There was a time when Jesus asked His disciples what people were thinking about Him:
Who do men say that I am?
They answered saying that people thought Him to be one of the former prophets back on earth.
Shortly afterwards, however, at His crucifixion, there was, as we heard in the Gospel reading, a public proclamation, made by the highest authority in the land for all peoples to read, concerning the identity of Jesus:
An inscription was written over Him in letters of Greek, Latin, and Hebrew: THIS IS THE KING OF THE JEWS.
The distinguishing mark for membership of the Jewish nation was, of course, circumcision, or so the Jews of Jesus’ time thought. St. Paul, however, in his letter to the Philippians (3:3), tells us that circumcision of the flesh is not the true circumcision:
For we are the circumcision, we who worship through the Spirit of God, who boast in Christ Jesus and do not put our confidence in flesh.
Or, as another version puts it:
We who worship by the Spirit of God are the ones who are truly circumcised. We rely on what Christ Jesus has done for us. We put no confidence in human effort.
And the Jews of old -- those of the fleshly circumcision -- showed its provisional and ultimately false character by their rejection of Jesus as their King:
We have no king but Caesar!
Are we, then, who are of the true circumcision, Christians and Catholics, quite sure that Jesus the Messiah is, indeed, King for us personally, our King, my King? That question is of the utmost importance, for the Kingship of Christ would seem to be the supreme criterion for the true People of God, the true disciples of the One sent by God as their Messiah and Saviour, the true children of God. We, Catholics and Christians, ascribe the word ‘King’ to Jesus, but what do we mean by that word, is our understanding of it in tune with that of the Scriptures, of God’s Holy Word?
That He is a King, there is no doubt:
Now Jesus stood before the governor, and he questioned him, “Are you the king of the Jews?” Jesus said, “You say so.” (Matthew 27:11)
Jesus was very careful in His reply because the Jews wanted to have Him put to death by the Romans for treasonable activities and royal aspirations, and so He did not directly use the word ‘King’ as the High Priest was provoking Him to do, for that word had a predominantly political import for Roman ears. Yet, neither could Jesus deny the word, since it had too much meaning in the historical, and too much significance for spiritual, development and expectations of Israel. Therefore, He chose to accept its scriptural content and aspirations while rejecting its political implications by respectfully answering the High Priest of Israel with his own words:
You (who are this day High Priest in Israel) say so.
Today, however, there is some doubt about whether or not He is our King: do we indeed accept Him as such? What does that word “King” mean for us? We can use the word, but do we give it its true, scriptural, meaning? Are we aware of, do we accept in our lives, the full meaning of “King” when we say “Jesus is our King”?
Well, we are aware, first of all, of the splendour and power of kings; for in this our country we are still privileged to see and be able to appreciate something of that most ancient, imposing and impressive, and even -- perhaps to a small degree – inspiring, regal office and function. And, in that regard, Jesus yields to no one, as St. Paul makes abundantly clear when telling us of Jesus’ power and splendour:
He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For in Him were created all things in heaven and on earth, the visible and the invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or powers; all things were created through Him and for Him. He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together. (Colossians 1:15-17)
We can indeed be proud of, we can glory in, our King; no other earthly king could ever compare with Him. On that account, we certainly are inspired to claim that “Jesus is King, our King”.
However, as we continue with this examination of the meaning of the word King we recognize in it not only power and majesty, but also authority … for there is no doubt that a king has always been thought to have authority over his subjects. Do we now want to proclaim so loudly that Jesus is King over us? Do we -- who so readily and enthusiastically recognize His splendour and glory, His wisdom and might – accept, with similar enthusiasm, that He has authority over us and the way we should live our lives? Many claim to be Christians -- thereby acclaiming Christ as their King -- but do they, in fact, want to bask only in certain reflected aspects of His glory, without considering themselves in any significant way as being subject to His authority? There are many so-called Catholics who want to accept Jesus as king in the style of our democratic monarchy: with pomp and circumstance indeed, and with no little popular support and respect, but without any real authority.
