Unlike earthly sovereigns, he invites all to be His royal brothers and sisters
I lied. I don’t remember exactly what I said; but I know it would not have been the truth. When Sister Frances Marie would ask us first graders what we wanted to be when we grew up, I’m sure I must have lied. All of the usual (for that time) childlike answers were shouted out: policeman, nurse, doctor (those were simpler days without the possibility of being an IT expert or a blogger.) Whether out of a true vocation or out of a desire to impress the good Sister, there would always be a few who would say “priest” or “nun”; but I dissembled. I did not say what I wanted to be.
Because I wanted to be a king.
What a great job – so I thought then (and maybe, secretly, even still) – what with people obeying you and with living in a castle and having gold and jewels and armies and all that! It seemed the ideal job. And out of my early love for this career choice was born my great love for this Feast of Christ the Universal King.
Perhaps most people don’t dream of being a king, but many throughout the world, even a large number of let’s-throw-off-the-yoke-of-oppression, democracy-loving Americans follow faithfully and with fascination the antics of royals. The pageantry, the history, the symbolism capture something in our imagination. Some resist – apparently – this temptation. A fellow in a parish where I once served could not stand the Feast of Christ the King; we sparred over this frequently and in a (mostly) friendly way: his last word on the subject was always the same: “The only King for me . . . is Elvis.” But in the end, if we’re honest, we all need a king. Not politically, perhaps, but spiritually.
The Lord Jesus reminds us often in the Scriptures that we are like sheep (that’s sort of nice, I guess), because we need a Shepherd. If the cute little sheep (adorable but not too bright – if you’ve ever dealt with sheep, you know this) were to elect, appoint, or choose their own shepherd, they’d very soon become his dinner.
So, too, we who need a strong arm to save us (if I ever doubt this, I just look at the world, or at my own fickle heart), shouldn’t really pretend that we are in a position to choose the one who is best for us. While this sometimes works in politics, it would certainly fail in the greater realm of the spiritual life. We don’t need a god whom we elect or choose or create – such a god would always be too small, too weak, and – let’s be honest – would always look a little bit too much like us.
The elevating reality of having a king (at least in this case) is that we did not choose him to be king; his credentials come from a higher source. Whether we choose to follow a king is another matter.
For many of us today, kings and the office of king have been reduced to the image of wealthy people, who may or may not do anything profitable, who live on the whole a very comfortable and privileged life, travelling around and waving and laying wreaths and other civic functions. Even while granting the possible symbolic, nationalistic value of such people, the role is less than crucial.
But that is not what kings can be. A king – a good one – was meant to be a leader who would sacrifice his life for his people, who would protect them, who would work constantly for their well-being and happiness, and even their spiritual health and salvation. When looking at Christ as king, we should not be distracted by the less-than-meaningful roles some kings have made popular.
A king is marked by certain signs – he wears a crown, he wears a great and fine robe to show his dignity; he lives in a palace, usually with a great balcony from which to greet his people; and deep in that grand palace, he has a throne from which he rules, on which he alone may be seated. By these signs and insignia is a king known.