About a month ago, one of my seminary Scripture professors died – Msgr. John Meier. Not that I kept in touch with him or anything, but he became so famous as a scholar of the historical Jesus that his death was widely reported in the Catholic world and beyond — The New York Times, for example. Meier’s most well-known work was the groundbreaking series of books, A Marginal Jew.
If Jesus of Nazareth was a marginal Jew in his time, the Christ of faith whom we celebrate today as king of the universe can also be thought of as somewhat of a “marginal monarch.”
Obviously the resurrection of Jesus – and the worldwide movement that followed – transformed our sense of Jesus. He went from that marginal historical figure in his time to the one who almost anyone – from every faith to none at all — has at least heard of today.
But, still, to this day, there’s a strong sense that his reign as Christ – open to everyone – has a special place for those on the margins, the peripheries, those who are hurting, forgotten, in flight, imprisoned and more. Unlike worldly rulers who often cater to the one percent of the elite (and who may be members themselves), Christ the King has another take on the “one percent” – as in the one lost sheep whom the shepherd seeks, even if it means leaving the 99.
Today’s Gospel is a great example. Jesus, as a criminal condemned to death, consoles and then promises eternity to a fellow criminal on the cross in their last earthly moments. Lifting up the lowly, exalting the humble, pointing to a realm of peace, justice and love – these are the hallmarks of Christ’s reign.
Even this Eucharist we celebrate each day in his memory, featuring the fruit of simple grain and grapes – bread and wine – is a exaltation of humble elements of creation.
As earthly citizens of this reign of God, and hopefully with aspirations of the heavenly citizenship that goes with it, we all want to be good followers of this marginal Jew raised up to be king of the universe. We continue to cultivate our personal relationship with Jesus as our Lord and Savior, in our prayer, in our study, in our actions. And by staying particularly close to the marginal ourselves – spreading love, solidarity, mercy, forgiveness and care wherever we go – the marginal monarchy is reflected in our own little but really not-so-little ways.