The Upside-Down of the Kingdom

The Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe – November 18, 2018

Saint Margaret Mary – Wichita, KS

Daniel 7:13-14; Psalm 93:1-2, 5; Revelation 1:5-8; John 18:33b-37

On this great feast of Jesus Christ, King of the Universe, we celebrate something quite unforeseeable, something quite upside-down. Which sounds bad, I know! “Of course Jesus Christ is King! He’s God! That’s not upside-down at all!” I know, and I agree. Of course Jesus Christ is King. But I’m not talking about the fact that he is king. What I’m talking about, the unforeseeable and upside-down, is the way in which our King operates, the manner in which he rules. We think of kings as the people who get to tell people what to do; they call the shots, they force everyone to do whatever they want. They are the king, after all. But look at our King! He does the exact opposite: nailed to a cross, dying out of love for us, he begs for our hearts. Christ the King does not force us to do anything. No, he begs for us to give our hearts to him. He extends his hands on the cross and begs.

Sometimes, though, we have this idea that Christ rules his Kingdom from a throne way above us, far and away, and we’re just his lowly servants who have to do whatever he says. But his Kingdom doesn’t work like that! Over and over, throughout the Gospels, throughout the Acts of the Apostles and the rest of the New Testament, we see that the Kingdom of God does not grow through human power, through a military, through political structures. No, we see that the Kingdom of God grows in silence, like the wheat; it grows like rising bread; it even grows among the weeds.

This is the hardest thing for us to accept! We expect there to be a boss who can just tell us what to do. We expect the King to give us orders, for the Bishops to tell us these orders, for our pastors to give orders to us. But time and time again, we see that this is not the case. The Church is not a top-down organization. No, it is upside-down. It is something completely unforeseeable, it is something constantly new and unexpected. And it is because it is a Kingdom unlike any before it. It is a Kingdom with no military power, no coercive force.

As some of you know, when I was in high school, I spent a lot of time playing music, cello especially, and playing in an orchestra. Now, at the center of the orchestra is the conductor. And because he is at the center, a lot of people assume that he is the boss, that us musicians take orders from him. And this is sort of true: yeah, he gives direction and we follow his lead. But the way he leads and the way that Christ leads are actually very similar. Because neither one can force us to do anything. In fact, the conductor walks out every time hoping that we will follow him. He can’t force us, he can only ask, he can only beg.

What am I getting at? When we celebrate this feast, when we celebrate Christ as our King, we are not celebrating how powerful he is, how he has conquered us and the world. No, quite the opposite: we are celebrating that, in spite of the fact that he does not force us to follow him, that he does not coerce our loyalty, we still claim him as our King. We celebrate his Kingship because  through his incarnation and death on the cross, he has proven himself worthy of glory, honor and kingship. Here is a man whose throne is a cross, a man who’s only power is his unconditional love! And yet this is our King, and we will follow him to the ends of the earth. He has begged for our hearts; arms outstretched on his throne of the cross he has begged for our hearts.

Again, it is not the commands of bishops or priests that bring about the Kingdom of God. No, what brings about the Kingdom of God is the saints, the baptized, those who follow our King with everything they have! Yes, bishops and priests have their role, but it is all of us, all of the baptized who work to make the Kingdom of God ever-more present among us. As the baptized, it is our witness, our testimony, our cooperation with the Holy Spirit, Christ working through us that brings about the Kingdom of God.

“It is the saints that keep appearing all through history who keep things going” (Dorthy Day). Think of the Cristero martyrs Blessed Miguel Pro and Saint Jose Sanchez Del Rio. Both gave their lives shouting Viva Cristo Rey! Both gave heroic witness to Jesus Christ, to his Kingship, to his Kingdom by their lives and their deaths. These men did not follow the King to their deaths because they were ordered to, but because they had claimed Christ as their King, because they had turned their lives, their hearts, their very selves over to Christ. And it is through a life lived totally in love of their King that the Kingdom grew. Through their witness, countless people are inspired to live their lives in service to this King. It was not a politician or a bishop who did this, who gave the order, whose wisdom brought about the Kingdom. No, it was people living their baptism, people living with Christ as their King.

In my own life, all I wanted was for God to just give me an order, to just tell me what to do with my life. Because if it was an order, I wouldn’t have to turn my life and my heart over to him, only my will. But then I discovered that he was not going to order me to do anything; that he wanted more than just my obedience. He wanted my love. And through this, he could give me the joy that I so desperately wanted. And now as I look out at you, at your faces, I realize just how powerful our King is when we choose to follow him, just how much he is faithful to his promises. There is such a joy I feel to be here with you all, to be your priest. And this joy came from simply following our King, from giving him more than just my obedience, but my whole life, my whole heart, offering it all to him.

Our King’s moment of glory is his death on the cross. And it is from the cross, from his broken humanity, that the power of God shines forth; it is from the lowest place, from the cross, that our King rules. And this King sits enthroned here on this altar, here as his sacrifice of love, his death on the cross is made present here and now. Here on his altar, here in this Blessed Sacrament, he is enthroned with arms outstretched, begging for our hearts, all the while our hearts beg for him.

And so we pray, we pray with all our hearts: “Lord God, in the simplicity [and poverty] of my heart I have joyfully offered you everything,” I will joyfully offer you everything (c.f., 1 Chronicles 29:17).

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