Sunday Scripture: The crucified king
By Terrance Callan
Our Lord Jesus Christ the King: 2 Samuel 5:1-3; Colossians 1:12-20; Luke 23: 35-43
The idea that Christ is king may be more meaningful to people who live in a monarchy than it is to us in the United States. Our country was established by a revolution against the king of England. Nevertheless, on this last Sunday of the liturgical year Catholics everywhere contemplate our belief that Jesus is our king. He is king now and will be seen as king of all the world when He comes again in glory.
The reading from the Second Book of Samuel describes how David became king of Israel. A later passage in the second book of Samuel (2 Samuel 7) tells of God’s promise that a descendant of David would always rule over God’s people. As Messiah, or Christ, Jesus is the descendant of David who fulfilled that promise.
However, as we hear in the reading from St. Paul’s Letter to the Colossians, Jesus the king far surpasses His human ancestor David. Jesus is also the son of God, who is the image of God, the firstborn of all creatures. He is the one through whom all creation came to be, and continues in being. And to be in His kingdom means becoming part of a body of which He is the head. Surely such a person is a fitting king of the universe.
But the reading from the Gospel according to Luke gives us an even more startling perspective on the kingship of Jesus. This reading is part of the story of Jesus’ crucifixion. Jesus was crucified because He was accused of claiming to be the Messiah, the promised king of Israel. This charge is summed up in the inscription over Jesus’ head: This is the King of the Jews.” We can see from the story that Jesus’ crucifixion seemed to make such a claim ridiculous. The leaders of the people, the soldiers, and even another person crucified with Jesus, all mocked Him. They thought that a real king would save himself, and perhaps the others who were crucified with him, not just let himself be put to death.
If we are honest with ourselves, I think we must admit that we agree with those who jeered at Jesus. Being crucified does seem to nullify any possibility that Jesus is a king. This is the essential challenge of faith in Jesus. If we are to affirm that Jesus really is a king, we must abandon our understanding of what it means to be a king.
If Jesus is our king, then being a king does not just mean glory and power; it also means suffering and death. The Gospel reading tells us about a person who was able to see Jesus as king even as Jesus was dying on the cross. One of those crucified with Jesus said to Him, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”
The reading from the Gospel of Luke presents us with the challenge of believing in a crucified king. But it does not explain the meaning of the crucifixion. The reading from the letter to the Colossians does offer an explanation. This reading says that the mission of Jesus was to reconcile the world to God, making peace through the blood of His cross. Jesus is king primarily in the sense that He is the Redeemer, offering forgiveness of sins to all. Jesus is king not as one who dominates, but as one who serves, providing for us what we most need — peace with God.
Callan is a faculty member at the Athenaeum of Ohio.