During recess in grade school, my classmates and I would look for a pile of snow in the winter and a mound of dirt in the spring and fall. The biggest and strongest would scurry to the top and claim the royal title, “King of the Hill.” Those of us remaining at the bottom were then challenged to climb up and overthrow our friend and make ourselves into royalty.
This weekend we are not competing to become King of the Hill but celebrating the Feast of Christ the King. A feast that is both old and new. What I mean by both old and new is that its biblical origins are found in the scriptures and its liturgical origins in the history or our Church.
The biblical origin is found in all the gospels but it is particularly prominent in the gospel of Luke. In Luke’s gospel, Jesus is portrayed as a King at the time of the Annunciation when the angel appears to Mary and says, “Behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall name him Jesus, He will be great and will be called Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give him the throne of David his father, and he will rule over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end” (Lk 1:3133).
Jesus is also portrayed as a King when he enters the city of Jerusalem riding on the back of a donkey, “As he rode along, the people were spreading their cloaks on the road; and now as he was approaching the slope of the Mount of Olives, the whole multitude of his disciples began to praise God aloud with joy for all the mighty deeds they had seen. They proclaimed, ‘Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord. Peace in heaven and glory in the highest'” (Lk 19:36-39).
The most important portrayal of Jesus as King is what comes between the announcement of his birth and his entering the city of Jerusalem. It is the life of Jesus which gives us directions on how to participate in and contribute to our salvation. It is found in biblical stories like Zaccheus the tax collector who realizes the gift of salvation because he realizes his own small spiritual stature. “Today salvation has come to this house, for the Son of God has come to save what was lost” (Lk 19:1-10).
We find it again in the biblical story of the rich official who asks Jesus, “What must I do to gain eternal life?” Jesus tells him that he must not only keep the Ten Commandments, but go sell what he has and follow. Jesus tells him, that it is not sufficient to just follow rules. The rich official must literally reach beyond himself to participate in salvation (Lk 18:18-22).
And we find it, in biblical stories like the cleansing of the ten lepers where Jesus not only cures ten terminally ill men but he cleanses one man who was a Samaritan, a man who was not acceptable to the Orthodox Jewish community (Lk 17:11-19). Jesus reached out to one unlike himself.
The liturgical origin of the feast came from Pope Pius XI (1857-1939). The reason for creating a feast was that the world was becoming more and more secular. People were becoming more interested in themselves, privatization, and capital gain. Pius XI was concerned for the poor. Consequently, he criticized both capitalism and communism. He was concerned for the dignity of the human person, political and economic rights, reaching out to others, and world peace. His papal motto was, “Pax Christi in Regno Christi,” translated “The Peace of Christ in the Kingdom of Christ.”
It is nice to know the biblical and liturgical origins of the feast we are celebrating this weekend but what does the feast mean for us today? I suggest to you that we celebrate our call to experience our own human dignity not by taking over a hill and challenging others to overthrow us but by our reaching out and helping others to climb the hills that are encountered in life. The hills of immigration, poverty, homelessness, addiction, abuse, war, human trafficking, injustice, etc., are all waiting to be conquered not by the King of the Hill but Christ the King.
Fr. Bob Kelly