Jesus Christ, Our Sovereign King
Some years ago when I was serving on a committee to evaluate the way scripture is used in the liturgy, our attention turned to the line “Thy kingdom come” in our analysis of the Lord’s Prayer (Matthew 6:10). One participant thought the word “thy” was archaic and unintelligible to people today. Another scholar said the real difficulty is “with the word ‘kingdom.’ Most people have little familiarity with what that word means.” Indeed, where monarchs still exist, they are essentially reduced to the roles of ceremony, and we Americans have opposed the rule of kings since our founding. Against this backdrop, my colleague added that “few today have any understanding of what scripture means when it speaks of the kingdom of God in particular.”
This discussion was of great interest to me, especially since the motto I chose when I became a bishop was “Thy kingdom come.” It is also important as the Year of Faith officially ends today and we focus on continuing to live a life of faith, one that manifests the kingdom of God here on earth. The kingdom is the heart of the Gospel – as Jesus proclaimed at the beginning of his public life, “the kingdom of God is at hand” (Mark 1:15).
But where is this kingdom? What is this kingdom? What does it mean to say that Christ is King?
To fully understand, we must recall the words of Jesus before Pilate, “My kingdom is not of this world” (John 18:36). The kingdom of God is not like earthly principalities, which we can find on a map. We cannot zoom in on its landscape by using Google Earth. There are no webcams in the streets of its capital. Yet, this kingdom is real and substantial. It is identifiable. While a mystery, we can know what it is, and what it is not.
One problem with grasping the kingship of Christ is mankind’s bad experiences throughout all of history with those kingdoms of men that are of this world. And that is exactly what God warned about when his chosen people insisted on having a king for the sake of earthly power, that these rulers would end up descending into self-interest, corruption, and oppression (1 Samuel 8:11-17). Besides, as Gideon told them when the people asked him to rule over them, they had no need of a worldly king – they already had a king, who was the Lord himself (Judges 8:23).
Jesus is not just any king, like those in human history. The Caesars and Pharaohs and kings of the world have come and gone, their empires built-up and fallen, all become dust. Not so with Jesus. He alone is truly sovereign. As the eternal Lord, his reign transcends the temporal world. Christ is the Universal King, having dominion over all of creation and history – the history of nations as well as our personal history.
Jesus proclaims that “the kingdom of God is at hand” because he is at hand – the kingdom is the presence of the Lord himself, God who is Love and Truth. Entering this kingdom means being one with him. His royal throne is the wood of the Cross and the law of his realm is love and truth.
This proclamation endures today through his Church. While not the fullness of the kingdom, the Church is the beginning, the outward visible sign and instrument of that kingdom coming to be among us, of communion with God and of unity among all people (Lumen Gentium, 1).
The kingdom today continues to need heralds and witnesses who make manifest the Good News of Christ the King. This is why I chose the motto “Thy kingdom come” – because it is the work of the Church, and thus the work of every priest and lay person, to build up Christ’s realm in our world, “a kingdom of truth and life, a kingdom of holiness and grace, a kingdom of justice, love and peace. In this kingdom, creation itself will be delivered from its slavery to corruption into the freedom of the glory of the sons of God” (id., 36).