However, that is not the style of kingship recognized in the Bible, such was not the leader that the people of Israel wanted; their king had authority (1 Samuel 8:19-20):
The people refused to obey the voice of Samuel; and they said, "No, but we will have a king over us, that we also may be like all the nations, and that our king may judge us and go out before us and fight our battles.
And in the very beginning, at the birth of the People of God, the leaders, Moses and Joshua were not called kings, but their authority was very real:
All that you command us we will do, and wherever you send us we will go. Just as we heeded Moses in all things, so we will heed you. Only the LORD your God be with you, as He was with Moses. Whoever rebels against your command and does not heed your words, in all that you command him, shall be put to death. (Joshua 1:16-18)
The people of Israel said: “Wherever you send us we will go.” ‘Wherever’ meant ‘wherever on the way to the Promised Land’, for that was what had been promised them, the Promised Land, their true homeland and ultimate resting place: wherever you command us to go as we journey towards that Promised Land we will go.
Today, however, there are so-called Christians who have no desire, let alone hunger, for the heavenly destiny offered to all who commit themselves, through faith in Jesus Christ, to the Father’s plan of salvation; they have lost their vision of a promised land because passing pleasures in the desert of this present world have distracted their minds and seduced their hearts.
In ancient Israel some tribes had entered the land Promised to their forebears and into their own personal inheritance before crossing the Jordan, but they were not allowed to rest on their territory -- with their families, cultivating their land, and gathering their crops. No, they had to cross over with all the rest of their brethren and fight with them until they too could enter into their inheritance promised by the Lord, the God of Israel.
Today, far too many nominal Catholics and Christians want to settle for what they have got now, they want to satiate themselves with the seemingly endless pleasures this world – or our privileged part of the world -- seems to offer them; or else they have weighed themselves down with cares that suffocate and blind them to all else. Such disciples are not necessarily against the glory and the splendour of a King they can understand and rejoice in: one appreciated and praised by all for his goodness and wisdom, his humility and sympathy in his dealings with the underprivileged of his time; indeed, many of them would accept a King who, as heavenly Lord, is able to give them spiritual comfort and joy as they participate in the holy atmosphere and liturgical splendour of the Church. What they cannot accept, however, is One Who has the authority whereby He might refuse to let them rest in the pleasures and plenty of earthly possessions and passions, just as the Israelites of old were not immediately allowed to rest on the other side of the Jordan; One Who will not allow them to succumb to whatever would stifle their aspirations towards the attainment of God’s promises, just as Israel had to constantly resist and struggle against her many enemies.
Joshua (another form of the name Jesus) had been told by the people, may the Lord be with you; only be strong and courageous; that is, given that the Lord our God is with you, and that you show yourself strong and courageous, we will follow you through whatever trials will bring us into the Promised Land. Was Jesus strong and courageous in His life and in His death? Was the Lord, His Father, with Him in His Resurrection? Indeed Jesus was all that could be wanted of a leader of God’s People. And yet, despite all that, for many today the obedience due to the authority of Christ is withheld and has become the litmus test for true discipleship.
And when I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw everyone to myself.
When lifted up on the Cross Jesus will draw all those whom the Father gives Him to Himself (John 12:32).
The obedience of the Cross is indeed the criterion for distinguishing true disciples from those who are false; those whom the Father has called, from those who have come to Jesus, not out of obedience to the Father’s call, but out of other motives, worldly, selfish, and faithless motives.
People of God, Jesus Christ is King, our King; and we must give true obedience to His kingly authority over our lives if we want to share in the beauty and truth, the goodness and glory, the splendour, majesty, and power of His Kingdom. The promise has been made to us; the opportunity is here for us; and we are fully equipped for the journey; indeed, we already have a beginning of the fulfilment awaiting us, for today’s rejoicing in our King should give us some faint inkling and joyful foretaste of the glory and bliss that are to come.
Thy will be done that Thy Kingdom may come, Lord Jesus.