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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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Louis of France: At his coronation as king of France, Louis IX bound himself by oath to behave as God’s anointed, as the father of his people and feudal lord of the King of Peace. Other kings had done the same, of course. Louis was different in that he actually interpreted his kingly duties in the light of faith. After the violence of two previous reigns, he brought peace and justice. 
<p>He was crowned king at 12, at his father’s death. His mother, Blanche of Castile, ruled during his minority. When he was 19 and his bride 12, he was married to Marguerite of Provence. It was a loving marriage, though not without challenge. They had 11 children. </p><p>Louis “took the cross” for a Crusade when he was 30. His army seized Damietta ini Egypt but not long after, weakened by dysentery and without support, they were surrounded and captured. Louis obtained the release of the army by giving up the city of Damietta in addition to paying a ransom. He stayed in Syria four years. </p><p>He deserves credit for extending justice in civil administration. His regulations for royal officials became the first of a series of reform laws. He replaced trial by battle with a form of examination of witnesses and encouraged the use of written records in court. </p><p>Louis was always respectful of the papacy, but defended royal interests against the popes and refused to acknowledge Innocent IV’s sentence against Emperor Frederick II. </p><p>Louis was devoted to his people, founding hospitals, visiting the sick and, like his patron St. Francis (October 4), caring even for people with leprosy. (He is one of the patrons of the Secular Franciscan Order.) Louis united France—lords and townsfolk, peasants and priests and knights—by the force of his personality and holiness. For many years the nation was at peace. </p><p>Every day Louis had 13 special guests from among the poor to eat with him, and a large number of poor were served meals near his palace. During Advent and Lent, all who presented themselves were given a meal, and Louis often served them in person. He kept lists of needy people, whom he regularly relieved, in every province of his dominion. </p><p>Disturbed by new Muslim advances in Syria, he led another crusade in 1267, at the age of 41. His crusade was diverted to Tunis for his brother’s sake. The army was decimated by disease within a month, and Louis himself died on foreign soil at the age of 44. He was canonized 27 years later.</p> American Catholic Blog God passes through the thicket of the world, and wherever His glance falls He turns all things to beauty. <br />–St. John of the Cross

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