Trent Glaze is a high school senior at Fairfield Union in Ohio. He has been in a wheelchair for the past 10 years. He suffers from muscular dystrophy. Trent has always loved football, and has served as the manager for the school's football team the past two years. This year he was invited to be on the team and serve as the team captain.
It has always been Trent's dream that he participate in a football game. Recently that dream came true. Fairfield Union lost to Teays Valley high school. Both teams remained on the field after the game was over, so that Fairfield Union could run one more play: a handoff to Trent. The young man was dressed in full uniform and pads. He took the handoff; another teen pushed Trent's wheelchair down the field, close to the end zone. With that, Trent wheeled himself into the end zone for his first touchdown.Both teams cheered Trent on, and ran to him to congratulate him, hug him, and shake his hand.
Football has become a significant metaphor or symbol of contemporary life. Life has become competitive. To survive, people develop aggression. Winning is what matters, what counts. There need to be losers. In this post game touchdown, the young men on the field were transformed. They broke out of the traditional attitudes and behaviors of football, and demonstrated genuine concern and love for a person less fortunate than they. For a few moments, the two teams were one in their care for Trent. For a few moments, these young men were less opposing teams, and more people living what Jesus meant by the Reign of God.
The notion of the Reign of God was not unique to Jesus. The Jewish people, long before Jesus, longed for the coming of the Kingdom of God. At the center of their belief in the Kingdom was the sovereign God, Yahweh. They believed that this God would eventually conquer all of their enemies, all the other nations that had captured and persecuted them. In this perspective, the Jewish nation would become a political and militaristic power, never to be controlled or abused again. Jesus took the symbol of the Reign of God and radically transformed it.
In Mark 1:15, Jesus said, "I have good news for you. The Reign of God is here! Change your lives!" Jesus was saying that the Reign of God was and is a present reality, which calls us to ongoing life change and conversion. In Luke 4: 43, Jesus tells his followers he must go on to other towns to proclaim the Reign of God - because that is why he came. He identified the Reign of God as his mission to the world.
What did Jesus mean when he talked about the Reign of God? I believe that he was teaching people that only God can be the sovereign authority in our lives and in our world. He taught that God had dominion over all of creation. The commandments to live in this Reign of God are love of God, love of others, and love of ourselves. We are to extend mercy and justice to all people. This love, mercy, and justice are even to be extended to perceived enemies and people who have hurt us. We must always forgive each other. We must find time and place to connect with God prayerfully. At the center of this new vision and way of life, the Reign of God, is belief in and conviction about the Paschal nature of life - that life is a process of living, dying, and rising, which will extend through death into eternity. As the author of Revelation says this week: he is "... the firstborn of the dead." Jesus increasingly experienced himself as the embodiment of the Reign of God.
Jesus has told us that the Reign of God is here; but it is not complete. The Reign of God is in process; it is constantly emerging. Our role as baptized followers of Jesus is to use our gifts to help with the ongoing emerging of God's Reign. Curiously, Jesus said in John's gospel, as he encountered Pilate, that his kingdom is not here. Perhaps this was an expression of sadness and frustration that, after three years of his preaching and teaching, no one seemed to understand what he meant by the Reign Of God.
I do not believe that Jesus was concerned about himself being called a King. Rather he was concerned about this new vision and way of life that he called the Reign of God. In the earliest years of Christianity, it seems like the followers of Jesus forgot about his emphasis on the Reign of God. The Church began to preach and teach about the Church; and the Kingdom was lost sight of. It is contemporary scriptural scholarship that has helped us recapture the centrality of the Reign of God in the mission and ministry of Jesus, and for us.
The feast of Christ the King was begun in 1925 by Pope Pius XI, in his encyclical Quas Primas. The Pope was responding to growing secularism around the world, world wars, and the rise of dictators. Traditional Catholic people seemed to be giving their allegiance more to dictators and other worldly leaders than to Jesus. The Pope encouraged people to invite Jesus to reign in their hearts. He also was trying to make a statement to worldly leaders about the nature of Christ's Lordship and the rights of the Church to live with Christ as their dominant leader.
In today's gospel from John, Jesus identifies his Kingdom as a Kingdom Of Truth. In past weeks, I have written about moral courage - how people of moral courage embrace truths for which they know they will suffer and struggle. I also have written about true leadership as something that can cause others to attempt to assassinate the leader. Jesus was such a morally courageous leader, who ended up with a crown of thorns, and a cross for his throne. Any of us who seek to live his Kingdom of truth can expect similar treatment.
I invite us to pray together: Jesus, on this feast of Christ the King, we invite you again into our hearts to be our Lord and Savior. As you were willing to live the consequences of life In the Kingdom of Truth, please help us also to grow in morally courageous leadership. Amen.