Today we celebrate Jesus Christ, King of the Universe. I am convinced that when someone has a title that huge, it has to mean something. For instance, we elect people to public office so that they would govern, and put their gifts and energies to use for the common good. Some perks may come with the job—office space, parking, stationery, privilege and prestige, healthcare, retirement. But the title and office mean even greater still. It is a sacred trust, and they must set aside personal ambition and political agenda. Well, that’s the theory at least. If they lose focus or don’t do a good job, we can always get someone new next time. The job requires a great deal more than constantly trying to please those who contributed in the last election, and arguing with colleagues across the aisle, and conducting town-halls and hearings, and sitting in policy meetings that drag late into the night, and reading page upon page of legislation, and making promises at political fundraisers, and attending and saying nice things at ribbon cutting ceremonies, and campaigning for the next election. It takes great dedication, time, and energy to accomplish the job. And for some highly talented and motivated people, it just might be the exciting life they’ve always dreamed of. Otherwise, I am completely mystified. But then again, people look at my life, shake their heads, and say some of the same things.
Then there’s the top job that comes available next year. Knowing what I know from watching the news and listening to the talking heads, never mind that there are things I will never grasp about the global economy, national security, and the politics governing fossil fuels, climate change, gun violence, race relations, universal healthcare, and the second amendment, I am even more amazed that anyone in their right mind would truly want to be president. Maybe they have the necessary skills that qualify them, or they just enjoy the thrill of the hunt. I guess being the leader of the free world and having nuclear codes within arm’s reach can be tempting. Then there’s first-class board and lodging provided at taxpayers’ expense, as well as office space, competent staff, the best healthcare, Secret Service protection, command of the world’s most powerful military force, a private country retreat Camp David, and a host of volunteers and civil servants ever at the ready. There’s also non-stop media coverage, a bully pulpit, a powerful veto pen, instant recognition, an enviable pension plan, automatic membership in the most exclusive club of former presidents, a library in your honor at the location of your choosing, a state funeral, and steaming heaps of praise and admiration even from your political adversaries when you kick the bucket.
I imagine this all comes at a steep price as well. From their photos before and after it is clear the people who occupy the Oval Office age quicker than the rest of us. They serve 24/7 at the highest levels of government clearance. They will forever be held to account for sending our soldiers to war, for caring for them when they return home broken, and for honoring the memory of those fallen in battle. They get to stand with other leaders and speak to the world on our behalf. I imagine they cannot un-know all that they learn on the job, even if they wanted. And we hold them responsible for the economy, for creating jobs, for protecting us from terrorists, criminals, and all kinds of evil-doers, for defending our rights and freedoms, for upholding the constitution, for signing bills into law, and for nominating justices to the Supreme Court. We will expect of them more than will ever be expected of us, and still reserve the right to approve or criticize their every move and decision as we see fit. Anyone here want that job? In 2020? 2024? 2028? So we must pray for whoever we elect to that post. But how can anyone in their right mind even want it that bad?
The church teaches us that Jesus Christ is King of the Universe. I can’t imagine what that most thankless of jobs would demand. We look around and see the mess the human race has made of a lot of things. And that’s just our own planet! I can’t think of any other planet more messed up than ours. So who wants to be supreme ruler of all that? The perks alone should surpass that of all earthly leaders combined which might be a plus. But we never elected Jesus to be King. The Father chose him. And there is no replacing him … ever. He is the only one anywhere and throughout all of history ever qualified for the job. Yet it seems the world is still one big stinking mess, and progress is slow. Maybe we should scale back some of the perks, until Jesus gets his groove back.
“My kingdom does not belong to this world,” Jesus tells Pilate. We will need to throw out the window everything we imagined being King of the Universe to be. It is not a position of power or influence or prestige. In fact, it is the exact opposite. “By using the same words Pilate used to speak of God’s rule where love and fullness of life reign supreme, Jesus overturns familiar expressions of power that exploit and abuse others. By his words and example, he sets aside every oppressive system of authority. He calls his followers ‘friends,’ and invites them into a community of beloved disciples, where the leaders are the first to wash everyone else’s feet.” (Barbara E. Reid. “Unmasking Kingly Power.” Abiding Word: Sunday Reflections for Year B. © 2011. Liturgical Press: Collegeville MN.)
And we see our King fastened to a cross every time we walk into this building. We begin and end prayer with that same sign. We mark our children with the cross when we bring them to baptism. We wear it proudly around our necks. We even mark our homes with it to show that we are his disciples. Easily mistaken as a symbol of defeat, we hold that it is by his very cross that he gained for us healing and wholeness by overthrowing the power of darkness and sin and death. Earthly power achieves victory by destroying its enemies. Jesus extends pardon and healing to those opposed to him, and sets free those who were once slaves to selfishness. His victory is achieved and his kingdom established when his disciples learn to live in peace with one another, care for each other in genuine charity, and share their blessings with the poor. His kingdom is not established with violent force, but with the emptying of oneself which leads to the conversion of the mind and heart, finding full expression in loving service to others.
We proclaim Jesus Christ as King of the Universe, a truth both fully realized and on its way to fulfillment. It is fully realized in all who embrace God’s truth and life. And it is still being fulfilled in all who long for his mercy and a new beginning. The eternal reign of Jesus Christ reaches out to all hearts and minds, a task too formidable for even the best of us, yet entrusted to him by the Father. It is by his cross and resurrection that he defeated sin and death, bringing about our reconciliation with God and one another. Jesus Christ is truly the Savior of the world and King of the Universe, a role of total self-giving that no one in their right mind would ever want. Besides, the job isn’t open.
Rolo B Castillo © 2015