The Power of the Cross
The Solemnity of Christ the King

Doug McManaman
Reproduced with Permission

Today is the solemnity of Christ the King. In the first reading, David is anointed king. In him, Israel rises to the level of a kingdom that subjugates other nations. But that Kingdom of temporary; Israel will fall eventually, but the Davidic covenant is a perpetual one: “And I will make his royal throne firm forever”. The throne of David will endure forever. That is why Israel awaits their Messiah. “Messiah” is Hebrew for anointed one, and the Greek word for anointed one is Christos. Kings were anointed with oil, a sign of wealth and strength.

But the gospel reading, from a purely human point of view, makes no sense. Jesus, who is called the Christos, the anointed one, is dying on a cross. The thief on one side mocks him: “If you are the king of the Jews, come down from there. Save yourself and us”. Reveal your power. David was a king; he was a great warrior under whose leadership Israel achieved kingdom status. At the time of Christ, the Jews were expecting the same kind of Messiah.

From God’s point of view, however, the death of Christ, as we read about in this gospel, makes perfect sense. But it took the Apostles a while to finally get it. That is why Christ foretold his passion three times to his disciples.

Jesus is the Christ; he is the King of Kings. He is divine, God in the flesh. And he came—as any king does—to establish a kingdom. He came to supplant an existing kingdom in order establish his own. He came to supplant the kingdom of darkness, the kingdom of Satan. No human king could do that. We were all under the dominion of Satan, as Scripture says. But Christ delivered us from the power of darkness, as the second reading points out.

But the Kingdom of Darkness is not a human dominion, and so no army could defeat it. The Jews were expecting a Messiah who would deliver them from Roman domination. But Rome was destined to fall, and it fell in 476 AD to the Barbarians. Christ came to supplant a kingdom that man had no power to supplant, and God is so powerful that He was able to defeat that kingdom by allowing Himself to be defeated.

The stronger one is, the less force one needs to defeat an opponent. But if your opponent is almost as strong as you, you will have to exert more force to defeat him. But God is omnipotent, he is unlimited in power. He does not need to exert any force to defeat a creature, whether that is a human creature, a human institution, or an angelic creature, or a preternatural kingdom, as is the kingdom of darkness. And so what does He do in order to defeat that kingdom? He joins a human nature and allows himself to be swallowed by death, as a whale swallows a fish. And in that very act of dying, He offers to God what man was unable to offer, an act of reparation for the sins of the entire human race, an acceptable offering unstained by the slightest sin, an offering of infinite value. And the resurrection from the dead is the visible sign that the Father has accepted that offering. Sin has been forgiven, and now Christ holds the keys of life and death. Satan has been defeated. The kingdom of death and darkness has been supplanted.

We may still wish to belong to darkness, for God loves us so much that He will allow us to reject Him for all eternity. But, we may also wish to belong to the kingdom of light, the kingdom of God. That is an option we did not have before Christ’s coming.

And so the cross is the perpetual sign of God’s power. Christ is King, and he wears a crown not of gold, but a crown of thorns and his throne is a cross. And Christ has shown us the way to a fully human life, and the way to eternal life, namely, to take up that cross and follow him, to courageously bear the sufferings that we encounter in this world, not to live our lives in a way that aims to evade suffering at all costs, not to live for constant enjoyment, but to find our vocation in life, to live for the love of God and the love of others. We all suffer in life, but how we react to that suffering, how we relate to it, is indicative of whether we belong to Christ or belong to the world of darkness which is indifferent to Christ and his kingdom. Those who belong to darkness live primarily for themselves.

But to belong to Christ is to find him in our sufferings. It is to embrace those sufferings and allow ourselves to be strengthened by the presence of Christ who is there in that suffering. He makes suffering holy. He makes that suffering to be the means to victory in our own life. Just as he was victorious over the kingdom of darkness through his sufferings and death, our own personal victory over everything we need to defeat in our life will only occur through the power of his cross, by embracing that suffering in a spirit of prayer that looks to him for strength and victory.

So the one thing we have to keep in mind is that the victory has been won. But the sin at the root of darkness is the sin of pride, and a prideful creature cannot admit defeat, that is why Satan keeps fighting. And so although the battle has been won on Good Friday, there are still minor battles to fight. And these become our ways of sharing in Christ’s victory. We can’t share in his victory unless we share in his battle. And so he allows these skirmishes to continue, as they did after World War II was officially won. Some people did not realize that World War II was officially over, and so battles had to continue. So too, although this war is over, there are minor battles to be fought in our lives, and it is so important to become aware of that, that there is a war going on for the souls of others. And knowing that it has been won, but that minor battles have yet to be fought, allows us to fight with hope and with a spirit of joy, not despair and sorrow.