Living the Word: Jesus is not merely king, but our Lord and the Son of God

Shawn Reeves

By Shawn Reeves

Palm Sunday of the Lord’s Passion/March 28

(At the procession with palms)

Mark 11:1-10 or John 12:12-16

(At the Mass)

Isaiah 50:4-7; Psalm 22:8-9,17-18,19-20,23-24; Philippians 2:6-11; Mark 14:1 — 15:47 

My 6-year-old is often impatient with his siblings. Usually, it is during play, when he has imagined a very specific narrative of interaction that he expects them to execute with precision. Invariably, they don’t, and he becomes perturbed. But his siblings were simply being who they are, with their own imaginations and ingenuity, a reality his little, 6-year-old heart has difficulty understanding and tolerating. Rather than seeing others in the complexities of who they are, we tend to be impatient with them because the truth of who they are does not correspond with who we desire (or expect) them to be, quickly leading to our misunderstanding (and even misrepresentation) of them.

Jesus is the victim of grave misunderstanding, as the Gospel and the procession Gospel narratives illustrate that it is hard to disentangle the idea of a monarch from cultural expectations, positive and negative. In his instruction concerning a colt, Jesus directs them to declare “the Master has need of it,” using a word (kurios) that could alternatively be translated “Lord.” And when He enters Jerusalem on the colt, an image harkening back to Zechariah 9:9 (“your king is coming to you, a just savior . . . riding on a donkey, on a colt”), the people see Him merely as an earthly leader, announcing, “Blessed is the kingdom of our father David that is to come!” While they misunderstand the full extent of Jesus’ identity, at the moment He fits their expectations.

But that would soon change.

When Pilate demands, “Are you the king of the Jews,” he is not inquiring if Jesus is a divine monarch but a temporal one, thus Jesus’ ambiguous reply — Jesus is a king, but not the kind of king Pilate is asking about. Jesus is then satirically clothed in royal purple, pierced with a mock diadem of thorns, saluted with the sarcastic praise, “Hail, king of the Jews,” and mounted on the cross with a sardonic posting that read “King of the Jews.” In a series of ironies, Jesus’ identity as a divine king is consistently misunderstood or simply ignored.

Even as the prophetic events of our responsorial psalm (Psalm 22) play out fluidly before them, they even misunderstand His cries on the cross — “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Reciting the first line of Psalm 22, Jesus prayerfully abbreviates the Psalm which declares “kingship belongs to the Lord” (Psalm 22:29) and triumphantly associates Himself with its concluding words, “I will live for the Lord . . . the generation to come will be told of . . . the deliverance you have brought” (Psalm 22:31-32).

RADICALLY MISUNDERSTOOD

“Though He was in the form of God,” declares our second reading, He “did not regard equality with God something to be grasped. Rather, He emptied himself.” Far from advocating He somehow relinquished Himself of his own divinity, St. Paul is advocating a divine gesture of vulnerability. The Greek verb kenoo connotes a depriving of something, a “laying aside,” and an outpouring of self.

Instead of jealously clutching to the right to have His divinity recognized and revered, He “laid aside” public appreciation of his glory. Instead of “grasping” firmly to human acknowledgement of His equality with the Father, Jesus genuinely poured himself into the human condition, with all its limitations and difficulties, “emptying” Himself of the adoration He is due and making Himself susceptible to being radically misunderstood.

But there was one who understood — the centurion. Keenly aware that a cultural definition of a king is too shallow to define accurately who Jesus is, he humbly announces, “Truly this man was the Son of God.” He not merely “comes in the name of the Lord.” He is the Lord. He “speak[s] to the weary,” proclaiming “a word that will rouse them” because He is the Word of the Father. “Found human in appearance,” He is also “Christ” and “Lord.”

When the centurion “saw how [Jesus] breathed His last,” he knew Jesus is king but not merely king. He is the Son of God.

SHAWN REEVES has served as the director of religious education at St. John’s Catholic Newman Center in Champaign since 2001. He and his family attend St. Elizabeth of Hungary Church in Thomasboro.

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