Last Sunday, we celebrated Christ the King – what do we associate with this title “King”? Most of us do not live in monarchies, kings and queens in constitutional monarchies do not have the power their predecessors had centuries ago. So for us today this feast maybe less about “kings”, but it is about authority.
A king, a queen in biblical times represented authority. We often argue about authority in the Church, it is a kind of monarchy – just look at the way a pope is elected and then governs without being controlled. There are a lot of texts in the Christian Scriptures which deal with authority; were they written by people who ignored or who disrespected the leadership in their various communities, who were authors against leadership, against authority?
No - it is interesting to see that the vast majority of these texts were triggered by something else: by the abusive ways in which leadership was often exercised. Almost always, the leaders of the communities - not the people - created the problems. And the authors of our scripture texts encountered these problems and they were forced to address them.
That's why today's feast of Christ the King is significant. And it is also touchy and a bit awkward. Since all Christian leadership should mirror the leadership of Jesus, once we label Jesus a king, we have to be extremely careful how we define the title “king”. It's the title “King of the Jews” above the cross of Jesus which prompts the attack of the Jewish rulers in today's gospel passage (Luke 23:35-43). There was a common idea of royalty: if Jesus is a king, he should be looking out primarily for himself; he should immediately come down from the cross. Yet, Luke's Jesus is more concerned with the fate of the person crucified next to him than he is with his own fate. Throughout Luke’s story of Jesus walking up to Jerusalem, Jesus is always focusing on the needs of others. Only in Luke’s gospel does Jesus heal the man's cut off ear in the garden.; does he speak sympathetically to the women mourning his death; does he look at Peter after his denial, and only here he forgives those who crucify him.
Let us come to a different king – David (II Samuel 5:1-3) had already been king of the southern half of Palestine – Judah. How he became this – well this is a very different story. So, he was king in the South when the elders of the northern tribes – of Israel - came to him in Hebron asking David to unite all twelve tribes into one nation under his leadership. David's ability to bring people together was one of his best personality traits, a trait all good leaders should possess: think of political, economic, and Church leaders – do they bring people together or do they stir, create and maintain conflicts?
Now let us have a look at the letter to the community in Colossae (Colossians 1:12-20). The disciple of Paul responsible for the letter to the Colossians finds that same characteristic in the risen Jesus. Quoting an early Christian hymn, he reminds his community: “God himself was pleased to live fully in his Son, God wanted all perfection to be found in him…. So that all beings in heaven and on earth would be brought back to God.” There's no doubt the writer is familiar with the insight of his mentor Paul into the Body of Christ: we can't be more one than to be part of the body of the person who unites us. Christian leaders are unique. The only leader they can compare themselves to is Jesus.
I remember when we celebrated this feast for the first time with Francis as pope. My hope was, that - just as in the gospel Jesus redefined the notion of “king” - so Francis might redefine the papacy day by day. Francis was elected in March 2013 – until today, my hopes that he redefines papacy are not yet gone – I pray that he is able to make a good step forward. It is true, though the title remains, the reality behind “king” and “pope” is constantly changing. Let us pray that we all be strong enough to sustain all those in our hierarchy who open the Church; let us pray for all those who try to take Jesus as a model for their way of exercising power.
Fr. Wolfgang Felber SJ