November 26, 2017
In the Hungarian drama repertoire there’s a rather popular play written by the playwright Ferenc Herczeg, entitled “Byzantium.” The story takes back the audience to the city of Constantinople in the year 1453 when this magnificent 1000 year old capital of the Byzantine Empire was besieged and taken by the Turks; - actually the events are happening during the siege itself. It shows the desperate last struggle, agony, and death of a formerly great empire. The protagonist of the drama is the Emperor Constantine XI who, during the siege, was personally fighting on the city walls against the enemy. The romantic element of the play develops when the audience learns that one of the ladies in waiting in the imperial court had fallen in love with the Emperor. Of course the emperor knows nothing about her feelings, yet, during the final hours of the siege this lady disguises herself as a man, puts on the armor, and with sword in hand, fights against the Turks on the side of the Emperor and loses her life in action.
This romantic story came to my mind as I was reflecting on the mystery of Christ as King. In our relationship to Christ, we Christians all are, or should be, a little bit like this lady in waiting. For her, Emperor Constantine was at the same time the honored ruler of the empire and the object of her personal love. In a similar way, each of us should acknowledge Jesus Christ as the sovereign ruler of the Kingdom of God and as the ruler of the whole universe, ruler over the entire human family, but, at the same time, I, and each of us, must acknowledge Him also as my King, my Ruler, and the object of my personal love. The feast of the Christ the King has these two sides, this twofold meaning that is stretching in an objective and a subjective dimension, and it should include at the same time the worship of Christ as the absolute ruler of the world, and my personal dedication to Christ as the king of my heart, as my personal friend, lover, and savior. Neither of these two sides does exclude the other, but rather each side supposes and supports the other. Just to acknowledge Christ as the universal King without my personal love relationship to Him would be a cold, lifeless statement, like a cold, rigid, lifeless marble statue, while my personal dedication to Jesus of Nazareth must necessarily include the recognition of all what He is, the Son of God, the Ruler of the universe, the King of the entire world.
Let’s examine briefly the rich contents of these two dimensions.
The Old Testament people of God started with Abraham and Sarah and their son Isaac as one family. Later on, in Egypt they grew in number and they became a big, impersonal mass of slaves. God freed them from bondage and captivity, and through this very act of liberation the mass of slaves became a nation, and God, Yahweh, became their King. This was a wonderful relationship: one of the smallest, most backward, most humble group of people of the ancient world received the amazing privilege to be chosen as God’s own kingdom, and this king-nation relationship was so close and so unique that it was likened to a marriage covenant meaning that highest level of tenderness and intimacy which is possible only between a husband and his wife. The idea of God’s kingship was kept alive through the centuries. When the Hebrew people asked their leader Samuel to give them a king, Samuel hesitated: he knew that his nation’s king is Yahweh and so there should be no human king. The book of Psalms constantly speaks about Yahweh as the king of Israel.
Yet this was not a peaceful, idyllic relationship: because of the Israelite people’s endless and repeated unfaithfulness, it involved constant tension and struggle. Again and again, God’s own chosen people could not resist the temptation of idolatry of the neighboring pagan nations, and took over their idol worship. This was a blatant breaking of the marriage bond and as such the prophets consistently called this idolatry by the name of adultery. God, on His part, with never ending patience tried to educate His people, at times with tender words, at times with punishments, slowly leading them back toward Himself.
The climax of this struggle took place when God became man, when the Son of God came among us as a human being, when the all-powerful Creator of the universe decided to become one of us and entered the world as a baby in the person of Jesus of Nazareth. On the pages of the gospels we see the process of the non-stop intensification of tension and conflict between Jesus and the Jewish leaders during the three years of Jesus’ public ministry which conflict gradually grew into a bitter hatred toward the wandering Teacher of Galilee and was crystallized in the firm decision to kill Him. The religious leaders of the nation arrested Jesus, tried and convicted Him to death in a mock trial, and took Him to Pilate, the pagan Roman governor, to pressure him to pronounce the death sentence. It was before Pontius Pilate that Jesus openly admitted that He was a king. But His responses to Pilate were enigmatic: he answered the governor either in a negative or in an evasive way. He admitted that He was a King but he said that His kingship was not of this world. He acknowledged that He was born to be a King but instead of talking about His subjects or His kingdom he declared that he came to bear witness to the truth and hinted that His subjects must be of the truth and must hear His voice.
