Christ the Poor and Suffering King

“When everything is subjected to him, then the Son himself will also be subjected to the one who subjected everything to him, so that God may be all in all.”

“Subjected” is not a word with very positive connotations. To be subjected means to be weak, to be defeated, to be vulnerable. This is representative of our American, democratic mindset. We are citizens, not subjects. This typically American attitude has historical roots in our conception of a king as a tyrant. The American Revolution was built on our rejection of a tyrannical English king who taxed the American colonists without allowing us representatives in Parliament. A century before, the French invented the modern conception of revolution when they revolted against King Louis XVI, who lived in splendor while much of his kingdom was starving. Hence our very modern and very American preference for democracy over monarchy, and our preference for democratically elected officials who respect the sovereignty of the people rather than of a monarch.

Christ, though, is our King, and not a democratically elected official. He is our ruler by right, and not by our choosing. Actually, precisely the opposite is true of Christ the King: He has chosen us for His people, rather than us choosing Him for our leader. Far from being a tyrant, Christ is the peaceful king prophesied by Isaiah. Today, we see that He seeks our honor and devotion not only because He himself is worthy of and deserves it, but even more so for others. “Whatever you did for the least brothers of mine, you did for me,” He tells the disciples in today’s Gospel. Likewise, the prophet Ezekiel tells us that He will seek out the lost, strayed, and injured.

Christ not only asks that we become subject to Him, but He also gives us the supreme example of Himself being subject to the Father. “Not my will, but yours,” He prayed on the night before His passion in the Garden of Gethsemane. If we are to love Christ our King, we must love those whom He loves. Christ, we know, has a particular love for all the poor and suffering. He not only has a particular love for them, but He even identifies Himself with them. Christ voluntarily became poor and suffered for us on the Cross, taking on the greatest poverty of human nature, death.

This should lead us to imitate Christ in two ways. First, we too must have a great love for the poor and suffering. We should not only desire to relieve their sufferings out of pity. Rather, we should reverence Christ in them. Christ the great King manifests Himself in our world in the poor and lowly. This is what has moved the saints through the centuries to care for the poor and lowly. We can think of the example of St. Teresa of Calcutta, who tirelessly worked to provide dignity to those who were dying in the streets of Calcutta.

The second way that we should be moved by Christ the poor King is to imitate Him in His poverty and in His suffering. Christ not only relieved the sufferings of the poor and the suffering, but He Himself chose to be poor and to suffer alongside the poor and suffering of this world. “The Son of man,” He tells us, “has nowhere to lay His head.” Whenever we voluntarily choose poverty and suffering, we are choosing to follow the example of Christ the King. It is not enough to work to relieve the sufferings of the poor, we ourselves must be poor and we must be willing to suffer.

What does it mean, then, to choose voluntary poverty and suffering? For the young, it could mean considering a vocation to the priesthood or the religious life. Could God be calling you to follow His example of poverty and service? Could He be calling you to leave everything behind in order to follow Him?

However, this calling to voluntary poverty is not only for those with a vocation to the priesthood or the religious life. Those who are married and have children are also called to follow the Lord in His own poverty. Welcoming children with true generosity, for example, will mean forgoing some degree of material prosperity. In so doing, parents show that children, made in the image and likeness of God and given an eternal destiny by their Baptism, are worth more than any form of material wealth. The married state is no exemption from our Lord’s call to follow Him in associating ourselves with the least among us.

All of us are also called to offer sufferings generously in union with Our Lord on the Cross. This begins with the sufferings we already experience each day – involuntary suffering, offered generously and with a loving spirit to God in union with Christ’s sacrifice. It also means choosing to make small sacrifices each day, putting to death our own sinful tendencies and learning to say yes to the Lord rather than to ourselves. When we do so, we subject all things to Christ our King. And it also means making big decisions in a sacrificial way, choosing to live simply rather than ostentatiously.

Why, then, should we voluntarily choose poverty and suffering? In order to hear our King say to us, “Come, you who are blessed by my Father. Inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.” When Christ says that we are to inherit the kingdom, He is associating us with Himself. Inheritance is not earned, but belongs to the Son, simply because He is the Son. Christ is telling us that if we arrive at our judgement after a life of poverty and suffering, God the Father will look upon us and see in our poverty and in our suffering the image of Christ His only Son. He will then bestow on us the inheritance that belongs by right only to Christ: to reign forever with Him in Heaven. When we choose to be poor, when we choose to suffer, we will become gradually become like Christ who chose to be poor and to suffer.

If we want to hear those blessed words from our Lord inviting us into His kingdom, to reign alongside Him forever in Heaven, we must work to resemble Him in this life. We must offer our sufferings generously in union with the King who reigns not from a gilded throne, but from the Cross. We must love Him in our poor brothers and sisters, not only as objects of our charity, but even as an example to be imitated in drawing close to Christ, who Himself was not above being poor and suffering.

This is a tall order, indeed. No one, naturally, of his own accord, wants to be poor, and no one wants to suffer. But choosing what is contrary to our sinful, selfish, fallen human nature has the power to liberate us from our earthly desires in order to pursue the glorious kingdom offered to us in Heaven. We must resist the highly materialistic influence of our culture by placing a higher value on children than on material possessions, by refusing to give in to obsessions with the latest and greatest gadgets, and by disciplining our wills by choosing to sacrifice. When we do so, God the Father will recognize in us His Son, Jesus Christ, and will offer to us the reward Jesus Himself won: eternal life forever in Heaven.

 

The Rev. Royce V. Gregerson
Parish Church of St. John the Evangelist, Goshen
Solemnity of Christ the King, A.D. MMXVII

Advertisements