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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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Athanasius: Athanasius led a tumultuous but dedicated life of service to the Church. He was the great champion of the faith against the widespread heresy of Arianism, the teaching by Arius that Jesus was not truly divine. The vigor of his writings earned him the title of doctor of the Church. 
<p>Born of a Christian family in Alexandria, Egypt, and given a classical education, Athanasius became secretary to Alexander, the bishop of Alexandria, entered the priesthood and was eventually named bishop himself. His predecessor, Alexander, had been an outspoken critic of a new movement growing in the East—Arianism. </p><p>When Athanasius assumed his role as bishop of Alexandria, he continued the fight against Arianism. At first it seemed that the battle would be easily won and that Arianism would be condemned. Such, however, did not prove to be the case. The Council of Tyre was called and for several reasons that are still unclear, the Emperor Constantine exiled Athanasius to northern Gaul. This was to be the first in a series of travels and exiles reminiscent of the life of St. Paul. </p><p>After Constantine died, his son restored Athanasius as bishop. This lasted only a year, however, for he was deposed once again by a coalition of Arian bishops. Athanasius took his case to Rome, and Pope Julius I called a synod to review the case and other related matters. </p><p>Five times Athanasius was exiled for his defense of the doctrine of Christ’s divinity. During one period of his life, he enjoyed 10 years of relative peace—reading, writing and promoting the Christian life along the lines of the monastic ideal to which he was greatly devoted. His dogmatic and historical writings are almost all polemic, directed against every aspect of Arianism. </p><p>Among his ascetical writings, his<i> Life of St. Anthony</i> (January 17) achieved astonishing popularity and contributed greatly to the establishment of monastic life throughout the Western Christian world.</p> American Catholic Blog Suffering is redemptive in part because it definitively reveals to man that he is not in fact God, and it thereby opens the human person to receive the divine.

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