The Kingdom of God
Sunday November 23, 2003 Homily by Fr. Robert Altier Feast of Christ the King
Reading I (Daniel 7:13-14) Reading II (Revelation 1:5-8)
Gospel (St. John 18:33b-37)
Today we celebrate the solemnity of Jesus Christ, the King of the Universe. When we consider the kingship of Jesus, we see very clearly from the Gospel reading that it is not a kingship like most kingships of the earth that we would think of; indeed, it is not like any kingship of the earth that we would think of. The Lord Himself even testifies to that point when He tells Pilate, “My kingdom is not of this world.” He was trying to point out to Pilate that Caesar did not have anything to worry about from Jesus because He was not trying to usurp Caesar’s kingship, because the kingship of Caesar was something that was only going to be very temporary. But it is precisely because of what the Romans did that the kingship of Caesar was destroyed. They had put to death the Holy One, the Just One, and consequently the vision of Daniel was fulfilled, when Daniel was a stone being hewn from a mountain without a human hand being touched to it which destroyed the statue that the king saw. And the fourth of the kingdoms was the kingdom of the Romans, which was completely crushed and blown away like dust in the wind. If the Romans would have cooperated and done what they should have (they are not unlike us, so we just have to point the finger right back at ourselves) their kingdom might still be intact. But they chose sin and power and selfishness and arrogance over what a kingship is supposed to be.
When we look at the readings today, it is made very clear. Jesus tells us at the end of the Gospel reading that His kingdom is one of truth, that the very reason for which He came into the world was to speak the truth. But He Himself is the Truth. So He came into this world as the Word of God to be able to manifest God in His fullness. And the truth of God is very simple: God is love. That is the truth that Jesus came to represent. In the Book of Revelation we hear that He came to establish a kingdom, that to Him all kingship, dominion, and power have been given precisely, it tells us, because He shed His blood, because of an act of love. Therefore, He established a kingdom of love and a kingdom of truth. And those who hear His voice, those who act upon the Truth, Who is Jesus Christ, are those who will be members of His kingdom. And so what we have to understand before we go any further is that the kingship of Jesus Christ is not based upon His divinity.
We see in the first reading that “one like a Son of Man” is given a throne, all power and dominion and kingship is given to him, and nations and people of every tongue and tribe will worship Him. But the point is that He received this kingship because of His death, because of His crucifixion, because He laid down His life for his sheep. He deserves all honor and power and kingship because He is God, but the point of this feast is that His kingship came when He gave His life. That is why, even though we see in the Book of Daniel the Ancient One, God the Father, seated on the throne, the throne that is given to Jesus, we are told very clearly, is given to one who is like a Son of Man. It is in His humanity, it is in the humility of Christ and in His service that His kingship and all of His power and authority are displayed for us. This tells us exactly why His kingship is not like anything in this world because the kings of this world, as Jesus makes very clear to His apostles elsewhere in the Gospel, like to lord it over those who are under their authority. “They like to make their greatness felt,” Jesus said. He was not that way at all. True kingship is an office of service not an office of power. Pilate did not understand that. Caesar did not understand that. None of the other kings of this world seem to understand that very well. And whether their title is “King” or “Czar” or “President” or whatever other title one wants to give them, it does not matter; the position is, in essence, the same. It is a position of authority not one of power. Authority is given for service for others. Power is lording it over others for one’s own self.
Now we are told in the Book of Revelation that He has made us a kingdom and priests for God His Father. Yet, as He tells Pilate in the Gospel, His kingdom is not of this world; otherwise, His attendants would be fighting to keep Him from being handed over. Indeed, no one did fight to keep Him from being handed over because it was precisely by being handed over that He exercised His kingship and that His kingdom was firmly established. And so that means His kingdom is established, as He makes very clear in many places in the Gospel, within each one of us. His kingdom is on this earth, but His kingdom is not of this world; His kingdom is of the next world. When Saint Paul tells the Philippians that our citizenship is in heaven, it is for there that we have been made – or shall I say, it is for heaven that we have been remade, reborn in Jesus Christ. If we are a kingdom and priests for God our Father, it is precisely for the worship and honor of God. It is to offer ourselves in sacrifice with Jesus Christ, to exercise our priestly office as He exercised His. But the kingdom of God, which is in each one of us, is of the next world, which means that if we are going to be this kingdom of God – and we already are – then the way that we live our lives in this world must be in a way that is directed toward the next world.
