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Bible Reflections View Comments

The Return of the King
By Diane M. Houdek
Source: Bringing Home the Word
Published: Sunday, November 25, 2012
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The third volume of J.R.R. Tolkein’s Lord of the Rings trilogy is entitled The Return of the King. The heir to the long-lost line of kings from the city of Gondor has been living rough as a ranger in the north country, guarding the borders of Middle Earth. The city is being ruled by a line of stewards, servants of the king now charged with the day-to-day decisions of the kingdom.

It’s not difficult to see in this a metaphor for our own life in the kingdom of God, that kingdom that theologians describe as “already but not yet.” It is a reign inaugurated by Christ in the incarnation but interrupted for a time by his death, resurrection, and ascension. We do our best to make the decisions we think God wants us to make, but we’re not always sure we’re headed in the right direction. Tragically, we sometimes find ourselves obstinately headed in the wrong direction.

In Tolkein’s Middle Earth, the last of the stewards, Lord Denethor, is broken by grief at the death of his favored elder son and twisted by the manipulations of the dark lord. He refuses to acknowledge Aragorn, heir to Elendil, seeing only the humble and despised ranger from the north. Denethor’s own ambition has blinded him to his true role. The wizard Gandalf finally tells him, “It is not in your power to deny the return of the king.”

In our Gospel today, Pilate questions Jesus about the claim that he is “king of the Jews.” There’s no way to be sure in John’s Gospel whether Pilate is being sincere, cynical, or something in between. He tries to fit Jesus into his narrow frame of reference, seeing him as a would-be king, perhaps a pretender to the throne of Herod. But Jesus reminds him that the kingdom of heaven will always and everywhere be something eternal rather than temporal. It’s not governed by the same rules or susceptible to the same weaknesses that so many worldly kingdoms are.

Today’s feast can be difficult for us to grasp. We live in a democracy, a nation in which people select their leaders based on a mixed bag of impressions, beliefs, facts, and opinions. Our experience of leadership has been tarnished— even broken. It can be hard for us to imagine Eternal Truth in the guise of a temporal leader.

There’s no little irony to be found in the fact that when Jesus walked this earth, he let go of any such trappings of power. That might be our first clue that the image of Christ the King exists on an entirely metaphorical plane, a concession to our need for human images.

Lovers of great literature know the truth of the saying, “All stories are true. Some of them actually happened.” Perhaps we need to take today’s feast out of the world of history and politics and into the world of myth and fairy tale, a world where kings and queens, knights and wizards, are symbols of great good or great evil. It allows us to see the great truth of life through a different lens, unburdened by what we think we know too well. It helps us, in fact, return to a childhood world of intuitive understanding.

As we listen once again to the great stories of our faith, we are left with this truth. Christ must be always and everywhere the most important thing in our lives, the only thing we worship, the only one to whom we give unswerving allegiance.


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Paul of the Cross: 
		<p>Born in northern Italy in 1694, Paul Daneo lived at a time when many regarded Jesus as a great moral teacher but no more. After a brief time as a soldier, he turned to solitary prayer, developing a devotion to Christ’s passion. Paul saw in the Lord’s passion a demonstration of God’s love for all people. In turn that devotion nurtured his compassion and supported a preaching ministry that touched the hearts of many listeners. He was known as one of the most popular preachers of his day, both for his words and for his generous acts of mercy. </p>
		<p>In 1720 Paul founded the Congregation of the Passion, whose members combined devotion to Christ’s passion with preaching to the poor and rigorous penances. Known as the Passionists, they add a fourth vow to the traditional three of poverty, chastity, and obedience, to spread the memory of Christ’s passion among the faithful. Paul was elected superior general of the Congregation in 1747, spending the remainder of his life in Rome. </p>
		<p>Paul of the Cross died in 1775, and was canonized in 1867. Over 2000 of his letters and several of his short writings have survived. </p>
American Catholic Blog Always bear in mind as a safe general rule that while God tries us by His crosses and sufferings, He always leaves us a glimmer of light by which we continue to have great trust in him and to recognize His immense goodness.

 
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