The Poorest King Who Ever Lived

This homily was given at Mater Dolorosa Parish, South San Francisco, CA on the Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe, November 20, 2022. The audio is available here.

In the Lord of the Rings, there is an ancient kingdom called Gondor.

For many generations, Gondor was ruled by a royal family of kings and queens.

But when the last king died and his heir disappeared, the king’s steward took charge of the kingdom.

And for almost a thousand years, the stewards, who had been the servants of the king, ruled Gondor as if they were kings themselves.

So when Boromir, the son of the steward, meets Aragorn, the last, secret descendant of the line of kings and the true heir to the throne, he says:

“Gondor has no king. Gondor needs no king.”

It’s not very appealing to have a king when you’re used to ruling yourself.

If there’s a king on a throne, then suddenly, my authority to make up my own rules, to determine my own destiny, is limited.

There’s another, higher authority that I must answer to. 

We think a king must be a tyrant.

We think someone ruling over us will only have his own interests in mind.

A king will use and abuse us, whereas if rule, then I can make sure that my needs are met, that I’m happy and safe and live a good life.

But Gondor, for all its pride, is on the verge of collapse.

The steward in charge has brought the kingdom to the point of ruin.

Gondor needs a king. Gondor needs a savior! … And so do we. 

I need a king, because if I look honestly at the kingdom of my own life, I have to admit that I am a useless steward—incapable of meeting my own needs, unable to engineer my own happiness, powerless to save myself from sickness, from loss, from grief, from despair, from death.

If that describes you, too, then this Sunday is very good news … because we have a king, and this king is no tyrant.

Ours is the poorest king who ever lived.

His throne is the cross.

No golden crown for him, but a circlet of thorns; not dressed in rich clothes, but stripped naked and exposed before the mockery of the crowds.

“Save yourself, you king; if you are the king, then get down off that cross and save yourself and us!”

Even in mocking him, they reveal the depths of their desperation for a savior, a true king with the power to deliver them from themselves, the terrible tyranny of self-rule, the desperate need to succeed on their own.

But our king, Jesus, does not get down from that cross.

He just … hangs there, between heaven and earth.

Jesus, who is God, created the heavens and the earth and everything in them, could have conquered the world without lifting a finger.

But he, the All-Powerful God, chose to make himself powerless.

He humbled himself as far as that, because He was after a greater prize than earthly kingdoms, greater by far than wealth and power and glory.

Jesus Christ came to win our hearts and souls back for God, His Father, and to win that kingdom, He had to show us what the Father is really like: 

Not a tyrant, not a bully, not an abuser in the sky, not a threat to our freedom, but a loving and kind and tender Father, a merciful Father, who gives everything He has away out of love for us.

Jesus Christ, the King on the cross, is the perfect image of the Father’s love.

And to all of us who admit that we need a king, Jesus gives us a simple invitation: “Come to me, all you who are weary and heavy-burdened; come into my kingdom, and I will give you rest. Come and learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart.” 

Today, at this Holy Mass, as we receive Jesus Christ, the crucified King of the Universe, veiled here under the appearance of bread, we ask Jesus to rule over our own lives, in every detail.

And as we pray, “Thy kingdom come,” we ask our most humble King to teach us how to live in His kingdom:

Jesus, teach us your way of humility instead of pride, meekness instead of insisting on our own way, powerlessness before God instead of grasping for control.

As we surrender our lives to the gentle rule of Jesus and learn the way of life of the kingdom of God, we begin to taste the peace, the happiness, the security, the freedom that we could not achieve on our own.

We will suffer, as our King suffered, but we will suffer like Jesus on the cross: in our suffering, we will be free, and no one will be able to take away our joy. 

And on the last day, when the veil is torn apart and the Heavenly King is revealed in all His glory, when every knee shall bend before the King of All, we shall cry out with all the angels and saints: “Blessed be the Kingdom of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, now and ever, and unto the ages of ages.”

And we will hear him say: “Amen, I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise.” 

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