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  • The blog header depicts an important and yet mis-understood New Testament scene, Jesus flogging the money-changers out of the temple. I selected it because the faith that gives us consolation can also make us very uncomfortable. Both Divine Mercy and Divine Justice meet in Jesus. Priests are ministers of reconciliation, but never at the cost of truth. In or out of season, we must be courageous in preaching and living out the Gospel of Life. The title of my blog is a play on words, not Flogger Priest but Blogger Priest.

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How Do We Understand Christ as King?

Every year we celebrate the feast of Christ the King. But, what does this feast mean to modern men and women? Contemporary civilization has largely rid itself of kings. It is true that the English and a few other nations maintain royalty, but the world democracies have reduced them to cosmetic and ceremonial roles. They are the subject of gossip and romantic fascination, not the masters of lives or the sources of true power. Americans fought a revolution, precisely to shed any allegiance to a king. Our corporate psyche has an inherent distrust in positing too much authority and power in any individual man or woman. We would rather reward ingenuity and ability with a leadership role than to grant it blindly because of an accident of birth and so-called noble blood. Checks and balances are incorporated into the system of government to insure that no individual becomes too strong. Indeed, the powers of the executive branch are constantly debated because of concerns that the presidency may become too independent and/or that its war powers are too great a responsibility for one man. Having said this, we acknowledge the strength of the individual and have a preoccupation with the so-called self-made man and the hero. Our politicians are often successful lawyers, businessmen, and veterans, even professional football players and wrestlers. We are also a people in love with the realization of a myth that the poorest person, subject to tremendous difficulties, can rise to prominence and even to the greatest office in this land of opportunity.

2 Samuel 5:1-3 presents us with the ultimate hero, David. The tragic power struggle with Saul is over. He was the great warrior who had saved Israel from her enemies. The elders anoint him as the king of Israel. It will be from his line that the Messiah will emerge. Generations to come will acclaim him as the model of a great king. Nevertheless, he made terrible mistakes and committed horrendous sins. He would take to himself the wife of one of his generals and then insure that the poor man would be killed in battle. When confronted with his sin and facing the judgment of God, he repents in sackcloth and ashes. The entire land does penance. David is acclaimed as the king who is willing to bend the knee to the true God and lay claim to his personal faults.

It may be useful for the Christian to appreciate that most earthly kings have been relegated to history. While there were saints among them; they were more often the worse of sinners. The image of Christ the King often had little in common with their abuse of power and their political intrigue. A British king took much of the English world out of the true Church. Many among the German nobility and princes divided the Church between Luther and Rome. When the King of Savoy sought the unification of the Italian peninsula, he confiscated the Papal States from the Church. Kings and emperors often had to validate bishop candidates. There are countless other examples that might be given. While it was traditionally argued that the ideal situation was a union of the Church and State, it must be acknowledged that the Church has thrived in the United States with its constitutional separation of the two entities. Of course, while no national church was recognized, we still maintained a real religiosity as “one nation under God.” Meanwhile, largely Catholic nations have often been the sources of the most severe persecution of the Church. This has usually occurred after bad governments, albeit somewhat sympathetic to the Church, have been overturned in elections or revolution. Mexico enforced abusive anti-clerical laws for many years. The French revolution secularized a nation with an accompanying bloodlust that cost thousands of priests and religious their lives.

Colossians 1:12-20 sounds like a creed. The divinity of Christ is proclaimed. Jesus is the kingdom. Since Jesus is also “head of the body, the church,” then by extension something of the kingdom is breaking into the world through the Church. His is a kingdom of light. Jesus is the Light of the World. He has “rescued us from the power of darkness.” We owe Christ everything. He redeems us and forgives our sins. The attributes of Christ’s kingship are narrated. He is the revelation of the Father, making visible that, which is invisible. Everything was created through him, the divine plan of creation. He is at the source of all that exists, “whether thrones or dominations, principalities or powers.” While his kingdom is not of this world, all earthly kings receive their authority from him. While used to defend the divine right of kings, it is also applied to modern democracies like ours. We even say as much on our money: “In God we trust.” The Christian sees this truth fully residing in Jesus Christ. Reconciliation is made possible through the blood of his cross. No one else can save us. His is the name that saves.

If the kingship of Christ is just window dressing with pretty crowned statues and empty words of praise, then we are wasting our time. Jesus does not want our flattery; he desires our humble submission. This feast and title of Christ the King reminds us that ours is a jealous God. We may be both citizens of a nation and subjects of a kingdom, but the claim of Christ must come first in our lives. When Jesus was asked as to whether it was legitimate to pay a tax, he requested a coin. He asked, whose head is on it? The answer came back, Caesar. Jesus answered, then give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, but give to God what is God’s. This response is often misinterpreted. His answer was really no answer, but a way to get around the trap that was being made for him. If he said not to pay the tax, he could immediately be arrested as an enemy of Rome. If he said, pay it, than those who looked to him as the Messiah might reject him as a crony of the occupying government. If we think about his response, the believer becomes alert to the fact that everything belongs to God. All that we have and everything that we are is a divine gift. This puts to shame the many politicians, and dare we say voters, who claim they can be Christian while advocating as public policy the murder of the unborn and the expansion of moral depravity. The suggestion that one can personally support the Gospel of Life while civilly aligning oneself with the constituents for the Culture of Death is a lie that strips one of genuine Christian discipleship. We either belong to the kingdom of God or we do not. The kingdom is in constant tension with the world and challenges business as usual.