We are to imitate Jesus Christ in all things. Jesus came into this world and He lived in this world, but He was not of this world and He did not live according to the ways of this world. Neither can we. The kingship of Jesus Christ was established on the Cross. That is the throne we gave Him. We put a crown on his head, we put royal garments on His body, and we elevated Him to what was thought to be the most ignoble throne in human history. But, in God’s Providence, it was exactly the opposite. The Lord demonstrated very clearly that the Cross was really the most exalted place in the world, that it was His glory, and that God exchanged the crown of thorns we put upon His head and gave Him a crown of glory and clothed Him in divine majesty and has seated Him upon the throne at His own right hand. But, in this world, each one of us is the kingdom of God. Therefore, each one of us is called also to provide a throne for Jesus Christ. Saint Teresa of Avila tells us that that is our heart, and it is on the throne of our hearts that Jesus Christ desires to be enthroned. Each one of us is to clothe Him, not in mockery like the Romans did, but rather in garments which are made of good works. As He has clothed us in grace, now we are to take that grace which He has given to us and we are to apply that to works which are meritorious of eternal life and we are to clothe Jesus Christ in the good works which we do with the help of His grace. Then we are to place a crown upon His head. That crown is made of prayer; it is made of love. It is to give Him worship and honor and glory, all of which He deserves.
When the twenty-four elders all around the throne of God bow down and worship Jesus Christ, they remove the crowns from their heads and they bow down before the Lord and worship Him. We will exercise our royal office the same way Jesus did: by service – by service, first and foremost, to God, which is to place the crown on His head by worshiping Him and by doing His Will. We will exercise our priestly office by sacrificing ourselves in imitation of and in union with the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, which means we have an opportunity to do that at every moment of every day because to sacrifice one’s self is to love, and this is a kingdom of love. And we exercise our prophetic office by living the truth that we profess and by bringing that truth out into the world so that others will know Jesus Christ and be brought into His kingdom as well.
So really, there are only two kingdoms when it comes right down to it. There is the kingdom of God and there is the kingdom of Satan. There are no others. Jesus has made very clear in the Gospels, and Satan himself made it very clear in the Gospels, that all the kingdoms of this world have been turned over to the devil. Therefore, if we want to live for this world, if we want to immerse ourselves in the ways of this world, if we want all the power and the glory that this world has to offer, then we have chosen the kingdom of Satan and we have rejected the kingdom of God. It is to put a crown upon our own heads, to clothe ourselves in some kind of arrogant glory, and to place ourselves on the throne which will endure until eternity – but not in heaven. If we serve Jesus Christ, this world will do to us exactly what it did to Him. It will strip us naked, it will crown us with the thorns of scorn and ridicule, and it will crucify us. But if we choose the kingdom of Jesus Christ, it is He Himself Who will put a crown on our heads, He will clothe us in His own glory, and He will sit us upon a throne at His own right hand. That is the choice we have. We can glorify ourselves and we can earn eternity away from God, or we can glorify Jesus Christ and earn eternity with God. We can make ourselves kings and queens, and we can wind up in hell with Satan who tried to make himself the king; or we can acknowledge the kingship of Jesus Christ and we will reign with Him forever in the fullness of our royal dignity as members of His Mystical Body. That is the choice that is ours. We can serve like Jesus, or we can be served like Satan. Once again, the choice is ours.
Jesus came to establish a kingdom of love and of truth. Love is service. He came into this world not to be served but to serve, and He served us and He gave his life for us. Now, on our part, that kingdom of God is within and each one of us is called to love. That means to serve, and so we serve Him not because we are forced to like some kind of Nubian slave but rather because we have chosen it. It is a free act of love. It is a free act of service. It is simply doing in return what has already been done for us. And so when we look at Him as king, we must see it in its proper context. It is not about power, it is not about arrogance, it is not about the one who is being served; but rather, it is about humility, it is about love, and it is about service. It is the Cross of Jesus Christ, the throne upon which we exalted Him when we raised Him up to place Him in the highest spot on earth. The Cross, that is His service, His love, His humility, and His kingship. So glorious indeed was it that from that day until now when we look at any crucifix it has emblazoned right above the head of Jesus the humiliation for which He was crucified and the glory of the truth which we profess: Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews. That is the truth of Who He is. That is the act of love which He came into this world to perform. It is the reason for which He came into this world; the Word of God which speaks still from the Cross, the Word of God which is the Truth, and the Truth which is expressed in love. He has established that kingship and that kingdom within each one of us. But, because it is a kingdom of love, He does not force us to be His subjects; rather He invites us to love Him as He has loved us.
So when we look at the crucifix and we see the glory of God and the kingship of Jesus Christ crucified, we need to ask ourselves, “Am I willing to share in His glory? Am I willing to share in His humility, in His service, in His love, in His truth? Am I willing to accept my dignity, that I am not made for this world but that I must live in this world with my heart set on my true homeland, the kingdom of God which is in heaven and exists within myself?” That is the kingship of Christ. It is the glory of Jesus Christ that each one of us would be incorporated into Him and share in His kingship and offer ourselves in love and in service as He has already done. He has shown us the way to glory, and it is the way of the Cross. He has shown us what it means to be a king, as well as what it means to be a priest and a prophet. Are we willing to truly honor the kingship of Jesus Christ in its proper manner: to serve Him as He has served us and to worship Him, Who is the King of the Universe, with all our heart and soul and strength as we have been commanded to do? That is the choice which we have today. It is to serve God or to serve self, to share in the authority or to share in the power; that is the choice. Exercise your kingship. Love, worship, honor, and serve Jesus Christ, your King.
* This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.