20 November 2016: Solemnity of Christ the King

Reading 1 Response Reading 2 Gospel
2 Sm 5:1-3 Ps 122:1-2, 3-4, 4-5 Col 1:12-20 Lk 23:35-43


Kings and kingdoms: who can save us?

White_gold_banner_sm On this final Sunday of the liturgical year we celebrate the solemnity of Christ the King. (Next week we start a new liturgical year centered on readings from Matthew’s gospel.) The Lectionary readings ask RCIA participants and the believing community to consider Jesus’ kingship and kingdom.

The first reading from the second book of Samuel describes the selection and anointing of David. The Lectionary editors chose this reading to introduce David’s kingship. For Hebrew scripture writers, David was the model king; the prophets promised that the messiah would come from David’s line. The messiah would be a new David: a king and a shepherd of his people.

The second reading from the letter to the Colossae ekklesia celebrates Christ’s messianic kingship. The words “delivered” and “transferred” in v 13 echo the Israelites’ Exodus experience and introduce the kingdom theme. The author explains redemption as “forgiveness of sins” (v 14). The Christological hymn (vv 15-20) describes Christ’s kingship in three sections: creation (vv 15-16), preservation (vv 17-18a), redemption (vv 18b-20).

The gospel, from Luke’s passion narrative, gives three human views on Jesus’ kingship and kingdom. These human misunderstandings hinge on the interpretation of the word “to save,” which appears four times in vv 35-39. The three views are:

  • Rulers: “He saved others, let him save himself.” The Jewish people’s rulers or leaders mock Jesus because he is a failed political messiah who couldn’t translates his miracles and healings into a populist movement. When they tell Jesus to “save himself,” they fail to see Jesus’ saving act as leading (“shepherding,” see the first reading: 2 Sam 5:2) and redeeming everyone.
  • Soldiers: “If you are the king of the Jews, save yourself.” The Roman soldiers mock Jesus because he is a failed human king who has no armies. The soldiers confuse the transient Roman emperor’s military power with God’s just and eternal kingdom. When they tell Jesus to “save himself,” they fail to see Jesus’ saving act as establishing God’s kingdom in the midst of their oppressive human empire.
  • Criminal: “Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us.” The criminal mocks Jesus because he is a failed military messiah who can’t deliver the Jews from their Roman oppressors. When the criminal tells Jesus to “save yourself and us,” he fails to see Jesus’ saving act as transforming all human life and death.

Although the rulers, soldiers, and the criminal urge Jesus to “save himself,” Jesus is the only human who doesn’t need saving. The reason that Jesus comes into the world is to save everyone else.

This week’s readings ask RCIA participants and the believing community to think about what Jesus’ kingship and kingdom means to us. Jesus’ saving act redeemed everyone. God’s kingdom, now present, exists for everyone. Jesus’ death and resurrection changes the meaning of human death and life. Do we think human leaders will save us, or do we know we need redemption? Do we think power will save us, or do we see such justice and peace only when God reigns? Do we think we can save ourselves, or can we ask the saving king to remember us in his kingdom?

—Terence Sherlock

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