Americans have an uncomfortable relationship with kings. The American Revolution was fought for independence from King George, after all. Nonetheless, today every Catholic church around the world celebrates the Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe. Today’s feast invites us to look beyond our national loyalties and rejoice in our primary identity. We are children of God in Jesus, Christ the King. Our readings help us consider what it’s like to belong to God’s kingdom. The book of Samuel captures the deep longing of the Israelites for a king to shepherd them. Saint Paul reminds the Colossians that we belong to the kingdom of Christ, whose power he praises in a beautiful hymn. Finally, Luke’s Gospel calls to mind the kind of king Jesus chooses to be—a suffering servant, a man for others. By sacrificing his life for us, Jesus throws open the gates of Paradise.
Today’s readings take a fearless look at reality and reach a conclusion that we all know: life is hard. The prophet Malachi preaches fire and brimstone, warning us that evildoers will perish in flames. Saint Paul offers his own warning to the Thessalonians: keep busy, but never become a busybody. He reminds Christians that the apostles themselves worked in “toil and drudgery” as a model for how we ought to contribute to our community. The Gospel returns to the apocalyptic tone of Malachi, describing the utter chaos of the endtimes. We will know the end is near when violence, catastrophe, and hatred dominate the earth. But we must not fear! God’s saving plan brings peace to our hearts. Malachi speaks of the sun’s “healing rays,” and Jesus himself promises to protect every hair on our heads.
We are nearing the end of the liturgical year. Today’s readings remind us that our own lives will draw to a close one day, and we can be certain that the Lord will encourage, strengthen, and save us— both now and at the last. The astonishing story of the Maccabees invigorates our faith as we behold an entire family willing to die rather than deny the Law of Moses. The psalm response echoes the faithful cries of the Maccabees: “I call upon you, for you will answer me, O God.” That same confidence appears in Saint Paul’s letter to the Thessalonians. “The Lord is faithful,” he testifies; “he will strengthen you and guard you from the evil one.” In the Gospel, Jesus explains just how long God’s protection will endure. The children of God whom God guards, Jesus says, will live forever like angels.
Our readings today ponder two powerful truths: God is infinitely greater than we are; and God provides every kind of help so we can discover and share in God’s glory. The reading from Wisdom reminds us that we are tiny compared to “the Lord of the whole universe.” Nevertheless, God preserves and nurtures us out of perfect love. If we feel tiny, weak, and sinful compared to God, we are blessed! God’s greatness sustains and strengthens us. Saint Paul encourages the Thessalonian Christians with the same message. He reminds them that God alone makes the Church holy. He prays that everything they undertake will be for the glory of God. Luke’s Gospel shows us what this looks like in real life: Zacchaeus, feeling small and excluded, looks for Jesus. Jesus finds him and gives him the strength he needs to repent of his sins and glorify God.