A medieval astrologer prophesied to a king that his favorite mistress would soon die. Sure enough, the woman died a short time later. The king was outraged at the astrologer, certain that his prophecy had brought about the woman’s death.
He summoned the astrologer and commanded him: “Prophecy, tell me when you will die!”
The astrologer realized that the king was planning to kill him immediately, no matter what answer he gave. “I do not know when I will die,” he answered finally. “I only know that whenever I die, the king will die three days later.”
Henry Randall said that Henry VIII was a “lying, greedy and idiotic king, an beetle and a pile of dung, the spawn of a snake, a chicken, a lying toad mixed all together by Satan’s spawn.” He may have said it, but I would wager a lifetimes salary that he would never have said it to Henry’s face. Whether king or queen, history tells us that the monarchs have always gotten what they wanted. Disappointing the monarch could cost you everything. Angering the monarch could cost you your life.
Jesus is correct when he says, “The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those who exercise authority over them call themselves Benefactors.”
The monarchs of this earth – with a few exceptions – have mostly proven to be scoundrels and if it were not for their bloodlines that allowed them to ascend the throne – or dare I say, their ability to win an election – we would likely want nothing to do with them.
Today, however, we celebrate our King. His titles are numerous: King of Kings, Lord of Lords, Alpha and Omega, The Light of the World, The Word of God, The Bright Morning Star, The Great I Am. The list goes on, but simply, our King is the Messiah, the Christ – Jesus, and today we celebrate his Reign and Kingship.
In our Gospel, “Pilate asked him, ‘So you are a king?’ Jesus answered, ‘You say that I am a king. For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth.’” Jesus confirms that he is a King, but also states, “My kingdom is not from this world. If my kingdom were from this world, my followers would be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Jews. But as it is, my kingdom is not from here.” Following this exchange, Pilate finds no basis for a charge against Jesus and seeks to release him, but as we know, Jesus will eventually be turned over to be crucified.
So we have Jesus confirming the fact that he is a King and in our hearts, by following him, we confirm that he is our King, our Lord and Master. As his followers, we declare ourselves his disciples, but to be a disciple of Jesus is more than a declaration – “I will follow you!” – anyone can do that. It is also more than just learning what He teaches, because even the devil has accomplished that. To declare ourselves disciples of Jesus, we must be like him every respect. We must have his Spirit within us, we must have his flesh as our flesh, guiding our every step and thought. That might seem easy at first glance. He’s a king and it is good to be king. Yet, as the Lord spoke through the Prophet Isaiah:
“For My thoughts are not your thoughts,
Nor are your ways My ways,” says the Lord.
“For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
So are My ways higher than your ways,
And My thoughts than your thoughts.”
And Jesus confirms this, for as he states, “The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them… But… but you are not to be like that. Instead, the greatest among you should be like the youngest, and the one who rules like the one who serves. For who is greater, the one who is at the table or the one who serves? Is it not the one who is at the table? But I am among you as one who serves.”
The passage “one who serves” is from the Greek διάκονος, where we get the word “deacon.” We often think of “one who serves” as one who waits on another person, but a broader understanding is to say, “one who ministers.” One who attends to the needs of others, and the “need” that Jesus was attending to by serving us was the need for the salvation of our souls. That serving, as we know, led to the cross on Calvary and our Kings’ death. And as His true disciples, we are to be like him every respect.
The life and death Jesus calls us to is not for weaklings. It’s not just about the exterior – “I didn’t kill anyone today, so I must be in good shape.” It is not about a list of do’s and don’ts. It is not just about looking the part, for anyone can do that.
A priest tells the story of the time during the 70’s that he was living in a monastery in New York. It seems that while living there he had numerous millionaire friends who enjoyed his company and would invite him out. He recalls on one occasion being invited to a swank restaurant and a Broadway play. During the intermission, he and his friends went out for some fresh air and engaged in a rather highbrow conversation regarding the play.
As he was going about trying to impress his friends with his intellectual savvy he noticed someone walking toward him who was “not one of the beautiful people.” Her clothes were a bit tattered, her shoes worn, and her nylons had holes. As she approached he also noticed that she was peddling the Variety magazine for $0.75, so in a gesture of extreme generosity he handed her a dollar and casually waved her away, eager to wow his friends a bit more.
And then she said, “Father?” The priest writes, “In those days, I knew I couldn’t distinguish myself by my virtues, so I distinguished myself by my clothing; I always wore the collar, ‘Father, could I talk to you a minute?’ I snapped, ‘What? Can’t you see I’m busy? Do you make a habit of interrupting people in the middle of a conversation? Wait over there and I’ll speak to you when I’m done.’ She whispered, ‘Jesus wouldn’t talk to Mary Magdalene like that.’ And then she was gone.”
Later, he wondered what this young woman would have thought if she had wandered into his church the following Sunday to hear him preach on the love of God. He asked, “How could she believe in the love of a God she can’t see when she couldn’t find even a trace of love in the eyes of a brother wearing a clerical collar whom she could see?” He noted, “A shriveled humanity has a shrunken capacity for receiving the rays of God’s love.” (From The Furious Longing of God, Brennan Manning)
There are many who come up to us everyday and ask, “Could I talk to you a minute?” They ask it verbally and nonverbally. They ask it with their lips and they ask it with their tears. And when they ask, they are not asking us to tell them to do this and to not do that. When they ask, they are asking us to see them as one made in God’s image, and perhaps for only a few moments, to love them.
As his disciples, Jesus calls us to serve as he served and to minister as he ministered. It is a call to live the life of a king. The King of Kings. St. Josemaría Escrivá writes, “How little a life is to offer to God!” Offer your life to the King and enter his courts, for the words the Psalmist spoke of the Lord are true:
A day in your courts is better
than a thousand elsewhere.
I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God
than live in the tents of wickedness.
For the Lord God is a sun and shield;
he bestows favor and honor.
No good thing does the Lord withhold
from those who walk uprightly.
O Lord of hosts,
happy is everyone who trusts in you.
Serve the King as the King served you, and walk in His eternal courts.
“To him who loves us and freed us from our sins by his blood, and made us to be a kingdom, priests serving his God and Father, to him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.”