Sunday, November 13, 2016

Christ the King - November 20, 2016

First Reading Commentary
The Solemnity of Christ the King was instituted in 1925 by Pope Pius XI in his encyclical Quas Primas.  It was originally celebrated on the last Sunday of October, immediately preceding the Solemnity of All Saints.  The revision of the liturgical calendar placed it at the final Sunday in Ordinary Time. 

In this First Reading we read about the crowning of David as king of Israel.  He was God's choice.  And it is from his lineage that the Messiah would come.  In Saint Matthew's Gospel, Jesus Christ is listed as "the son of David, the son of Abraham" (Matthew 1:1).  David's kingship has its limitations as he is crowned to be the shepherd and commander of Israel.  Jesus Christ's Crown is not a result of victory over flesh and blood, but of victory over the mystery of evil which seeks the ruination of souls. 

In an incredible act of love God became Man to redeem sinful humanity; and because of our sinful ways, all we could do was crown Him with thorns.  Christ's love is not only beyond the means of human expression, but also logically it doesn't make sense: the God-Man Who was crowned with thorns is offering us who continue to crown Him with thorns by our sins, eternal glory. 

As our Lord says: "My thoughts are not your thoughts; nor your ways My ways" (Isaiah 55:8).

Second Reading Commentary
In this Reading there is a spirit of gratitude to Almighty God for the gift of salvation through Jesus Christ.  The "holy ones in light" represents all the supernatural benefits of salvation including God Himself Who is the Source of all benefits.  God the Father has delivered us from the adversary and transferred us to the perfect, well-ordered Kingdom of His beloved Son.  We have been liberated from a state of guilt. 

Jesus "is the Image of the invisible God".  The Catechism of the Catholic Church reads: "By His revelation, the invisible God, from the fullness of His love, addresses men as His friends, and moves among them, in order to invite and receive them into His own company" (CCC 142). 

Saint Thomas Aquinas relates "image" with "prototype" and says that image has three qualities at the same time:
It must have a likeness with the original prototype.
It must be derived from the prototype.
It must belong to the same species as the prototype.

This explanation of "image" delineates that mere likeness alone would not be sufficient.  A photograph, for example, is a likeness but it is not an image in the sense that is applied here.  By Saint Paul writing that Jesus is the Image of the invisible God, he most certainly means God the Father.  Therefore, Christ is the Image of God the Father because He exemplifies the Father.  Saint John Damascene explains that image in itself does not demand equality with the original model, but we know that Christ, the Image, is identical and equal to the Father in every way.  The only difference is that Jesus is begotten. 

Saint Paul continues this letter by writing that Christ is "the firstborn of all creation".  This is not a reference to being born of the Virgin Mary.  Paul's meaning is that Jesus was before all creatures, proceeding from all eternity from the Father.  Firstborn, then, as it is applied here is a metaphor for pre-existence before creation. 

Christ is Supreme, eternal and the final revelation of God because "all things were created through Him and for Him".  He is the reason and cause of all things and yet as our Creator He does not distance Himself from us, but instead, He wishes to have communion with us by means of His boundless love. 

Christ is "Head of the Body, the Church", and yet His Sovereignty over the members does not deter Him from a close and intense union with them. 

He is "the firstborn from the dead" in the sense that He is the first to rise to a New Life and in His glorious Triumph He is the cause of our resurrection. 

"For in Him all the fullness was pleased to dwell."  Generally, "fullness" is synonymous with "totality". In this case, however, "all the fullness" more appropriately means "all existence". 

Being reconciled to God through Christ with those on earth primarily means the human race; but what does Paul mean by reconciliation with those in heaven?  Saint John Chrysostom defines those in heaven as angels.  This doesn't mean, however, that Christ sacrificed Himself for angels.  Angels are totally and unequivocally devoted to the cause and glory of Almighty God.  This suggests, then, that before Christ's redeeming Sacrifice, the angels were at enmity with the human race because our sins separated us from God.  Christ put an end to this division by restoring us to God's favor "through the Blood of His Cross".

Gospel Commentary
The Solemnity of Christ the King kicks off the final week of Ordinary Time; and perhaps this scene in the Gospel might remind you more of Holy Week than the celebration of Jesus Christ as King.  But that's just it!  Christ is no ordinary King.  It is usually the king's loyal subjects who are dying on the battlefield to save the life of the king.  Here, the King is dying for the life of His subjects, who just happen to be sinners and therefore not all that loyal. 

In the biblical days, mockery aimed at the king could very well mean death for the mocker.  Here, mockery is aimed at the King with statements like: "He saved others, let Him save Himself if He is the chosen One, the Christ of God" - and - "If You are King of the Jews, save Yourself."  In this case, not only will the mockers not be executed, but the King is being executed to save the lives of those who are like these mockers - in other words, sinners. 

Could Christ have come down from the Cross?  Absolutely!  Then why didn't He?  It was not the nails that held Him to the Cross.  Rather, it was His love for humanity collectively and His love for each and every one of us individually.  He sacrificed Himself to defeat an enemy that we, left to ourselves, would never be able to overcome - death. 

Earthly kings have servants; our heavenly King, however, was a Servant.  Earthly kings sit on a throne in all their glory - that is until they are overtaken or deceased.  Our heavenly King also sits on a Throne, but in eternal glory; and what really makes our heavenly King so special beyond human logic is that He has secured eternal glory for His people, sinners that we are.  It seems fitting to reiterate what was written in the First Reading's commentary: "My thoughts are not your thoughts; nor your ways My ways" (Isaiah 55:8).  Who really understands this immeasurable love freely given by Love Himself! 

A wonderful sense of hope is given to us in this Gospel because Jesus promises Paradise to the repentant criminal.  Something else in this scene could also leave one with a sense of hope which perhaps isn't as strong as the former but nevertheless does shed at the very least a dimmer ray of hope.  The repentant criminal reminds the reviling criminal – and really all of us - of the condemnation we could be subject to.  What does the reviling criminal see when he looks at Jesus after hearing that promise of Paradise given to the repentant criminal?  Does He see that Divine Love which cannot be explained by mere words?  Does He see hope for himself even after he tempted God?  What we do know is that Jesus does not condemn him in this Gospel scene.   

At the funeral of Soviet Premier Leonid Brezhnev, Victoria Petrovna, the wife of Brezhnev, traced the Sign of the Cross on her husband's chest as the casket was about to be closed to begin the state funeral service.  This was quite remarkable for an empire that embraced the principles of atheistic socialism.  But Victoria Petrovna held fast to that virtue of hope.  She trusted that a boundless God could produce redemptive grace that also knew no bounds. 

Original sin dealt us a nasty blow.  We want the bad guy to get what he deserves.  But the kind of love that we operate with has boundaries on all sides; and we're quite good at deciding for ourselves who should reside within those boundaries.  But making God number One in our lives and trying to grow closer to Him by means of persistent efforts at climbing the often rugged terrain of the spiritual mountain could indeed begin to punch holes into those boundary walls. 

It's quite natural from a human perspective to assume that the criminal pretty much made his reservations for hell by reviling Jesus.  On the other hand, what he witnessed in the exchange between Jesus and the repentant criminal may have triggered the beginning of his own conversion.  And since Jesus doesn't even so much as lecture this man in this scene, could it be because our Omniscient God could see changes for the better awaiting this man – even if it would come at his last breath and final heartbeat?