Solemnity of Christ the King
November 20, 2016
There are three cycles of readings for the solemnity of Christ the King, the last Sunday of the liturgical year and, in many ways, this year's gospel is the most disturbing (Luke 23:35-43).Rather than seeing Christ coming triumphantly at the end of time on the clouds of heaven, Christ reigns from the cross on Calvary. And truth be told, in our brief lives on earth we do see Christ more in this visage of suffering than as a triumphant King vanquishing all our foes! Christ reveals himself to us with our currently limited human vision in a series of disguises – in the poor, the outcast, and especially in our own lives when we are confronted with the inescapable will of God or some daily occurrence that requires us to make a moral choice.
The image presented to us this year for Christ the King is, frankly, more like what we would expect on Good Friday. When we do think of Calvary, we tend to think of Christ alone on his cross. But he is not alone. Notice that Christ is between two thieves. There were three crosses on that hill, three men, and all three looked equally guilty to all the passersby. This is what Christ endured for each one of us.
I have a Tabernacle here in the rectory which I use as part of my chapel and for sick calls. It looks a bit unusual in that it has one very large crucifix on the top of it, and I recently decided to put two smaller crosses next to it that in other respects match exactly. While praying here, I have meditated quite a bit on these three crosses and have come to realize that the two thieves on either side of Jesus represent the choices that each of us must make each day.
Notice that each thief is presented with the same situation: both are suffering terribly, and Christ is in the middle. In fact, he is sharing in their sufferings. One thief in despair blasphemes Christ, while the other one puts his faith in Jesus. Jesus at this time does not look like a king, much less someone who can grant favors – but this thief makes the choice for God in that terrible moment, just as we are often asked to do, in those moments of suffering when Christ does not look like a king!
Christ the King is with us in every moral dilemma that we face, every suffering, every encounter with an unfortunate individual. In ways both small and large, we have choices to make, for or against God. In fact, life presents us with many daily choices. We find ourselves first on one side of Jesus, unable to accept the will of God and not recognizing Christ's kingship, while at other times, we fully embrace him even in our suffering. These two thieves had only one day with Christ, but we have a whole lifetime of choices. Our life is a summary of all the choices we have made for God, and the times we have chosen “not God.” When we have repented, Christ is always waiting to forgive us with confession and a good act of contrition.
Every time we find ourselves faced with daily moral choices, it is always Christ beside us and wearer one of the two "thieves" who has an opportunity to choose his kingship or reject it, one choice at the time. It is in the present moment that we choose, or reject, Christ the King.