All this means that Jesus’ royal calling is to proclaim God’s truth, God’s will to men and women, and those who’d listen to Him will be His subjects. But in doing this, Jesus’ activity is cut short: His people in its leaders turn against Him, hand Him over to the pagan authorities which, in the person of Pilate, carry out their demands: they hang Him on a cross, execute Him as a criminal, posting above His head a board written on it the charge why He had to die: He was the King of the Jews. This is a prophetic statement: it reveals that Jesus took His royal throne when he was lifted up on the cross exactly at the moment when the leaders of the chosen people in the person of Jesus definitively and decisively rejected God’s kingship over them.
The real meaning of the crucifixion as glory and victory was manifested on the third day when Jesus rose from the dead and in Him appeared the new kingship in the spirit of the Sermon on the Mount, a spiritual kingship. Jesus, risen from the dead, the second Person of the Holy Trinity, ascending to the right hand of the Father, reached the fullness of His glory: He was made King of the whole universe. First the visible reality of this kingdom was very small: taken from the “remnants” of the chosen Jewish people, by the descent of the Holy Spirit and the preaching of the 12 apostles, the Church, the new Kingdom of God has been born, a spiritual Kingdom, the Kingdom of those who willingly subject themselves to Christ’s royal authority. But ever since the first Pentecost, that Kingdom has been growing and it became a kingdom which knows no boundaries, no political borders, it is not limited to any language or race or nationality, and in that sense, it is truly "catholic" meaning universal, open to all who are ready to follow the will of God. It is the kingdom not of a geographic territory but a kingdom of hearts, just as Jesus said: “The kingdom of God is within you.”
Is Jesus the King of your heart? What is your personal relationship to Christ the King? What should be our relationship as individuals to Jesus, our sovereign Ruler? It should be a total personal dedication, – a loyal submission, devotion, and allegiance based on love. Remember that Jesus also said: “If you love me, you’ll keep my commandments.” This love is not so much an “affective” love, a feeling that is felt in emotions (although it may include also that) than rather an “effective” love expressing itself in effects: in actions and deeds. We love Jesus (and therefore we are His subjects) if and as much as we do His will. This voluntary submission should be unconditional and unlimited in every sense of the word. We have to take very seriously Jesus’ statement, “No man can serve two masters:” Jesus does not tolerate a divided heart, a divided love, a divided commitment. Jesus says in one of the seven letters in the Book of Revelation: “Would that you were cold or hot! So, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold, nor hot, I will spew you out of my mouth.” Just like a spouse must have undivided, unconditional love toward his/her loved one, in the same way should our love toward Jesus be total and complete and overwhelming. But if it is such, then there will be no limit of intimacy and tenderness what this soul may experience. Christ the King inundates him/her with the experience and knowledge of God which is beyond this world, beyond what words could express. Can you imagine what a warmth and closeness can develop between a King and His subject if this King wants to be united with each of His subjects with a union of such extent which is possible only between the food and the one who takes it: in the Holy Eucharist; He wants to be completely absorbed, He wants that all separation would disappear, He wants to become us, wants to live our lives, share our existence, our destiny and, at the same time, He wants that we share in His infinite and eternal divine life; this is the reality, the mystery what theology calls divinization.
Let us allow that Christ would be the sole King and Ruler of our hearts; let us allow that Christ take over our lives so that He would direct all of our thoughts and words and actions. Let God, let go. Yes, it is risky, yes, it is scary, it feels like a leap into the great beyond; this is the real leap of faith, but if we really believe in God, if we really believe in Jesus, we know that we can trust Him, we know that if we hand over the controls of our lives to Him, nothing really bad can happen to us. After all, this is what all the saints did and do, this is exactly what makes a person a saint, this is what also St. Therese of Lisieux did who, at the end of her short life, was able to say, “I don’t regret that I surrendered myself to love.”
Rev. Julius Leloczky, O.Cist
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