A Maryknoll Society member reflects on the unconventional kingship of Jesus and the readings for the Feast of Christ the King.
Light amidst darkness . . . strength manifested through weakness . . . blessed are the sorrowful . . . life through death . . . these truths are the cornerstones of our faith, so it should not come as a surprise that on the Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe the gospel presents Jesus Our Lord and King of the Universe nailed to a cross, writhing in pain, mocked, ridiculed, misunderstood, bloody and bruised, crowned with thorns and, save for his mother, his dear friend and a few women, abandoned by those he trusted with his love and hope. And still he was identified by the soldiers of that day and by a 2,000-year-old Church as king.
But what an upside-down, inside-out king he is! Jesus isn’t a Marvel comic caped crusader who changes everything with power, force, magic and strength. He does not meet our expectations of what a king ought to look like or how a king ought to be revered. Indeed, rather than using his power to control and be praised – Jesus forsakes it and is acknowledged as king only by a convicted criminal nailed on his cross next to Jesus – begging Jesus for mercy – and Jesus promises that together that day they will enter Paradise! What?!
About 30 years ago, I facilitated a seminar for seminarians freshly returned from their first exposure of a few years in a transcultural situation. They were all preparing to be missioners. I asked each to choose an experience from those years that stood out for them. They were to write it in detail and, over the course of the semester, that experience would serve as the “text” of each student to see what God revealed to them through their transcultural experience.
A Maryknoll seminarian born in Vietnam wrote that the parishioners where he was serving in Taiwan took a daylong bus trip to a Taoist shrine. One of the events of the day was watching a Taoist priest walk barefoot on hot coals and beat himself with a spiked ball and chain. Miraculously, he was not marred! As this seminarian watched the event unfold, he recalled that as a child in Vietnam he had witnessed a similar event and how deep an impression that experience made upon him.
On the bus ride home the parishioners asked him – half-jokingly, half-seriously – if, after he was ordained a priest, could he perform such an act of faith and not be harmed! The indelible memory of his childhood was compounded and confounded with a question and a challenge that he brought to our seminar. During the semester, the question remained unanswered.
Toward the end of the year, I met with this Maryknoll seminarian and asked him, “What is the difference between you and that Taoist priest?” He looked intently into my eyes almost trying to pull out an answer that would satisfy us both. After a few moments, he said straightforwardly and with conviction, “Jesus died.” I knew and felt in my heart and bones and soul that God had blessed Maryknoll with a fine priest who would understand peoples’ sufferings and hopes, fears and dreams.
Lutheran Pastor Nadia Bolz-Weber says we are to fall on our knees before such a king:
Fall on your knees before this true king.
Fall on your knees before this shepherd-king whose love transforms us.
Fall on your knees before the One who does not meet violence with violence.
Fall on your knees before the shepherd who cares for his flock with his arms and feet nailed to the cross even as with his last dying breaths.
Fall on your knees before this shepherd king who has found a lamb in his last breaths. I thank you Lord for your breath-taking LOVE. What kind of love is this, O my soul? Hold us close when we carry our cross. Give us your strength as we fight evil. We pray this in the name of Jesus Christ. Amen.” [from Saint John Lutheran Church of Bellmore, NY]
Maryknoll Father Larry Lewis, who has served in China, is a speaker, author and spiritual director with a doctorate in spirituality from Duquesne University.
Featured image: A cross is pictured on a hill. (Jaime Osorio on PxHere)