In our modern (some would say post-modern, or even post-post-modern) world, when monarchy is mainly for ceremony, does the Feast of Christ the King still have meaning? As we let this and then that fad lord it over our lives, as we bow to fleeting trifles, maybe there is an even greater need to remind ourselves what – or better, who – should reign in our lives. Where should our priorities be? Who should be our Number One? The Feast of Christ the King can make us question who or what is king in our lives.
But in this day and age, when democratic ideals are being threatened all over the world and when authoritarianism has already rammed through the gates in many countries, is it wise to celebrate kingship? Perhaps Christ the King can be the antidote to strongman politics. The image of Jesus as a servant-leader washing feet can be our salvation. The Feast of Christ the King can challenge our conceptions of what it means to lead.
Christ’s kingship is indeed a powerful message we can rally behind today, but it is also just one facet of the Good News. God is a Mystery still and always unfolding; no metaphor can truly capture God. Even as we proclaim Christ as King today, maybe we can push this image further.
Jesus did wash feet as a servant-leader during his last supper with his disciples, but this was only one part – the earlier part – of the night. After washing feet and putting his garments back on, Jesus reclined at table again and shared a meal with those closest to him, telling them, “I no longer call you slaves; I call you friends.”
Humble service is but the first step; intimate friendship is the goal. As Greg Boyle, the Jesuit priest who works with former gang members, ex-convicts, and recovering (and relapsing) addicts writes in Tattoos on the Heart, “Serving others is good. It’s a start. But it’s just the hallway that leads to the Grand Ballroom.” And in that Grand Ballroom, there is a banquet where there is no “us” and no “them,” no separation between service provider and service recipient, only one family partaking of a meal.
Christ the King is also Christ the Kin. His very first public act was to stand in line with sinners waiting to be baptized by John. Jesus had no sin, but he was not afraid to be counted among us. This is also what we will be celebrating in a few weeks – the coming of Emmanuel, God-with-us.
As we marvel at Christ’s kingship, we must also be grateful for Christ’s kinship with us. Jesus did not just come to establish a kingdom, but a kin-dom – what Greg Boyle would describe as a circle of compassion: “[I]magine no one standing outside of that circle, [and we move] ourselves closer to the margins so that the margins themselves will be erased. We stand there with those whose dignity has been denied. We locate ourselves with the poor and the powerless and the voiceless. At the edges, we join the easily despised and the readily left out. We stand with the demonized so that the demonizing will stop. We situate ourselves right next to the disposable so that the day will come when we stop throwing people away.”
What heaven will be like, no one here on earth really knows. But I do not think it will just be God sitting on a throne as we adore him. I imagine it to be a great big meal, and everyone eating will not just feel they belong, but finally realize they belong to each other – as God has been trying to teach us all along.
In 1993, Mary Johnson’s son was killed by a 16-year-old boy named Oshea Israel. After Oshea’s arrest, there was nothing in Mary’s heart except this: “I wanted this kid to be charged with first-degree murder. That [was] my focus. That he would never, ever get out of prison. I wanted to make sure he would get life in prison because he deserved it. He was an animal.”
Eighteen years later, Mary and Oshea live next door to each other. Oshea has finished serving his prison sentence, and Mary keeps an eye on him, but not out of suspicion. Every now and then, Oshea will hear from Mary, “Boy, how come you ain’t called over here to check on me in a couple of days? You ain’t even asked me if I need my garbage to go out!” He gets an earful that also fills his heart. Behind those words is this sentiment from Mary: “My natural son is no longer here. I didn’t see him graduate. Now [Oshea is] going to college. I’ll have the opportunity to see [him] graduate… I didn’t see [my son get] married. Hopefully one day, I’ll be able to experience that with [Oshea].”
From wanting Oshea to suffer to wishing him a full life – what caused Mary to turn around? It was a poem she read about two women who meet in heaven. They recognize each other as mothers by the stars in their crowns. (In the poet’s imagination, everyone gets a crown in heaven, but mothers get distinctive ones.) By their blue-tinted haloes, these two mothers also know that both of them have suffered much because of the deaths of their sons. As the first lady talks of her son, she reveals she is the mother of Jesus. The second lady falls to her knees. But because this is heaven, the first mother raises her up. The second mother then admits her son is Judas Iscariot. And again, because this is heaven, there is no blaming. There is only belonging. They are just two mothers. They are kin. And where we see glimpses of this on earth, there we have made Christ truly our King.
– Francis D. Alvarez, SJ
Long time ago, so I have been told,
Two angels once met on streets paved with gold.
“By the stars in your crown,” said the one to the other
“I see that on earth, you too, were a mother.
And by, the blue-tinted halo you wear
“You, too, have known sorrow and deepest
“Ah yes,” she replied, “I once had a son,
A sweet little lad, full of laughter and fun.”
“But tell of your child.” “Oh, I knew I was blessed
From the moment I first held him close to my breast,
And my heart almost burst with the joy of that day.”
“Ah, yes,” said the other, “I felt the same way.”
The former continued: “The first steps he took-
So eager and breathless; the sweet startled look
Which came over his face – he trusted me so.”
“Ah, yes,” said the other, “How well do I know”
“But soon he had grown to a tall handsome boy,
So stalwart and kind – and it gave me so much joy
To have him just walk down the street by my side”
“Ah yes, “said the other mother,
“I felt the same pride.”
“How often I shielded and spared him from pain
And when he for others was so cruelly slain.
When they crucified him – and they spat in his face
How gladly would I have hung there in his place!”
A moment of silence – “Oh then you are she –
The mother of Christ”; and she fell on one knee.
But the Blessed one raised her up, drawing her near,
And kissed from the cheek of the woman, a tear.
“Tell me the name of the son you love so,
That I may share with your grief and your woe.”
She lifted her eyes, looking straight at the other,
“He was Judas Iscariot: I am his mother.”
– Clarence E. Flynn (possible, unconfirmed author)