November 20, 2016
Solemnity of Christ the King
We have come to the end of the liturgical year, and as usual, we conclude with the celebration of the Solemnity of Christ the King.
To help us understand what the Kingdom of God is, what it mean that Jesus is King, today’s liturgy invites us to meditate on the event of the cross, to let us see what happened at that moment in the life of Jesus (Luke 23: 35-43 ). It is significant that the Church offers us this episode to celebrate the reign of Christ over the world: this moment of his extreme fragility, of defeat, of human failure, which is the cross. We would have thought the opposite. Celebrating Christ the King is to celebrate his glorious and triumphant victory. It is so, and yet this triumph passes from the cross.
Let us try to understand what the Church wants to tell us with this event, what truth is being communicated.
On Calvary, we find several characters: Jesus crucified and next to him are two criminals sentenced to the same punishment. At the foot of the cross are the people who are there watching. There are also the leaders who mock him, as well as the Roman soldiers.
The one same call that we hear from all sides addressed to Jesus is “Save yourself!”: from the leaders (Lk 23,35), then the soldiers (Lk 23, 37), and finally from one of the two criminals (Lk 23, 39).
The phrase is repeated three times, as at the beginning of his public life, as were the temptations in the desert (Lk 4:1-13), where the devil proposed to Jesus the opportunity to be King to save himself, to seek his own glory, and to consider his filial condition as an absolute power.
“Save yourself” is the law of human dominions, which is continually confronted with the perception of one’s own frailty and therefore often dominated by fear. It is fear that prompts us to avoid death at all costs and to eliminate it from our horizon, urging us to “save ourselves”, and deceives us into believing that salvation is our responsibility and a result of our own strength and power. “Save yourself” is also the law of individualism, of those who, like the criminal, always operates independently in a self-sufficient way throughout one’s own life and continues to do the same on the cross.
And similarly, beneath the cross, the leaders and soldiers, are somehow also crucified to their own selfishness.
Because the need to save ourselves becomes the master of our life, and we belong to it.
The kingdom of God also touches fragility and death, but in a completely different way: it does not avoid, does not deny and does not absolutize, nor give the power to separate us from God.
Therefore, it is very symbolic that the Kingdom of God is fulfilled right on the cross, a place of utmost weakness and extreme pain.
It is here that a fragile man, who is actually a thief, has returned to a weak nGod. So far, he was a criminal, but from this moment, he turned to the Lord, not for his strength, but for his innocence, for his goodness. He trusts in Him not to escape death, but so that He will remember him, care for him, only to have a relationship with Him.
He understands that it is possible to put his trust in a King who dies in this way, and that this man crucified beside him is already the presence of another world on this earth.
This is the fulfillment of the Kingdom of God, the one that Jesus has long preached, to manifest healings and miracles.
For the kingdom of God is a relationship, and finds fulfillment when we humbly accept to belong to Him.
In this man – who dies on the cross with Christ, resurrects with Him, and who on the Cross lives his Baptism, his passage of belonging to Christ – Christ freely offers the Kingdom: “today you will be with me in Paradise”.
The Kingdom, paradise, consists of this this vital relationship with God. It is a belonging that is good, that does not dominate, does not crush, but continuously gives life.
And it is a Kingdom of freedom, which does not impose itself, that we must be willing to enter, into a completely new logic.
We, as leaders, soldiers and offenders, perceive the king as one who, more than anybody and all, has the power to do anything and everything, and therefore avoids limitation, pain, weakness.
But today, Jesus teaches us what is true “kingship ” and what it is not. The silence of the one who does not curse those who do evil, forgiveness, abandonment of the one who returns to the other and acknowledges one’s dependence, gratitude, the freedom of those who do not only think and care for themselves, who bear the consequences of their own choices, who to the end love, serve and humbly trust an infinitely good God, even in the midst of pain.
In a few words, it is the reverse logic that is specific to the Gospel, the Beatitudes, Jesus who first takes His cross, showing us the way.
Many other things, to us may seem to be “royal” but perhaps are not.
Or perhaps Jesus, the King, made so many things “royal” that were not before, or that sin prevented us from considering them as such.