Sunday, October 31, 2010

Feast of the Kingship of Our Lord Jesus Christ

Colossians 1: 12-20 / John 18: 33-37

We tend to think, and are right in so thinking, that there is a fundamental good in making decisions for ourselves. While we may occasionally enjoy having someone else do something for us, or when we lack the expertise or capacity might require someone else to come to our aid, it would be a sign of decadence to fail to exercise one's own powers, one's own moral energies in life. This is something we know perfectly well in raising children, it is something we know in our own workplace, and for those of us in nations where some degree or other of democracy obtains, we know it in the political sphere. To be sure, we may want the best minds, the most qualified, to craft the legislation, to adjudicate the law, and to put it into effect, but in the end we hold to ourselves the right to make our own decisions, even to make our own mistakes. A despot, even the most enlightened, who would tell us what to do in every matter would, even if he were altogether correct, deprive us of something important and crucial. He would deprive us of the exercise of our full intellect and will in coming to know what is best and then pursuing it, which exercise alone qualifies our life as authentically human.

This is why, among other reasons, monarchy, at least in a robust political sense, has come to be seen as antithetical to human flourishing. With all due respect to monarchists, who indeed have much to offer political discourse, a constitution without a rich element of participatory democracy and meaningful agency on the part of individuals and basic units of society, most especially the family, will produce a morally weak people, a people unused to living out the quickening acts of decision-making that characterize properly human life.

How, then, are we to receive the kingship of Christ as a blessing?

In coming to recognize Jesus Christ as our King, we may make the mistake of Pontius Pilate and presume that rule, kingship, and thus the exercise of power, whether personal or collective, is a kind of zero-sum game. That is, we may imagine that where one person has true power, true kingship, then necessarily another does not. For Pilate, any claim to be king while under his jurisdiction was a claim to rival Caesar, as the priests of the Temple would later remind him. To assure himself of his own liberty, Pilate asserts that he is not a Jew, hoping against hope that, even if Jesus should be in some sense the King of the Jews, this kingship would not in any way compete with the power he had been given by Caesar.

Christ's kingship, however, is not of this world. It derives from the truth which abides before all, in whom all things visible and invisible were created, by whom all things consist. There is no exercise of earthly power, of earthly sovereignty, which is not fundamentally, and indeed in its details, a vicarious exercise of the dominion that is the very being of God almighty. To deceive oneself, to believe one has being, power, autonomy apart from God is not to be of the truth, not to hear his voice. Such a one does not escape God's dominion, but he becomes merely his unwilling subject.

On the other hand, to hear the truth, to know that Jesus Christ is the eternal Word by whom, through whom, and in whom all things exist, to acknowledge that through the shedding of his blood he has made us share the lot of the saints in light, delivered us from the power of darkness, and transferred us into his kingdom, made members of his body with him as the head — this is a liberty beyond the most anarchic dreams born of earth. Christ's kingship does not ask us to bend our necks, does not call us to be debased, but rather ennobles us. In declaring the Son as King of the Universe, the Father was asking his Son to condescend once more on our behalf. To be our King, our Head, is to bend low and share in our nature, so that every glory and honor he receives might, through his sharing of our nature, be ours as well. The glorious exaltation of the humanity of Christ thus draws us up as his members, as the more his sovereignty is increased, the more we are enlisted among the choicest parts of his creation.

To be subject and member of him in whom all fulness dwells is not to be reduced to decadence. It is rather to be crowned and sceptered, to be anointed with glory from on high. This feast is not only his, but because his, it is also our accession day.

Christus vincit! Christus regnat! Christus imperat!

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