that second reading today, we see that these apparent contradictions are once again completely united in Christ. We are told that He is the firstborn of all creation and through Him all things were made. Being the firstborn of all creation does not mean He was the first creature that was made, because He is not created. He is eternal and He is the creator of all things, yet through Him everything that exists came into being and it all exists for Him. Therefore, Saint Paul says, He is the firstborn of all creation because it is His life that all creation shares. That really is what creation is ultimately about. It is about life. But then Saint Paul goes on to say that not only is He the firstborn of all creation but He is the firstborn from the dead. The One Who created all things out of service to the creatures that He Himself created chose to take a created nature to Himself. He chose to become a creature. And creation, which was made for life, had chosen death. So God, in His absolute humility, not only took on our nature but He entered into death. The One Who is life itself entered into death so that we could have life once again. And He is the firstborn of the dead because He is the first one to come forth from the dead in order that the dead would have life.
But it is precisely in this, Saint Paul says, that in Him the fullness resides. This is something that Scriptural commentators have struggled with for a long time. In many translations, even very good translations, you will read: “In Him, the fullness of God was pleased to reside.” That is not what Saint Paul said. In fact, the way it was translated in our reading today is much more accurate: In Him the fullness was pleased to dwell. The fullness of what? The fullness of God and the fullness of humanity, the fullness of heaven and the fullness of earth. In Him all things exist, and for Him all things exist. If everything in heaven and on earth is reconciled in Him through the blood of His Cross, then we recognize that the Cross of Christ, the throne upon which we placed Him, is the center point of all history, and not only of all history but of all creation, whether it is visible creation or invisible creation. Everything has its focal point in Him because on the Cross He was lifted up from the earth. And while the Cross, of course, was firmly entrenched in the earth and He was hung upon a tree (something of the earth), He was also raised above the earth. Heaven and earth meet at that point. So in the Sacred Heart of Jesus, we have the point of reconciliation of everything that is, everything that exists. It is there that the fullness of heaven and the fullness of earth, the fullness of things visible and invisible, the fullness of the divine and the fullness of humanity exist and they are reconciled. Everything which seems to be a complete opposite is perfectly and completely united in Jesus Christ, and it is united only in His Cross.
Saint Paul then, at the beginning of the second reading, tells us that God rescued us from the kingdom of darkness and He has made us worthy to share the inheritance of the saints in light. So we see that we ourselves have a share in this fullness of Christ, and indeed we do because through Baptism we are incorporated into Christ. If we are in the state of grace, God dwells within us. And, of course, through Baptism we have become partakers of the divine nature. Now as members of Jesus Christ and sharers of His divine nature, we therefore are also priest, prophet, and king. We share in the kingly office of Christ, as well as in the priestly and prophetic office of Christ. That means that within each one of us there is a union of the divine and the human, of heaven and earth, of what is visible and what is invisible.
This reconciliation in Christ is taking place within the hearts and souls of each and every one of us. Therefore, Our Lord says to us exactly what He said to Dismas on the cross (Dismas meaning “forgiven”). For each one of us whose sins are forgiven, Our Lord looks at us and says, Today you will be with Me in Paradise. When He said that to the good thief, He was not meaning that he [the thief] would be in heaven that day, as so many people misinterpret, because Jesus Himself did not go to heaven that day. He descended for three days into hell, and then for forty days after that He was upon the earth. It was not until His Ascension that He went back to heaven. So the good thief did not go straight to heaven, as many people like to think that he did, because heaven was not yet opened even to Saint Joseph or Saint John the Baptist, let alone a repentant thief. Paradise is Jesus Christ. If you are in the state of grace, you are in Paradise because you are in Christ.
If this is the case, then we have to ask ourselves, “What does this mean for us?” If we are in Christ and all of this reconciliation is taking place in us and we have a share in the very nature and person and the offices of Christ, how is that to be exercised in us? If the kingship of Christ is exercised in service, then His kingship in us is exercised in service. And what is service other than love? It is pouring one’s own self out for the sake of another. Jesus, out of love for us, came down for us and went to the Cross for us. He died for us, He rose for us, and now indeed He is exalted at the right hand of the Father. He continues to serve us even in His position of exaltation because it is there before the throne of His heavenly Father that He continues to mediate for us, to show His wounds to God the Father, and to plead for mercy for each and every one of us. We in turn, sharing in that royal office of Christ, are called then to serve Him, to love Him.
When we think about earthly kings, we think about the one who is exalted and has all the power and all the people serve him. Jesus is exalted, and He does have all power, and we are called to serve Him. But He is not sitting back saying, “You need to serve Me.” That is not His attitude. His attitude is “I am here to serve you.” It is our attitude to say, “And I in turn am here to serve You.” Therefore, there is established a relationship of love, two who serve one another, two who are seeking the good of the other. Jesus is seeking our good and we are seeking His; He serves us and we serve Him; we give Him glory and He gives us glory. Therefore, if He is telling us that this day we will be with Him in Paradise then we in turn must be able to say the same to Him, to have our souls pure and beautiful as a place of Paradise for the indwelling Trinity to be enthroned within our hearts, to be exalted and glorified and served in our hearts, to be loved in our hearts as He deserves.
That is what it means for us to be rescued from the kingdom of darkness and brought into the kingdom of light. If the light of Christ shines within our hearts, it is to love and to serve – which is exactly what we were created to do. And so we see that all of this is according to our dignity and for our good, and recognize that Jesus Christ is our king, the king of all the universe, of all that exists in heaven and on earth, of all that is visible and invisible. It is simply to be able to say, “I recognize Who He is and I recognize who I am. He, out of love for me, came into this world to serve me; and I, in love for Him, will live in this world to serve Him,” so that one day each one of us will be seated on a throne next to Him where we will once again – and in the perfection of heaven – continue to serve one another, to love one another. That is what this feast is all about: to look at what Jesus did for us on the Cross and to serve Him as He has served us, to accept and to exercise the office of kingship, to recognize His kingship and His authority over us, and to recognize also that sharing in that kingship we have the authority to serve Him and to serve one another out of love for God and love for neighbor as we have been commanded by our heavenly King to do.
* This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.