Who is the master of our lives? The Lord, himself, says that we cannot serve two masters. Those who have sought to do so either compromise the demands of Christ or they ignore them completely. Dissenters against the truths of Scripture and the living Church often develop a rebellious spirit to authority. They purport to love Jesus but discount as historically conditioned or misconstrued anything he has to say that challenges them. Like any nation, the kingdom has its own laws. These laws run against the grain of what might be caricaturized as “normal thinking”. Only men are chosen as apostles and later as bishops and priests. This is rejected as patriarchal and opposed to equal rights for women. Jesus says that we must eat his body and drink his blood if we want a share in him and in his life. This is rejected as the peculiar cannibalistic thinking of the Roman Church. Jesus tells the woman caught in adultery that she is forgiven, but warns her to avoid this sin in the future. He also challenges the fornication of the Samaritan woman. This is rejected as the antiquated morality of right-wing extremists. Jesus says, if someone strikes you, turn and offer the other cheek. The world responds with petty wars. Three thousand people are killed every day by small arms fire alone. Jesus says, give without expecting repayment. The richer nations of the world retain a crushing debt against the poorer nations. A deaf ear has been given the Pope’s plea for debt forgiveness that would restore hope to the Third World and set the new millennium apart from past history. Jesus says love your enemies; forgive those who do you injury. The world executes them. The Chinese even resort to massive orchestrations of public rebuke and shaming prior to killing those ruled as criminals, especially those from the political opposition. During one three month period, they executed 1,751 people; that is 30 more than all the rest of the world over the past three years. Nevertheless, they are rewarded with “most favored nation” trade status and courted by world businesses. How can the demarcation between the world and the kingdom be any clearer?

Why are we afraid to speak out? Why are we so willing to accept excuses for the state of the world and our part in it? The prophets of the kingdom seem few in number and their message ignored. There are enough baptized believers in the world to change things if they wanted to do so. The trouble is that we have become complacent with the way things are. The problems around the world seem remote from our own lives. As for the society we live in, there is an unconverted part of us that secretly relishes in the new materialism and hedonism. Spiritually we have one foot in the kingdom and the rest is still in the world. Are we entering Christ’s kingdom or stepping out? Are we being converted or is our faith being corrupted?

Luke 23:35-43 gives us the scene at the cross. Jesus is mocked. The Jews are upset because he was not the kind of Messiah they wanted. He has let them down. The Romans mock him also, although they never placed faith in him initially. All they know is the sword and blood. This is what translates as power to them. The Jews are a beaten people. Perhaps some of their mockery was for the Jews who rebuked Jesus? They were all fools, as far as they were concerned, a defeated people. Pilate’s inscription rests above our Lord’s head: “This is the King of the Jews.”

While one criminal blasphemed against him; the other thief crucified with Jesus acknowledges his guilt and then professes his faith by asking Jesus to remember him in his kingdom. Although it is the darkest hour of the Gospel, Jesus comforts the good thief with the most wonderful words ever spoken to another: “I assure you: this day you will be with me in paradise.” What a strange king Jesus is. He gathers coarse fishermen and traitorous tax collectors to himself; he speaks with women of poor reputation and touches the unclean and leper. Now, at the cross, he tells an insurrectionist and true criminal that he should be with him in heaven, the capital of Christ’s kingdom. Even the devil with his vast but dark spiritual intelligence could not figure him out. He tempted Jesus with all that the world had to offer; but, to no avail. The cross should have been the devil’s shinning hour; however, even this will be turned into a parable, placing worldly wisdom on its head. A sign of defeat will be translated for all time as the symbol of victory. That, which previously ushered only death, will merit us a share in eternal life. Yes, what a peculiar king we have in Jesus; and yet how thankful we are for his infinite mercy.

All the parables speak about a kingdom that the world still does not understand. We are unwilling to sell everything for the treasure hidden in a field or the pearl of great price. We are unwilling to abandon a flock of concerns, to search out the one lamb that is lost and afraid. The treasure beyond measure is Jesus. We are called to serve him in heart-felt imitation. The kingdom of God has only two laws and yet they impact upon everything: love of God and love of neighbor. When will we learn?

For more such reflections, contact me about getting my book, CHRISTIAN REFLECTIONS.

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