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I was never any good at checkers. The stratagems of this simplest of board games elude me. My leaky defenses always leave a door wide open for an opponent to arrive at my first rank. The arrival comes with the terse demand: “King me!” Moments later, a two-tiered royal marauder that can move in any direction mops me up and takes me off the board. In checkers, a king is a force of reckoning.
Fortunately, life is not much like checkers. Yet in life, the power represented by kingship, presidency, or other supreme political authority implies a great source of reckoning and the ability to control the lives of others. In addition, the very notion of kingship conjures up images of opulence, triumph, judgment, enforcement, and always great superiority.
The end of the liturgical year brings us into contact with vastly different royalty celebrated on the Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe. The story of Christ’s kingship actually traverses Ordinary Time and lasts right through Christmas to the Feast of the Epiphany.
On the last Sunday of the Church Year, we pull out all the stops to proclaim the second coming in glory of Christ the King. Then, like eager children sitting in the theater for a second showing of a favorite movie, we return to the beginning of the story with the First Sunday in Advent.
The core of the catechesis on Christ the King is found in the three Gospels chosen for the feast. They reveal that this kingship is no ordinary one. In Cycle A, the Gospel is the judgment scene from Matthew (25:31-6). The king comes as judge and outlines the criteria for how the sheep will be separated from the goats—food for the hungry, drink for the thirsty, welcome for the stranger, clothes for the naked, comfort for the ill, and visitation for the imprisoned. Obviously not the kind of tribute exacted by earthly rulers.
In Cycle C, Luke’s Gospel (23:35-43) reveals Christ in deepest agony on the cross. Over his head hangs a sign: “This is the King of the Jews.” The king on the cross is taunted and mocked by all but a repentant sinner dying with him. “Lord, remember me!” That prayer to the suffering Jesus was answered by an invitation to accompany him into paradise. The picture is far beyond the comprehension of the world’s power elite.
And on the last Sunday of the liturgical year in Cycle B—November 25 this year—the choice is from John’s Gospel (18:33-37). Here Jesus stands before Pilate. Pilate leads with the question: “Are you the king of the Jews?” Jesus tells Pilate that his kingdom does not belong to this world. “My kingdom is not from here.” Pilate, an appointee of the Roman emperor and one quite familiar with royalty, persists: “Then, you are a king?”
Jesus concedes and then proclaims his otherworldly mission—a mission again out of sync with the wielders of human authority. “The reason I was born, the reason I came into the world is to testify to the truth.”
The raiment of Christ the King is the human flesh he took on to come and pitch his tent in our midst. He is the living message from the Father who so loved the world that he sent his only begotten Son—the divine Word made flesh. That king was discovered in a manger bed all bundled up in swaddling clothes. That king entertained sinners and lavished on them the Good News of God’s kingdom. That king entered the holy city of Jerusalem “meek and seated on an ass, the foal of a beast of burden.” That king died so that all might live.
In the game of checkers, the object is to use your king to eliminate all opposition from the board. In the ministry of catechesis, the object is to acclaim and proclaim your King—for God the Father uses Christ the King to draw all people together, to care for their human needs, to suffer for their sake, to share with them the truth, and to welcome them into paradise.
Those who would seek to lead others can learn much from a kingship that is definitely not of this world.
Schippe has been in Catholic publishing for well over 40 years and currently
serves as President and Publisher for the Peter Li Education Group. Email
Cullen at firstname.lastname@example.org.