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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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Joseph Benedict Cottolengo: In some ways Joseph exemplified St. Francis’ advice, "Let us begin to serve the Lord God, for up to now we have made little or no progress" (<i>1 Celano, </i>#103). 
<p>Joseph was the eldest of 12 children. Born in Piedmont, he was ordained for the Diocese of Turin in 1811. Frail health and difficulty in school were obstacles he overcame to reach ordination. </p><p>During Joseph’s lifetime Italy was torn by civil war while the poor and the sick suffered from neglect. Inspired by reading the life of St. Vincent de Paul and moved by the human suffering all around him, Joseph rented some rooms to nurse the sick of his parish and recruited local young women to serve as staff. </p><p>In 1832 at Voldocco, Joseph founded the House of Providence which served many different groups (the sick, the elderly, students, the mentally ill, the blind). All of this was financed by contributions. Popularly called "the University of Charity," this testimonial to God’s goodness was serving 8,000 people by the time of Joseph’s beatification in 1917. </p><p>To carry on his work, Joseph organized two religious communities, the Brothers of St. Vincent de Paul and the Sisters of St. Vincent de Paul. Joseph, who had joined the Secular Franciscans as a young man, was canonized in 1934.</p> American Catholic Blog The image of God! This is what it means to be human! We are not just a bunch of cells randomly thrown together by some impersonal forces. Rather, we reflect an eternal God who knew us from before we were made and purposely called us into being.

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