The Sinner’s King | A Homily for the Solemnity of Christ the King
Christ is a king with a heart of flesh, like yours;
he is the author of the universe and of every creature,
but he does not lord it over us.
He begs us to give him a little love, as he silently shows us his wounds.
ST. JOSEMARIA ESCRIVA
Christ Is Passing By, no. 179
In the three-year cycle of readings for the Solemnity of Christ the King, it might seem strange to have alternative Gospels that emphasize Christ’s weakness. Instead of seeing the Lord in triumph, we see Him under arrest, in chains, interrogated, or hanging from the cross. The King of the Universe seems so vulnerable and powerless. What kind of kingship are we acknowledging and celebrating in Christ, the King?
The Gospel reading appointed for this year places us on Calvary. It is a familiar scene: Jesus is dying on the cross between two thieves, two criminals, and one of them asks the Lord to save him: “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom” (Lk 23:42). And our Lord sees this man’s faith, love, and hope, and then promises that he will join Him in Paradise. A Psalm verse that St Paul applies to the Ascension is very apt here: “Thou didst ascend the high mount, leading captives in thy train, … even among the rebellious” (Ps 68:18).
It might seem strange that that is how a king would exercise His power: by pardoning and saving sinners. Yet that is how Christ the King exercises His kingship: by conquering souls. Conquering souls one-by-one is all that He really cares about: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God sent the Son into the world, not to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him” (Jn 3:16).
There is no conquering by violence, threats, or any other way that men typically use to get what they want. The Lord Jesus simply shows Himself to be all love and forgiveness and allows us to make up our minds about Him: “He begs us to give him a little love, as he silently shows us his wounds.” He reveals Himself to us, suffers before us, makes Himself weak, and souls are drawn to Him as the only One who can save them. “And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to myself” (Jn 12:32).
And so today we are in a position to make up our minds. Today each of us, like the two criminals, is hanging on a cross. We are suffering or troubled in some way. And when we suffer, the first thing we do is to try to escape it or to change it or distract ourselves from it. Then we experience temptations to try all sorts of ways to alleviate our pain. Christ the King wants us to choose Him.
Of the two thieves crucified with Christ, only one of them turned to Him, the other continued to shout, to curse, to insult, to be perfectly bitter and hateful. Both were in the presence of Jesus; one was saved, the other was lost. What separated one from the other?
The Good Thief saw that he was powerless to change his situation, but he accepted it in a spirit of expiation, and looked to Jesus to save him in the most important way: Save my soul. He did not ask to be rescued from His suffering. He asked to be allowed to hope in Jesus. The unrepentant thief saw that he was powerless and resented it.
“So must the Son of man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life” (Jn 3:14-15). Notice how Jesus conquers souls. He shows Himself to be powerless and weak so that we can relate to Him, as we see Him relating to us. It is tempting for people, like the impenitent thief, to struggle, shout, and curse when they suffer. But it is in those crucial moments that we most need to believe, love, and hope in Christ as our King. Those are moments when the Lord can conquer us, because we see how weak and vulnerable we are, how incapable we are of saving ourselves.
People who seek after power and position, people who seek to control and take advantage of others, people who say I don’t need any help—Jesus is not for them. At least, they cannot receive Him as long as they are that way. Today we can choose not to be that way and to accept Christ the King on His terms. He loves us from His Cross; He loves us as we suffer on our cross. His love will conquer and save us if we will surrender to it. For He who accepted the frequent epithet “friend of sinners” without shame, is as unapologetically their King.
“The saying is sure and worthy of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners. And I am the foremost of sinners; but I received mercy for this reason, that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display his perfect patience for an example to those who were to believe in him for eternal life. To the King of ages, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory for ever and ever. Amen” (1 Tim 1:15-17).