Today we celebrate the feast of Christ the King. In the “Our Father” we pray “Thy kingdom come”. However, when Jesus talks about the Kingdom of God, he means something very different from kings and kingdoms so often associated with excessive wealth and the abuse of power. In the New Testament, it is the term most used by Jesus to define his mission. Jesus is a different type of king. In the first reading, He is presented as the shepherd who tends and defends his flock. In the final judgment in St. Matthew´s Gospel, He uses criteria different from those of earthly kings: “I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me…”. The poor, not riches or power, are the sacrament of Christ the King´s presence in the world.
Many Catholics are inclined to think that the Kingdom of God and the Church are the same thing or to see the Kingdom as something that takes place in the next life. However, Kingdom is the biblical expression which signifies the new world that one day will exist because God has promised it: a world of truth and of justice; a world without misery or the division between rich and poor; a world without abandoned children, hunger or mass unemployment. This is a new world which is for the here and now and not only after death. “The Kingdom of God is in the midst of you” (Lk.17:21). Jesus Christ has come to put on its feet a world that has been turned upside-down, to “free the oppressed” and make “the poor happy,” “to bring down from their thrones the powerful and raise up the humble” (Lk.1:46-55; 4:16-22; 6:17-26; 7:18-23).
The Kingdom signifies the Gospel revelation that God is Father and we are sons, daughters, brothers and sisters of one another. St. John is very explicit: “But if any man says, ‘I love God,’ while hating his brother, he is a liar” (1Jn.4:20-21).
The Church is those people in the world professing to follow Jesus Christ. It exists, rather, to serve the world and build the Kingdom. It is more than a country club where everybody gets on well together. It is the “leaven in the mass,” the “salt” and the “light” in the world. Pope Francis talks of a Church which should always be outgoing, a missionary church and not a Church of maintenance. The Church works to build the Kingdom, with Jesus as King, in two ways: by building a Church which preaches by its example, giving witness to the kingdom values, and by cooperating with all people of good will, including non-believers (who are unconsciously cooperating with God´s plan), to help build a society which reflects kingdom values of forgiveness, justice, liberty and truth. Everything we do to build a better world is a partial realization of the definitive Kingdom in the next life which, à la Vatican II, is the germ of this Kingdom on earth.
The New Testament presents two complementary models of mission: A. In the synagogue Jesus defines mission in terms of social transformation (Lk 4:16-19) and B. Before leaving the apostles, Jesus defines mission in terms of going out to make disciples (Mt 28:19).
As Covid-19 lays bare a world of inequality, poverty and devastation of our planet, the challenge to recognize Christ as King and fight for the values of the Kingdom has never been more urgent.