Sunday, April 05, 2009

Thoughts on a Passionate Journey of a King

cum illud bibam novum in regno Dei

tu es rex Iudaeorum

have rex Iudaeorum

I'm just going to jot down a few thoughts that occurred to me about today's readings (as well as the processional Gospel). The first thing that strikes me about the readings is the journey motif, and the other is the constant reference to kings and kingdoms.

Obviously, it is not surprising that on Palm Sunday we should experience the concept of "journey." Christ rides into Jerusalem (precisely as Simon Maccabeus did. cf 1 Macc 13:51). His long journey of Ministry is drawing to a close. The Gospel narratives then have him give a number of important lessons which we don't read today. Instead, the Mass, via the Liturgy of the Word, takes on another journey. We move from the triumphal entrance into Jerusalem and the tone begins to slowly change. We have the suffering servant piece from Isaiah 50. This excerpt could almost be read as just shy of proud; almost boasting that in spite of these terrible things, he can hold his head high. Then the Psalm is a little darker. The Epistle gives us the closest hint of what is coming next when it mentions Christ's Incarnation (a kind of journey), His kenosis. And then we have the journey from the Last Supper to the Cross. This is a perfect preparation for the week we're about to experience. It too is a journey through the Crucifixion to the Resurrection, something hinted at in the Psalm's final stanza. It is there, if only out of focus.

But why? Because it is a journey of a king. It is important to note that Christ's enemies set him up to be Caesar's enemy (this we will explicitly here in Jn 19 on Good Friday). And that's an interesting point. During this period of Roman History, the Emperor made numerous efforts to create a legal fiction that he was not monarchial. Augustus adopted the title of First Citizen in order to convey that he was rather a protector of republican not monarchist values. So the Caesars, during the Principate, were kings in reality if not name. Moreover, an Imperial decree was an evangelium, the same word for Gospel. And they claimed to be a Son of a god. But Christ was a real king, and not just in name only, since he was the Principal Author of Creation ("through whom all things were made"). His Good News was real, genuine and timeless. It had been issued before Caesar was born, before there was an Italian Penninsula, before Aeneas ever left Troy, etc. And Caesar only claimed to be a Divi filius, son of a deified man (Julius Caesar, in fact). Christ was the true Son of the Living God, the filius Dei. To continue this line even further, each Caesar claimed to be the mortal descendant of a quite mortal God (i.e. Julius Caesar). But Christ would show Himself to be a Son over whom Death could have no power, the Son of an Ever-living God.

We should spend Holy Week reflecting on this interesting point. The True God, True Man "humbled Himself, becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross" precisely because He was a king. This journey to the Cross, through death, to the Resurrection was a journey He undertook for our sakes ... because He is our King. The authority that let Him cleanse the temple, was the same authority by which He submitted to death for our sakes. Only the king could die for us, and only the king could have the power to ignore death and rise again.

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I will probably not be blogging much this week, since it is a week of prayerful reflection, but I might post something on Holy Thursday tying it into Good Friday.

2 comments:

Pr. Lehmann said...

I appreciate these thoughts. I'll have to read the Maccabees text again, since I've never thought of it in these lights.

My homily yesterday focused on Jesus' kingship (which I'll be posting directly).

Ogden Chichester said...

I am looking forward to reading it.