It is no secret that there is widespread distrust of authority these days, a distrust of our basic institutions and their leaders that, in many cases, arises from understandable reasons. In reaction, personal individualism has been advocated to such an extreme that for many people the only acceptable authority is the individual self. The only authority that I will allow to tell me what is right and what is wrong is myself. Many are therefore uncomfortable with idea of Christ as ruler. With the exception of a fascination with England’s royal family we balk at the idea of kings and queens, believing them to be either oppressive or no longer relevant. The titles of “lord” and “king” for Christ are unsettling for some folks because they believe that such titles are borrowed from oppressive and irrelevant systems of government.
I am troubled by all of this hesitancy because it casts Christ as being a threat. But Jesus is hardly a threatening figure. He is quite the opposite! This hesitancy about Christ the King causes many to miss the point that Christ’s kingship is one of humility, service, and compassionate care. He is not a king who imposes; rather He invites. He is not a king who coerces; rather He is a king who leads. He is not a king who issues directives from afar; rather He speaks from within our hearts and souls. He is not an imperial king; rather he is a shepherd king. He is not a king filled with anger and wrath; rather He has a heart filled with compassion and mercy. What He asks of us He has done Himself. Thanks be to God, Pope Francis clearly understands that and is acting accordingly.
In St. Mark’s Gospel we find Jesus telling us:
You know that those who are recognized as rulers over the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones make their authority over them felt. But it shall not be so among you. Rather, whoever wishes to become great among you will be your servant; whoever wishes to be first among you will be the slave of all. For the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many (Mark 10:42-45).
In St. John’s Gospel we read:
Pilate said to Jesus, “Are you the King of the Jews?”… Jesus answered, “My kingdom does not belong to this world. If my kingdom did belong to this world, my attendants would be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Jews. But as it is, my kingdom is not here.” So Pilate said to him, “Then you are a king?” Jesus answered, “You say I am a king. For this I was born and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth (John 18:33b, 36-37).
Jesus knew the oppressive nature of secular rulers. After all, He was put to death by one of them. In contrast to secular kings He defined His role as king to be that of humble service and commanded His followers to be servants as well.
In the New Testament we find that Christ’s kingdom is connected to His suffering and death. Even though Christ is coming at the end of the ages to judge the nations His teachings spell out a kingdom of justice and judgment that are balanced with having radical love, mercy, peace, and forgiveness. So when we celebrate Christ as King, we are not celebrating an oppressive ruler, but rather one willing to die for you and for me and whose “loving-kindness endures forever.” Christ is the king that gives us true freedom, freedom in Him. We must never forget that Christ radically redefined and transformed the concept of kingship.
Into all of this comes Christ, claiming to be our King. Oh, not in terms of political or governmental dominance, power and control, but rather in terms of what really matters, in terms of where we find our hearts and souls.
I once heard of a little boy who was being disciplined by his mother. She had just told him to sit down and stay in his chair and not move. Said the little boy: “I may be sitting in this chair but inside I’m standing up!” Not bad, for a little boy! That’s exactly the freedom that has given many prisoners of war the power to make it through their torturous ordeals.
What Christ came to give us is what the tyrants of this world fear the most, namely power and freedom, power and freedom to be in possession of our inner selves. That’s the power the thought police of any totalitarian system want to have over us, and never can have over us because Christ is our King.
There are other tyrants lurking around today that also want to own and control us, spiritual and inner tyrants. Fear is one, fear that fills us with timidity along with a lack of initiative, procrastination and lethargy. It causes us to withdraw into defensive isolation.
Guilt is another of the tyrants that wants to control us. Often it is accompanied with a sense that everything is ruined and nothing is good. It leads us to play the blame game, finding fault in everyone else around us and demeaning everyone around us.
Hurt and resentment are other tyrants. They cause us to avoid others, to bury our care and concern for others, to have our own little pity-parties, along with a sense of self-entitlement leading to various forms of sensual gratification.
Christ would be King of your soul but in order to let Him you must dethrone the false gods that seek to own you and manipulate you. But you must be the actor, you must take the initiative. Christ will not do it all for you, but He will do everything with you. He tells us that with men, dethroning these tyrants is impossible. But with God, all things are possible, even moving the mountains, both external and internal, that seek to crush us.
We would do well to consider that we don’t know what it really means to be a king. Not living under the authority of a king we have no way to access the meaning found in seeing Christ as our king. History, however, has given us examples of good kings. They are kings who care, kings who have governed their people with compassion, with love, and who have protected their people from enemies that were intent on hurting them, on subjugating them and of robbing them of their human dignity. Allow me to suggest that you see Christ as our Deliverer, as our Protector, as one who liberates us from all that would hold us in bondage.
Who or what are our captors holding us in bondage, the words and actions of other human beings or demons that oppress our hearts and souls? What are our addictions? What has a hold on our hearts and souls such that we in moments of honest really want to be released from their grips? Resentments? Guilt? Envy? Jealousy? Shame? The treatment we receive from others? When we become aware of the things that hold us in their grip we need to turn to Christ our King because He is a king of compassion, forgiveness, and freedom. Christ is not a King bent on enslaving us, rather He is a King bent on liberating us, freeing us to be all that God our Father created us to be.
Our Ancient Enemy, the Father of Lies, would have us believe that faith in Jesus Christ enslaves us. The truth is that Evil enslaves us. The truth is that Christ our King frees us, a truth that we celebrate here today realizing that Christ died to set us free.
What a blessing we have in Christ our King! What a blessing to be able, with Christ, to walk in the glorious freedom of the sons and daughters of God.