This feast was instituted by Pope Pius XI in 1925, during a time – like today – when respect for Christ and the Church was waning. Originally, the full title of the celebration was “The Solemnity of Christ, the King of the Universe.” In 2015, during the Jubilee year of Mercy, Pope Francis added another part to the title: “…the living face of the Father’s mercy.” Christ is the one who binds up our wounds, heals us, blesses us, and saves us. The combined readings for the solemnity, taken from Samuel, the Letter to the Colossians and the Gospel of Luke – give us a glimpse of how Christ is at the same time both king and the face of the Father’s mercy.
Daily we say these words in Jesus’ prayer: “thy kingdom come.” Thankfully, Jesus has shown us how to bring about that kingdom. We must abandon what the world considers important and be prepared to be ridiculed as Jesus was. It is not easy, nor will it ever be easy, to remain true to values that are at odds with the society we live in. It cost Jesus his life. On that day he made a pledge to all his followers; “Indeed I promise you today, you will be with me in paradise.”
This Gospel pointedly reminds us that Jesus’ kingship is one of love and sacrifice, not power and domination. The traditional way of referring to the day of Jesus’ death is “Good” Friday. The mocking, derisive jabs that Jesus endured ironically proclaimed his true identity: the messiah, the chosen one, the king of the Jews and savior of all people.
When Isaiah crafted his description of the crucifixion, 700 years before it happened, he made Christ’s cross most prominent. He described Jesus’ cross with many verses in careful detail and then simply stated that Jesus would be “numbered with the transgressors.”
Luke’s gospel tells us about one of the “transgressors” commonly referred to as the “good thief.” As the crowd jeers, the thief hanging on the cross to one side of Jesus recognized Jesus as Messiah and King, and that day, that minute finds his salvation.
In tomorrow’s responsorial psalm we will sing: “Jesus is Lord – I will go rejoicing to the house of the Lord!” Elsewhere we’ll say: “The Lord is king, in splendor robed.” We’ll profess in the Creed: “I believe in one Lord Jesus Christ.” The priest-celebrant will greet us: “The Lord be with you.” We sing a blessing on each other: “May the blessing of the Lord be upon you.” In our hymns we sing: “Rejoice the Lord is King; our Lord and King adored.” Is it just from the force of habit we say or sing those titles for Jesus? Or deep down do we believe JESUS IS LORD? And if we do – why do we sometimes scramble to find a substitute to replace the word “Lord”?
As we ponder that question, we might pray the sentiments of the 12th century prayer of St. Bernard of Clairvaux –
“I accept that Jesus is my Lord. I keep myself for him since I acknowledge his rights over me. To me he is God, to me he is the Lord, and I declare: I will have no king but the Lord Jesus! Come then, Lord, … reign in me, for you are my king and my God.”