Christ the King – Accepting No Substitutes

Statue of Christ the King

Cristo Rey (Christ the King), 1953, Cali, Colombia
(About this Image)

Then he said,
“Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”
He replied to him,
“Amen, I say to you,
today you will be with me in Paradise.”
(Luke 23:42–43)

Fr. Smith’s Commentary on the Second Reading
Solemnity of Christ the King
Colossians 1:12–20
November 20, 2022

We examined selections from the Letter to the Colossians earlier this year. Indeed, we read Colossians 1:15–20. Today we add verses 12–14 and do so on the Solemnity of Christ the King. Our emphasis previously was on the healing of the cosmos with ecological considerations. Today it will how and where Jesus leads us.

Colossians was a textile center and substantially Gentile, but Jewish families moved to this area and by the time of Paul numbered about 10,000 people in the general area. The Christian community was not founded by Paul, but he was esteemed by them. Paul, or a successor who felt confident in using his name, had no hesitation in instructing them.

Our reading today begins in the middle of a sentence. Although, we are uncertain who wrote the letter the author, like Paul, obeyed the conventions of Greek composition and begins with a thanksgiving. He tells the Colossians how he has heard of their faith and seen how their church has grown both in breadth and depth. He will conclude this thanksgiving with a prayer:

Therefore, from the day we heard this,
we do not cease praying for you
and asking that you may be filled
with the knowledge of his will
through all spiritual wisdom and understanding

(Col 1:9)

Because they are on the right road, therefore, Paul does not pray for their repentance or a change of behavior but that they will continue to know and do what is right. Knowlege in this case is not knowledge about Jesus but the experience of him which gives what are otherwise seen as the gifts of the Holy Spirit. (Isa 11:1-3)

This will affect how they live:

To live in a manner worthy of the Lord,
so as to be fully pleasing,\ in every good work bearing fruit
and growing in the knowledge of God,

(Col 1:10)

Living with the spirit is the way to a humanly flourishing life, bearing fruit and growing in the knowledge of God.

Although we will not examine the details, this letter is written because of some problems which Paul or the leaders of the community that followed him were afraid were infecting the Colossian Church. This would take arduous work to uproot

strengthened with every power,
in accord with his glorious might,
for all endurance and patience, with joy

(Col 1:11)

Our passage this week begins here.

Giving thanks to the Father,
who has made you fit to share
in the inheritance of the holy ones in light.

(Col 1:12)

It is thought that part of the reason for this letter was that some members of the community believed that Paul’s teaching was not enough, and other beliefs and practices had to be added. Thus, Paul assures them that they have definitively passed from death to life, from darkness to light. This was not because of our own actions but the power of God

He delivered us from the power of darkness
and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son,
in whom we have redemption,
the forgiveness of sins.

(Col 1:13–14)

This power is seen most clearly in Jesus’ redeeming us from the powers of darkness and forgiving our sins. Gentile converts would have been moved by this. They most likely believed in a multitude of gods and powers with whom they would need to negotiate. For Paul belief in Jesus is all that is necessary.

Rather than developing a clear theological statement he sings a song. Indeed, the congregation might have been familiar with the basic hymn before the letter and could sing along. Also, it may have been written by Paul

He is the image of the invisible God,
the firstborn of all creation.

(Col 1:15)

From The Greek word we are translating as image (eikon) we also get icon. Although used more widely now in a secular sense icon originally were pictures of Jesus, Mary, or the Saints in the Eastern Church and were “windows” to the reality of the sacred. Sacrament would come closer to our understanding in the West. When we meet Jesus in the flesh, we meet God.

For Paul, this means that Jesus was the agent of both creation and recreation. Paul will call him the firstborn both here and in verse 18. The church was still struggling to create a language to express the reality of the Trinity. Firstborn does not mean that Jesus was a creature even the first of creatures but that he shares the power and honor of the Faher as would a firstborn son.

Paul brings this out in the next line:

For in him were created all things in heaven and on earth,
the visible and the invisible,

(Col 1:16)

What we translate as “For in him” would be more clearly expressed as “By or through him.” Jesus created the universe and is above it. Paul tolerates no ambiguity on this point. He includes the celestial (heaven), the terrestrial (earth), the physical (visible), and the spiritual (invisible). He finds it necessary to be even more specific with the spiritual.

whether thrones or dominions or principalities or powers;
all things were created through him and for him.

(Col 1:16)

Ancient peoples believed that there were many spiritual—non-bodily—beings. Some we would now call angels, but others were ruling spirit. They were not necessarily demonic but not worthy of worship either. This includes the Jews. Early in the Bible we read in Deuteronomy:

When the Most High apportioned the nations,
when he divided humankind,
he fixed the boundaries of the peoples
according to the number of the gods

(Dt 32:8)

These were the ruling spirits of nations and peoples. Paul is clear that as Jesus created them, they are subject to him:

All things were created through him and for him.

(Col 1:16)

More than subject they were created: for him: even the ruling spirits of pagan nations will be fulfilled only in him.

Not only did he create all things, but he also maintains them in existence.

He is before all things,
and in him all things hold together.

(Col 1:17)

This is not a new insight for Paul. He expressed it earlier to the Corinthians:

Indeed, even though there may be
so-called gods in heaven or on earth—
as in fact there are many gods and many lords—
yet for us there is one God, the Father,
from whom are all things and for whom we exist,
and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things
and through whom we exist.

(1 Cor 8:5–6)

Yet creation was not enough. Because of our sin we needed to be recreated.

He is the head of the body, the church.
He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead,

(Col 1:18)

This recreation was through his body, the Church. Church for Paul usually means the individual churches, closer to parish for us. Here it means all the communities formed in Jesus’ name throughout the world whether formed by Paul or not. Notice he is very clear that the Church is non-negotiable.

Just as Jesus was the agent of creation as “firstborn” so now he is the agent of creation by being the firstborn from the dead. He is thus preeminent, not only the beginning of creation but now seen ever more clearly in his redemption the goal as well.

This is because he is identical with the Father.

For in him all the fullness was pleased to dwell,

(Col 1:19)

The fullness is God, and it refers to Jesus as the means by which the invisible and almighty Deity can contact humans. Before this the closest was the temple. A good example of many can be found in the Psalms:

Why do you look with envy, O many-peaked mountain,
at the mount that God desired for his abode,
where the LORD will reside forever

(Ps 68:16)

and through him to reconcile all things for him:

Making peace by the blood of his cross

(Col 1:20)

This was through creating a covenant relationship. For Jews, this required a sacrifice which Jesus offered on the Cross. This is a very specific and necessary event which created peace. As we have seen many times before, this Peace is shalom, which in the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke is called the kingdom. True peace is harmony between God and humanity, humanity itself, and humanity and nature.

Today we celebrate the Solemnity of Christ the King, the preeminent celebration of Jesus our King. We experience that here and now, but it will increase later both at the general resurrection and then in heaven itself. Let us sing today with Paul that we can be his subjects only if we accept no substitutes.