Reflection on the Readings for Sunday, November 21, 2021 — The Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe

The concept of kingship is alien to us. We have never been subjects in a monarchy. We have only heard stories – stories both of benevolent and monstrous monarchs. We may understand the concept of a king or a queen, but we have never experienced monarchy in real life. Hence, the title for today’s celebration, “Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe,” comes with its share of ambiguity.

Moreover, even though the monarchy is an ancient institution, the feast of Christ the King is a relatively modern-day feast. It was instituted only in 1925. The First World War, which claimed forty million military and civilian lives, had just ended. Merely two decades later, a second global conflict would kill 75 million people. The feast of Christ the King was instituted between these two devastating wars. This is significant. The wars were the results of fascist dictators exercising absolute power. It is interesting, then, that Jesus Christ was named “King of the Universe” because monarchy also represents absolute power. For many people, the title “Christ, King of the Universe” is problematic because kingship assumes absolute power – the kind of power that had caused unimaginable worldwide destruction. Even though Hitler and Mussolini were not kings or monarchs, they were rulers who exercised absolute power in the most destructive ways. Thus, apart from the ambiguity, the title “Jesus Christ, the King of the Universe,” is mired in controversy.

The controversy around the title is further heightened due to the timing of the institution of the Solemnity of Christ the Universal King. It came at a time when the power of the Church and the Papacy was waning in the Western world. Relevant questions are asked in this regard. Was this feast meant to draw the attention of the Western world to the reality of the Church’s diminishing status? Was it meant to regain the Church’s longtime status as the Holy Roman Empire? These are debatable questions.

On the one hand, the actual experience of a real monarchy is alien to us, and on the other hand, we are wary of absolute power in the hands of human rulers. This is even more relevant today because issues of power, legitimacy, and peaceful handing-over of power have rocked our own nation. It has divided us in ways that we never could ever imagine in the United States of America. Even the Church is caught up in this struggle. In this context, what shall we make of the Feast of Christ the Universal King?

I propose that we reflect on Jesus Christ as “King of the Universe” through the life and ministry of Jesus.

Theological Considerations

The first reason for the title “Jesus Christ, the King of the Universe,” perhaps is that traditionally Israel was a monarchy both in the religious and secular sense of the term. The difference between Israel and other kingdoms around it was that in the case of Israel, the real king was Yahweh. The human kings were only Yahweh’s representatives ensuring that Israel stayed faithful to the Covenant.

Second, perhaps influenced by the concept of the ‘kingdom of Israel,’ Jesus began his ministry by inaugurating the ‘kingdom of God.’ Yet, Jesus never called himself the king. We see this in today’s gospel reading. As he stood before Pilate, Jesus explicitly states, “My kingdom does not belong to this world… my kingdom is not here” (Jn 13:36). We also have instances in the gospels when people attempted to declare Jesus as king. However, Jesus would deny them that opportunity. Jesus allowed people to call him “Rabbi,” or “Master,” but not “king.” He himself preferred the title ‘servant’. Even though Jesus denied he was king, the concept ‘kingdom of God’ was central to the preaching of Jesus. The king in the ‘kingdom of God’ was always God the Father.

The idea of Christ as king is better thought of as a post-resurrection development. Its origins can be found in today’s first reading from Daniel, where a Messianic “Son of Man received dominion, glory, and kingship” (Dan 7:13). The New Testament writings, especially the epistles, build on this apocalyptic verse from Daniel. They give us the understanding that after Jesus’ death, resurrection, and ascension into heaven, all power in heaven and on earth would be handed over to Him. Thus, we read in Paul’s letter to Timothy, “He will bring about at the proper time—He who is the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings and Lord of lords…” (1 Tim 6:15).

It is with this biblical and theological understanding that the Church gives Jesus the title, “King of the Universe.”

The Kingdom of God but Not of This World

Let us attempt to try to reconcile the secular understanding of monarchy with the idea of “Christ, the King of the Universe.” Perhaps, the most certain affirmation we can make in this regard is that Jesus himself declared that his kingdom is not of this world (Jn 13:36). This does not mean that Jesus, as king, is disconnected from the world. Neither does it mean that Jesus does not exercise power in the world. Rather, Jesus; primary focus as he proclaimed the ‘kingdom of God’ is to make known to humanity God’s providential and redemptive care of all.

In other words, in Jesus’ preaching, the kingdom of God was not about nations and borders, armies and wars, economic ideologies and political systems—rather, it was about human redemption. Jesus did not come to rule the earth. Jesus came to save humanity. It is in this sense that Jesus is king, even though his kingdom is not of this world.

Christ is King and More

Perhaps, the best way to understand the title and the celebration of “Christ, King of the Universe” is to understand it as an analogy. We have very little evidence of what kingship looks like in heaven. After all, the concept of the ‘kingdom’ is a human reality. Jesus is not king in the same way that human beings are kings. The kingdom of God is radically different than earthly kingdoms or nation-states. The kingship of Christ stands for something far greater than our understanding of kingship can ever capture.

The concept of the ‘kingdom of God’ and the ‘kingship of Christ’ is our way of acknowledging that the universe belongs to God and that we owe it all to God. In fact, the entire universe belongs to Christ because it was created through Christ, loved by Christ, and redeemed by Christ. Moreover, all the universe will one day find its fulfillment in Christ. As our second reading from the book of Revelation says, “To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood, who has made us into a kingdom, priests for his God and Father, to him be glory and power forever and ever. Amen” (Rev 1:5-6).

When we celebrate the Eucharist, we offer it all the Christ, the King of the Universe. He who has redeemed us in his infinite love and will come to us in bread and wine, deserves our glory, praise, and adoration. To him be glory and power forever and ever. Amen.

Image: Lawrence OP, Christ the King mosaic, Detail of the apsidal mosaic in St Paul’s Cathedral, London. License: Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

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Fr. Satish Joseph was ordained in India in 1994 and incardinated into the archdiocese of Cincinnati in 2008. He has a Masters in Communication and Doctorate in Theology from the University of Dayton. He is presently Pastor at Immaculate Conception and St. Helen parishes in Dayton, OH. He is also the founder Ite Missa Est ministries (www.itemissaest.org) and uses social media extensively for evangelization. He is also the founder of MercyPets (www.mercypets.org) — a charitable fund that invites pet-owners to donate a percent of their pet expenses to alleviate child hunger. MercyPets is active in four countries since its founding in December 2017. Apart from serving at the two parishes, he facilitates retreats, seminars and parish missions.

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