The faithful see Christ the King
By Father Paul Turner
Catholic Key Scripture Columni
The Good News for the Feast of Christ the King, Sunday, November 22, 1998
2 Samuel 5:1-3
Kings, queens, and presidents just aren't what they used to be. They suffer from cancer. Their royal houses create scandal in the media. Their authority has slipped to more populist legislatures and to those whose wealth controls the "free" press. Royalty reign in fairy tales, heroic annals, and apocalyptic vision.
On the feast of Christ the King we expect to see the vision of our ruler triumphant. We reserve this celebration for the last Sunday of the Church year as a great finale to the feasts of our faith. In the past few weeks we have commemorated the dead, we've heard prophecies of the end of time, and we've witnessed nature's growing decay. Undaunted by the fear and twilight of these times, we gather next Sunday to stand firm in faith, and to stir up our hope that the reign of Christ brings peace and charity to all God's children. We turn our gaze toward Christ our King in search for strength in the midst of trials which strive to shake our storm-battered hope.
However, the vision we get does not bring comfort. Next Sunday's Gospel (Luke 23:35-43) offers instead a stark vision of an enfeebled Jesus, pinned to a cross, abandoned by his friends, stared at by the crowds, taunted by soldier and crook. This is Christ the King?
Indeed. Typical of the Gospel, the most unlikely character produces the greatest insight. The words drop from the mouth of a common thief crucified next to the Son of God. "Jesus, remember me," he says, "when you enter your reign." Jesus responds, "Today you will be with me in paradise." Within that simple conversation, exchanged amidst untold agony beneath a sunless sky, is concealed the seed of faith. It looked to most that Jesus hung upon a cross. To the good thief, Jesus sat upon a throne.
Although Luke does not record the name of that thief, tradition has called him Dismas. He addresses Jesus in a most intimate way. He doesn't call him master, rabbi, or teacher. He just says, "Jesus." The thief addresses Jesus the same way we do - aware of our sins, with faith in his power to save. He strips away pretense, senses the ultimate equality of their predicament, and uses the name Jesus would hear from part of the family. In doing so, he puts before us the name the angel assigned Jesus at his conception, because it means "Savior" (Matthew 1:21). Yes, this is Christ the King.
When the thief asks Jesus to remember him, he invokes a long history of biblical remembering. Time after time in the Bible, it is God who remembers and people who forget. God called an end to the flood when he remembered Noah (Genesis 8:1). At the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah God remembered Abraham and saved Lot (Genesis 19:29). When Israel suffered in Egypt God appointed Moses to be their leader, remembering the covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (Exodus 2:24; 6:5). Hannah, childless for so long, conceived a child when God remembered her (1 Samuel 1:19). Ancient Israel forgot the covenant. But what saved the people from distress was the memory of God. Now this thief asks Jesus to remember him. In the midst of his distress, his request that Jesus remember asserted his belief that Jesus was God.
His belief contrasts with that of those around him. The others taunt Jesus because he saved others but could not save himself. They saw in his crucifixion a sign of hypocrisy. They equated human comfort with divine salvation and assumed Jesus failed at both. They saw Jesus, but they could not see Christ the King.
To many eyes Jesus still appears powerless. He does not remove illness, poor leadership, violence and abuse. Kings, queens and presidents all seem powerless and far too human to inspire the behaviors the earth needs. If Jesus were the Son of God, scoffers wonder, why doesn't he do something about it? Those with the eyes of the good thief see more. We see the savior in the midst of suffering. We acknowledge his ultimate power. We remain confident that the reign of God continues to break in even where the faithless have lost hope. And we call Jesus by the most intimate term, "Jesus," because we feel his love, and we believe he will remember.
Father Paul Turner is pastor of St. John Francis Regis Parish, Kansas City.
Daily Scripture Readings
Thirty-Third Sunday in Ordinary Time, Sunday, November 15
2 Thessalonians 3:7-12
Monday, November 16
Revelation 1:1-4; 2:1-5a
Psalms 1:1-4, 6
Tuesday, November 17
Revelation 3:1-6, 14-22
Wednesday, November 18
Thursday, November 19
Psalms 149:1-6, 9
Friday, November 20
Psalms 119:14, 24, 72, 103, 111, 131
Saturday, November 21
Psalms 144:1-2, 9-10
Christ the King, Sunday, November 22
2 Samuel 5:1-3