Ask a group of boomers who pops into their minds when they hear the word “king.” Some candidates might be simply “The King” (Elvis) or the King of Pop or, more soberly, some might remember “The Boss” singing: “Poor man wanna be rich/ Rich man wanna be king/ And a king ain’t satisfied/ Till he rules everything.”
“King” suggests someone at the top, exercising power and receiving adulation from all quarters. Even today, when kingship seems out of kilter with modern culture.
The Gospel on this feast of the Messiah king, Jesus, turns the royal ideology on its head. He reigns not from a throne but from the cross. God, who was to be the protector of the king, seems to have abandoned him as he faces death. Like the servant in Isaiah, he is despised and rejected, as the bystanders ridicule the image of the saving king, challenging him to prove his kingship by coming down from the cross and thus betray his command to his disciples to take up their cross and follow him.
The cross is where we least expect a king to be. Yet this is where we find Jesus. The cross is where we least want to be. Yet this is where our discipleship begins: allowing ourselves to be crucified on the cross of self-giving- when we encounter the bedraggled parent with a fussy child, the belligerent teen, the frustrated coworker. Only by beginning here, on the cross, will we hear Jesus say to us: “Amen, I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise.”