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Bible Reflections View Comments

God's Kingdom, Not Ours
By Diane M. Houdek
Source: Bringing Home the Word
Published: Sunday, November 24, 2013
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A few years ago, the movie The King’s Speech gave us a poignant and personal look at one moment in the history of Britain’s royal family. The changes of the 20th century took their toll on a historical institution as the absolute authority of George V was rejected by his son Edward and then uneasily assumed by the man who would become George VI. The reluctant monarch overcame a severe stutter to inspire a nation during World War II. He grew in an understanding of what it meant to be king that his father or brother never could have imagined.

One of the things that has so charmed the world in the first year of Pope Francis’s papacy is his conscious turning away from those trappings of papal life that have been adopted and adapted from the world of secular monarchies. We sense in his humility an authority that doesn’t need pomp and elaborate vestments.

Throughout Christian history, the notion of Christ as king has jostled somewhat uneasily alongside the concept of an earthly king. When Caesar was proclaimed as divine, Christians asserted that they followed the one true God, a greater king and ruler. But as Christianity was absorbed into Constantine’s empire, the lines between secular and religious power tended to blur at times.

From its beginnings in the Hebrew Scriptures, the concept that eventually came to be known as the “divine right of kings” was not immune to the flaws of humanity. All institutions on earth are limited by the fact that they are made up of flawed human beings.

In our first reading today, we hear the story of the great King David. Chosen by God while still a shepherd boy, anointed by Samuel, David is now acclaimed by the people as their king. But the Scriptures will show that even someone as graced as David can falter if he forgets the source of his authority and becomes too enamored of the trappings of power and privilege.

In today’s reading from the Gospel of Luke, the people jeering at Jesus frame their abuse in terms of Jesus not using his power to save himself. This was one of the temptations in the desert. Once again on the cross, he overcomes it. The Lord’s kingship is simply not about earthly power. As his followers, we need to remember this. Jesus was victorious through his wounds, not in spite of them.

Luke is the only Gospel writer who gives us the scene of the two thieves crucified on either side of Jesus. It highlights the recognition of Jesus willingly taking on the sins and weaknesses of all humanity. And yet even in this final moment of degradation, those with eyes to see can recognize his inherent nobility. The repentant thief says to him, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” And Jesus responds, “Today you will be with me in Paradise.”

Throughout the Gospels, Jesus’s followers as well as his opponents try again and again to shape him into their image of a leader, a ruler, a priest, a king. Again and again he resists those attempts. At the crucifixion, we finally see the reality for what it is.

As we look to Christ as our King, we see what true divine authority looks like. We are called to make sure that we, along with our leaders, always strive to follow that model. It’s not that we don’t need leaders; it’s that we need leaders taking us in the right direction. Power must always be used to heal, not hurt.


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John Paul II: “Open wide the doors to Christ,” urged John Paul II during the homily at the Mass when he was installed as pope in 1978. <br /><br />Born in Wadowice, Poland, Karol Jozef Wojtyla had lost his mother, father and older brother before his 21st birthday. Karol’s promising academic career at Krakow’s Jagiellonian University was cut short by the outbreak of World War II. While working in a quarry and a chemical factory, he enrolled in an “underground” seminary in Kraków. Ordained in 1946, he was immediately sent to Rome where he earned a doctorate in theology. <br /><br />Back in Poland, a short assignment as assistant pastor in a rural parish preceded his very fruitful chaplaincy for university students. Soon he earned a doctorate in philosophy and began teaching that subject at Poland’s University of Lublin. <br /><br />Communist officials allowed him to be appointed auxiliary bishop of Kraków in 1958, considering him a relatively harmless intellectual. They could not have been more wrong! <br /><br />He attended all four sessions of Vatican II and contributed especially to its <em>Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World</em>. Appointed as archbishop of Kraków in 1964, he was named a cardinal three years later. <br /><br />Elected pope in October 1978, he took the name of his short-lived, immediate predecessor. Pope John Paul II was the first non-Italian pope in 455 years. In time, he made pastoral visits to 124 countries, including several with small Christian populations. <br /><br />He promoted ecumenical and interfaith initiatives, especially the 1986 Day of Prayer for World Peace in Assisi. He visited Rome’s Main Synagogue and the Western Wall in Jerusalem; he also established diplomatic relations between the Holy See and Israel. He improved Catholic-Muslim relations and in 2001 visited a mosque in Damascus, Syria. <br /><br />The Great Jubilee of the Year 2000, a key event in John Paul’s ministry, was marked by special celebrations in Rome and elsewhere for Catholics and other Christians. Relations with the Orthodox Churches improved considerably during his ministry as pope. <br /><br />“Christ is the center of the universe and of human history” was the opening line of his 1979 encyclical, <em>Redeemer of the Human Race</em>. In 1995, he described himself to the United Nations General Assembly as “a witness to hope.” <br /><br />His 1979 visit to Poland encouraged the growth of the Solidarity movement there and the collapse of communism in central and eastern Europe 10 years later. He began World Youth Day and traveled to several countries for those celebrations. He very much wanted to visit China and the Soviet Union but the governments in those countries prevented that. <br /><br />One of the most well-remembered photos of his pontificate was his one-on-one conversation in 1983 with Mehmet Ali Agca, who had attempted to assassinate him two years earlier. <br /><br />In his 27 years of papal ministry, John Paul II wrote 14 encyclicals and five books, canonized 482 saints and beatified 1,338 people. <br /><br />In the last years of his life, he suffered from Parkinson’s disease and was forced to cut back on some of his activities. <br /><br />Pope Benedict XVI beatified John Paul II in 2011, and Pope Francis canonized him in 2014. American Catholic Blog Lord, may I have balance and measure in everything—except in Love. —St. Josemaría Escrivá

 
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