Christ's kingship is the opposite of what anyone expected, and that's exactly why His example is so critical.
Christ’s kingship is eternal and exists outside of time and place, but this year, the feast honoring His infinite dominion seems to have special relevance. The Feast of Christ the King is so timely, not only because of what it tells us about the political realm, but also because of the mission it places on the heart of each man, who is called to imitate Christ’s kingly leadership in some way, in the daily scenes of his life.
When Pope Pius XI instituted this feast 95 years ago, he explained his reasoning in the encyclical “Quas Primas.” Christ governs with perfect justice tempered with perfect mercy, bringing a lasting peace that the world cannot give. Calling to mind His kingdom, with its laws and characteristics that are so different from those promulgated by the world, helps Christians to enter into the spirit of this kingdom and keep their eyes fixed on it as their destination. Pope Pius XI wrote,
Oh, what happiness would be Ours if all men, individuals, families, and nations, would but let themselves be governed by Christ! … then at length will many evils be cured; then will the law regain its former authority; peace with all its blessings be restored. Men will sheathe their swords and lay down their arms when all freely acknowledge and obey the authority of Christ, and every tongue confesses that the Lord Jesus Christ is in the glory of God the Father. That these blessings may be abundant and lasting in Christian society, it is necessary that the kingship of our Savior should be as widely as possible recognized and understood, and to the end nothing would serve better than the institution of a special feast in honor of the Kingship of Christ.
This vision of peace spreading through society reminds us of what Christians are called to promote, but Christ’s words, “Blessed are the peacemakers,” are hard to put into practice. Especially during this pandemic and after a bitterly divisive election season, keeping our focus on Christ’s universal dominion orients our hearts towards what really matters. Temporal rule is brief and fleeting, but Christ’s power has no end, and operates with an irresistible subtlety that no earthly leader could match.
Anyone who’s been disappointed to learn about the misdeeds of someone you once admired (and isn’t that all of us?) can attest that all human leaders will ultimately fail. Christ, however, can be relied on in all things, and thus meditating on His kingship is a source of peace. He is king over all things, and no earthly laws or principalities or powers can affect that.
Resting in the knowledge of Christ’s ultimate authority, however, is not a pass to ignore temporal matters. Being disciples of Christ calls Christians to study how he leads, and the characteristics of his kingship—and then try our best to imitate Him.
What is true leadership?
Two passages from Scripture in particular seem to draw out his leadership style. The first is when He stoops to wash the Apostles’ feet (John 13), and the other is given in the Beatitudes, when he says “Blessed are the meek” (Matthew 5:5). As men are called to imitate Christ’s kingship in their homes and workplaces, these two passages offer compelling lessons about what leadership really looks like.
In the first, we see His profound humility, the quality that sets apart a good leader from a great one. He was not above performing even this menial work. Christ led through wholehearted and loving service, and this model of “servant leadership” is a blueprint for men seeking to lead as Christ does.
The second passage, “Blessed are the meek,” may be one of the hardest for men in particular to follow, especially in a culture that often encourages choosing violence and domination over peaceful service. Yet the Beatitudes are the “laws of the kingdom” Christ gave us, and all Christians are called to live by them. This passage reminds us that happiness does not come from controlling or commanding others, but from living as Christ did, and holding onto His unshakeable peace in our hearts.
What a funny kind of king Christ must have seemed, when His goal was not to subjugate his enemies or amass resources, but instead to love even those who hated him and give away all he had! But this upending of expectations and of the conventional narrative of royalty is exactly why meditating on His kingship is so crucial today. His ultimate authority over all aspects of human life, both personal and national, brings confidence and fearlessness for the future. Most of all, His ruling through gentleness and kindness shows us what a true leader looks like, the quintessential model for all men.