July 10, 2022
European leaders sought worldly answers to the social dilemma after World War I, but Christianity concluded that only Christ had the answers society needed. When Jesus came, he was not recognized, for his kingship was not of this world. People today tend to miss Christ and choose other kings to worship. We must choose Jesus Christ, King of the Universe, the only route to life eternal.
Europe after World War I, the war that was to end all wars, was not like it is today. The continent was geographically different. Not only were the borders different, but names of the nations were different. The area was very different economically. Following the war, the European continent was devastated. Refugees were present everywhere; economic collapse for many nations, especially Germany, was a very real possibility. The Great Depression, which hit the United States in 1929, began 10 years earlier in Europe, creating runaway inflation in many places. The image of one carrying a wheelbarrow full of money to the market to buy a few groceries was not that far from the reality of the day.
Such disastrous conditions required solutions. Human solutions, since they are tangible and readily available, were the most attractive to those who sought answers to the dilemma that plagued their lives. Thus, governments and their leaders offered various plans. In Italy, the solution attempted was the dictatorship of Mussolini and the fascist state. In Germany, Adolf Hitler and his Nazi machine were already making overtures that would lead to his grasping power in the mid-1930s.
The Christian churches also recognized the need for answers to the problems that plagued Europe. Pope Pius XI, perceiving a need to rebuild confidence and hope which had been shattered by the War, sought answers in the realm of the sacred rather than the human or secular. In 1925 the Pope established the Feast of Christ the King with the publication of his encyclical Quas Primas. The Pope wanted to show that the rebuilding of lives is found in the strength of Christ and his kingship, not in the kings of this world. The world can provide many answers, but ultimately only God can bring us the peace and security we seek. We must, therefore, turn to Jesus Christ, our king, our stronghold, our peace.
The kingship of Christ, the Messiah, was different from what the Jews expected. They read the scriptures and heard Jeremiah proclaim, “The days are coming says the Lord, when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch, and he shall reign as king, and deal wisely, and shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. In his days Judah will be saved and Israel will live in security.”1 Micah told the Hebrews that the Messiah would be great and through him Judah would rest secure. 2 The Messiah would vanquish the enemies of Israel and restore the greatness of the Davidic Kingdom.
Jesus of Nazareth was not recognized as a king; he did not fit the mold of Messiah and king as the Jews understood it. Jesus was a miracle worker, healer, reconciler, teacher, and prophet. He calmed storms, cured lepers, forgave sinners, taught a significant message of love, and prophesied his future death and resurrection. He did many great things and touched many people, but he simply could not be the Messiah, as he claimed, for he did not do the work of the Messiah, as foretold in the scriptures.
Certainly, Jesus was a different kind of king, as we hear in today’s gospel. His kingship has been predicted in the Hebrew scriptures, but somehow the message was not heard. Isaiah prophesied the coming of the “Wonder Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, [and] Prince of Peace.”3 Righteousness and justice would characterize his reign. Isaiah also spoke of a suffering servant who would sacrifice and die for his people. Speaking of the servant the prophet wrote, “He had no form or majesty that we should look at him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him. He was despised and rejected by others; a man of suffering and acquainted with infirmity; and as one from whom others hide their faces he was despised, and we held him of no account.”4 It is this latter image of Christ, the one missed by the Jews, which was the life of Jesus of Nazareth. Through his kingship of suffering and pain, he taught us how to live.
The kingship which Jesus brought to this world was a different form; it was not acceptable to the very people to whom he came. Luke’s version of the crucifixion illustrates the sobering reality of who Jesus was and what he came to accomplish. Jesus did not run away from the challenge of the cross; on the contrary he embraced it fully. He was mocked crudely by his executioners for being a paper lion, a king who possessed no power. They ridiculed Jesus and his people with the inscription “Jesus, King of the Jews” hung above a crucified and helpless man.
Luke describes the type of king Jesus was. When one of the insurgents crucified beside him mocked him, the other asked for Jesus’ mercy and assistance. As Paul wrote to the Colossians, Jesus was a king of compassion and love. His kingdom was not of this earth. His kingship was one of sacrifice for others. Jesus did not fit the mold of the Jews, but he did accomplish his mission. He gave others his message and he made possible for all people for all time the eternal life that was God’s promise from the dawn of creation. Certainly, no king could ever do more for another than Jesus did for us.
In many ways our world is not that much different than Europe after World War I. Many countries throughout the world teeter on the verge of economic collapse. An attitude of despair and lack of hope prevails in many places. We create our human kings and non-human solutions to alleviate these problems that beset us. Dictators and selfish rulers come to power, but they bring little hope to people. We make many things king, but unfortunately, they are not Christ. For some the great king is the material world. We become fixated on material possessions. They become the reason for our efforts. We work to amass things, rather than becoming rich in the sight of God. For others the great king is power. When we secure power, we feel we can move mountains and accomplish all things without the assistance of others. As the expression goes, power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Still others find prestige to be their king. Some live to be recognized for their appearance, intelligence, accomplishments, or contributions to society. We take all the credit for what happens and fail to acknowledge and thank God, the source of all that we have. There are some as well who find ideas and causes to be king. We become so entrained in the righteousness or the justice of a belief or cause that nothing else seems to matter. Again, God gets lost in the shuffle.
The choice between the sacred and the secular, between God and the world is one we must make every day. The world tells us, “Go for the gusto!” or as a popular television commercial says it, “Who says you can’t have it all?” We are driven to excel in the here and now. We are taught almost from birth to build up our treasure and to become rich in the eyes of the world. When the material world captures us, we are, as St. Paul describes in 1 Corinthians, “people most to be pitied.”5
The choice between God and the world must be made every day. We must not run from this task, but rather we should embrace it and make the right choice. We must choose God over secular opportunity. God is more important than compromising who we are and what we believe for position, power, or status. We must choose God over the evils in attitudes. Society provides us all sorts of ideas, opinions and attitudes that speak of the exclusive nature of the world. God, however, invites all, and thus is inclusive. Certainly, we must choose God over the material world. As Proverbs says, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not rely on your own insight.”6
Yes, the choice is ours. The allurements of the world are powerful temptations. In many ways they serve as contemporary false gods. While European leaders sought answers to the social dislocation after World War I in peoples, governments and ideologies, Christianity turned to Christ. The fear and darkness present in our world, like that of the 1920s, can only be dispelled by the light of Christ.
Let us today turn to Christ our King. Let him bring peace, hope and resurrection to our world.
1 Jeremiah 23:5-6a.
2 Micah 5:2-5.
3 Isaiah 9:6b.
4 Isaiah 53:2b-3.
5 1 Corinthians 15:19b.
6 Proverbs 3:5.