My recent visit to Korea and Taiwan introduced me to cultures that stretch back over millennia. Their history is frequently measured by the succession of dynasties, some extending over hundreds of years. When, in Taipei, I visited a museum that houses many of the treasures that have come down to us from the Yuan, Ming and Qing eras, for example, I found myself asking, “Where are they now?” Once mighty dynasties are now … no more. Even though they were marked by great power and enormous wealth, nevertheless they lasted but for a time, only to be replaced by others, which, in their turn, faded away.
I found myself reflecting upon this again in the context of the Solemnity of Christ the King, which the Church celebrated this past weekend. His is a dynasty – the only one – that does in fact endure forever, because it is established not by human conquest but by divine decree. It cannot be defeated. Yet, in stark contrast to earthly dynasties, the reign of Christ has no “territory” save that of the human heart; its ruler does not stand at a distance from the people but draws near in deepest solidarity; its governance is effected not through displays of power but by gestures of charity; and it responds to offense and aggression with mercy and forgiveness.
Jesus most fully displays his kingship from the Cross (cf. Luke 23: 35-43) There, he demonstrates his solidarity with suffering humanity as he takes to himself the sin and oppression that from the original sin of Adam and Eve had torn the human race asunder. There he extends forgiveness to the repentant thief, and prays that those who know not what they are doing would also be forgiven. From the place of his crucifixion and death he rises triumphant, victorious over sin and death, and makes possible the entrance, through faith and repentance, into his everlasting kingdom. Jesus, the eternal and universal King, has the last word over any and every expression of earthly rule.
It was a moving encounter when I shared this message on Saturday evening with the Eritrean Catholic community of Edmonton. The Church in their home country is suffering terrible persecution from its government. Catholic schools and hospitals have been summarily shut down as freedom of religion is suppressed. I visited in order to share with them the solidarity and prayer of the Church in this country for the people of their homeland. This prayer is motivated by the real hope that comes from the Gospel. However powerful the government of the day may seem, we know that it will not last. The final word belongs to the one true King, who alone has a dynasty that lasts always, a kingdom of love, justice and peace.
In Eritrea, as in many other lands, the people are subject to rulers they did not choose and are suffering in consequence. In the Western world, lands of liberal democracy, we choose those who govern us politically. We also choose those “forces” that rule our hearts, and they are not always benign: individualism, hedonism, relativism and so on. These, too, are dynasties that cannot last, and, in fact, must be displaced. As we honour Christ as King, let us deliberately and actively invite him to conquer our hearts with his love and mercy, so that we, like the repentant thief, will be with Jesus in paradise, his kingdom without end.
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