This Sunday, most of us will see ourselves in the rejected, wounded King we worship.
More than ever before, men and women in America are feeling lost and alone.
November 24, the feast of Christ the King, Year C, gives a surprising answer to our pain, reminding us that, despite what we experience, each one of us is not just enormously valuable — each one of us is a king.
Christ doesn’t look like much of a king in today’s reading. He looks like an icon of failure.
It’s an odd reading for Christ the King Day. Instead of clouds of glory, Jesus has a cross. Instead of respect, he gets jeers. The leaders don’t bow and genuflect to him; they mock him. He has no retinue of angels with trumpets; he has nothing.
Everything about the scene speaks of uselessness and failure: He can’t walk, gesture, or grant favors, because his hands and feet are nailed down. The only one willing to acknowledge him is a condemned felon; the only recognition of his royalty is a sign that says “King of the Jews,” meant to show how ridiculous it was for him to ever consider himself special.
Sounds familiar, doesn’t it?
Our culture is experiencing record levels of loneliness and anxiety that feel to many like a crucifixion.
One in three working Americans report chronic stress problems. More than three in four of us regularly feel physical symptoms caused by stress. Half of us lay awake at night because of stress and more than half of us fight with loved ones because of stress. The hardest hit are middle-aged men, who turn to alcohol, drugs or death for relief — but even for teens, suicide long ago passed car accidents as the leading cause of death.
We feel crucified: abandoned by the love we expected to surround us, mocked by the high hopes we once had, disappointed by the tasks we thought would give our lives meaning; and pinned down, unable to live up to the expectations others placed upon us.
Jesus has a clear answer to anyone who feels like a useless failure.
The Church teaches that each baptized person is not just a nameless face in the mass of mankind; we are prophets, priests and kings, each with a unique, irreplaceable mission.
This is the meaning of the first reading, about the anointing of King David. You remember the backstory: Jesse brings each of his sons to Samuel, who wants to make one of them a king. The prophet rejects them all, until they fetch unimportant little David, who is off with the sheep.
That is the story of each of us; an unlikely candidate chosen by God from among so many superior candidates to be anointed in baptism and to be made a priest, prophet, and king.
That means none of is useless, even when we fail.
In baptism, we are each incorporated into Christ’s life, including his priesthood when we sacrifice for others, and his prophetic life, when we speak his truth. But we also share in his kingship.
The Catechism says that we exercise our kingly office by:
- Standing up to our own passions — “That man is rightly called a king who makes his own body an obedient subject,” it says.
- Standing with other Catholics: in our parishes, in Catholic organizations, and in civic or political movements — to “impregnate culture and human works with a moral value.”
- Standing up for God’s will: Directing whatever we can to what’s right, in our families and workplaces.
We are kings whenever we stand up to the darkness in the world, according to his will, starting with our own lives, today – whether we are 9-year-olds worried about school, or hardened sinners at the end of our lives, like the thief.
After all, look at the real story of the “icon of failure” that is the crucifix.
St. Paul tells us what we are looking at when we see Jesus Christ dying, rejected, on the cross.
“He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation,” he writes. “He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.”
Not only that, it is precisely through his sacrifice on the cross that he shows his royalty: “For in him all the fullness was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile all things for him, making peace by the blood of his cross.”
And it isn’t just Jesus Christ we see there. In the same act, says St. Paul, God “delivered us from the power of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son.”
So, no matter how dark the world may look, stand tall.
There is no reason to fear; even uselessness and failure bring you to him. Each of us is a king, on the cross or off it, because we are one with Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe.