25 Nov 2018
Solemnity of Christ the King, Year B
The scene painted by the Prophet Daniel reads something like a coronation. We heard: “When he reached the Ancient One, and was presented before him, the one like a Son of man received dominion, glory, and kingship.” Kingship was bestowed upon him. And when we think of Christ the King—Christ our King—we can use this coronation scene and we can picture God the Father crowning his Son, Jesus: “When he reached the Ancient One [the Father], and was presented before him, the one like a Son of man [Jesus] received dominion, glory, and kingship.”
And one of the symbols of the authority given to a king or a queen is the scepter: a staff or a rod. And usually on top of the scepter is yet another symbol of authority—maybe a cross, or an eagle, or a jewel or something. But if we think of Jesus’ scepter, his staff or rod, what might be on top of it is the word “Truth.”
Jesus says, “For this I was born and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth.” He also says, “The truth will set you free” [John 8:32]. And, of course, Jesus identifies himself as “the Way, the Truth, and the Life.” When we picture Christ the King, we can picture him with his scepter in hand, and the word “Truth” atop that scepter. Truth is at the heart of Christ’s kingship. And truth is the foundation of any authority we give him.
Power isn’t what makes him a king. Likeability and friendliness don’t make him a king. Nor does any amount of privilege as the Son of God make him a king. Truth, and his absolute fidelity to truth, is what make him our King. A 19th Century commentator (Matthew Henry) writes that Christ the King “conquers by the convincing evidence of truth; he rules by the commanding power of truth, and in his majesty rides prosperously, because of truth (Ps. 45:4). And it is with his truth that he shall judge the people (Ps. 96:13)”.
And so, today’s celebration of Christ’s kingship is, at the same time, a celebration of truth; and a celebration of the power and the freedom, the justice, and the goodness and beauty that all come with truth.
You know, whenever there’s a dispute among people, or in court, or in politics, we hope that the truth will prevail. And that’s our hope because truth and justice go hand-in-hand. Or when a child does something wrong, we hope that he or she will tell the truth. And that’s our hope because truth and goodness are inseparable; and we want our children to be good. Or when somebody confesses to a crime, the truth comes out and there’s freedom. There’s still some penalty to pay, but at least the soul is free.
And this last example gets at the meaning of truth. In Greek, there’s the word “lethe” [láy-thay], and it means “forgetfulness” or “concealment.” It’s where we get the word “lethargic.” But then in Greek there’s the word for truth, which is “alethia” [ah-láy-thee-uh]. And it basically means “revelation” or “disclosure.” It means: To reveal what is hidden. And so, we can understand why Jesus calls himself “the Truth.” He reveals to us what is hidden in God. And not only that—he also reveals to us what is hidden in ourselves.
The Second Vatican Council wrote that “by the revelation of the mystery of the Father and His love, [Christ] fully reveals man to man himself and makes his supreme calling clear” [Gaudium et Spes, 22]. We give Jesus authority because he’s like a mirror for us. We look at him, his life, his values, his priorities, his loves and, in that, we’re meant to see...ourselves. Jesus reveals to us our potential as sons and daughters of God. And he loves us that way, by being our truth.
Christ is the Great Revealer, the one who unveils everything; he is the Truth. And, because of that, goodness and beauty, freedom, power, and greatness follow him. In short, the Kingdom of God springs up wherever he is; wherever truth is. And that’s why Scripture speaks of “us” as having been “made into a kingdom” [Rev 1:6]. If the truth of things is really of importance to us, then the Kingdom of God necessarily blossoms within us and through us. And this is something that’s seen throughout the history of the Church.
Whenever the Church has been in trouble, salvation always comes by way of the truth. When Christians were persecuted in the early Church, there was a lot of bloodshed, but truth won out. When life was dark and chaotic in the 9th Century—even in the Church—people who stuck to the truths of the teachings of Christ and the Apostles are what saved Christianity. When the Church was going off the rails again in the 16th Century, Martin Luther tried to interject the truth there, for which he was condemned. But the Church did make some changes then, and returned to the truth again—even if Christianity had been split apart by then.
When we look at the Church today, it’s in trouble. Some of its leaders have caused irreparable harm. Christ himself is given a bad name by some “Christians” out there who preach their own truth as though it’s God’s truth, and they accuse and condemn people left and right. There’s a sense of competition with the Evangelicals and mega-churches: “We need music like they have, we need flashy preachers like they have, we need to have what they have.” And then soon our salvation is dependent on other people and buildings and this latest trend and that latest thing to hit the church “industry.”
What happened to truth? What happened to seeing beauty and goodness in God’s truth? What happened to marveling at the transforming power of God’s truth? What happened to Christ—in particular, Christ the King; Christ the Great Revealer who shares everything he has from the Father with us? Christ who holds nothing back from us, and offers us everything? Whenever the Church has been in trouble, salvation has always come by way of the truth.
As we live out our calling to be “the kingdom” here on earth, it’s critical to keep truth at our core. And we do that in several ways—none of which we haven’t heard of before. One way is humility; not self-deprecation, but genuine humility—the kind of humility that says, “I am not the center of the universe. I’m a necessary part of it, and I’m even a good (very good) part of it, but I’m not the center of the universe. There’s more than just me and my thoughts.” So, humility and truth go hand-in-hand.
Another way is wonder—trying to see the world fresh every day, realizing that there’s always more to learn. You know, science and experimentation are fascinating things. And they’ve revealed a lot of truths to humanity. But, if there’s a pitfall to science, it’s a lack of wonder. For example, just because we know how genetics work, that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t wonder about why genetics work the way they do. Humans didn’t make genes and chromosomes and all that, so we can’t stop at the question of how; we have to keep wondering and ask the question why. So wonder, endless curiosity, and truth go hand-in-hand.
What else... Well, learning is essential to truth. Learning, knowledge, understanding, wisdom—we don’t leave them behind when we graduate from school. We don’t leave them behind when we get confirmed. Learning and truth go hand-in-hand.
And, perhaps another way we live out our calling to be “the kingdom” here on earth, is through respect and awe. When we approach God in prayer, in Mass, or wherever, we approach with respect and with awe—not because God is someone to fear, but because God is someone to be awed by. It’s like being with someone at the moment of death, or at the moment of birth. It’s like seeing the power of tornadoes and hurricanes. It’s like seeing a beautiful sunrise or the stars twinkling in the clear night sky. You just sit back with awe and take it in. Truth requires a certain amount of “stillness.” It needs time and silence to unfold for us. It needs respect and awe. Truth can’t be rushed, but only received and hungered for.
Christ the King reveals to us our supreme calling: to “be the kingdom” here on earth, a nation of people where truth is our light, and where none other than God himself is that Light and Truth. May we live humbly, with wonder and awe, learning from Christ our King, Christ our Truth.