Becoming a King
Disciples of Christ are summoned to a lofty position: to rule as kings and queens by his side. “If we endure, we shall also reign with him” (2 Tim 2:12). But if this speaks to the glory of the age to come, the apostle also presents a present paradox: the Father has already “raised us up together and made us sit together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus” (Eph 2:6). The key to this mystery is our participation in the ongoing reign of the Messiah. By allowing him to reign in our hearts, we in turn share in his eternal reign. When we humble ourselves and submit to his will, he exalts us and appoints us heirs to his Kingdom. This is demonstrated clearly through the “Parable of the Publican and the Pharisee” (Luke 18:9–14). The self-righteous Pharisee, in praising himself and insulting the publican, is condemned by God; while the publican is vindicated by God in response to his sincere repentance. The proud man is brought low, while the humble man is exalted.
Therefore, the Kingdom our Lord has established is not of this world, and so is not shaped by fallen human reasoning and the will to power. Human society fabricates a false hierarchy structured according to prowess and power. And most often, those who rise to the top act not out of charity, but out of selfish ambition. However, Christ inverts this pyramid when he reveals that the first shall be last and the last first. Rather than endorsing the human saga of conflict and competition, the Lord teaches us to lead through service to others. In responding to the ambitions of his disciples, he asserts,
You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave— just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many (Matt 20:25–28).
The ultimate expression of this service to all is Christ’s self-offering on the cross, which St. Paul also points to as the evidence of God’s love for humanity (cf. Rom 5:8).
In order to fulfill our personal royal vocation, we must understand not only how to restore right relationships with other persons, but also how to interact with the entire cosmos that God has entrusted to our care. When Adam and Eve were tasked with cultivating and protecting the garden, God made clear that it did not belong to them. They were to be stewards, acting in his stead; but as they labored, he would also provide for them from the fruits of the garden. If we desire to restore such a relationship with creation we must once more perceive that everything belongs to God. “What do you have that you did not receive?” St. Paul asks (1 Cor 4:7). Everything we have (our life and our health) and everything we receive (either as the rewards of our just labors, or as a gift from others) is indeed a gift from the Lord. And since we do not possess it, we will be called to account for how we took care of each of these gifts entrusted to us. This includes our relationship with the natural world. Christians are commanded to respect and care for the environment and animal kingdom, always bearing in mind that we do this on behalf of God who created all.
A common motif in the New Testament is that of wealth and poverty. There is a tension between the sin of greed and materialism (mammon), and its opposite virtue, nonacquisitiveness.1 From a Christian perspective, scarcity is not really a problem related to economics, it is the outcome of a spiritual affliction. Fear constricts the heart and leads to greed. Selfishness poisons the soul and produces misers. But with Christ we are promised “life most abundant” (John 10:10). The breath of the Spirit looses the heart and awakens it to God's bounty. The only appropriate response to so great a gift is absolute generosity. Because everything belongs to the Lord, we must learn to stop grasping for it and instead to give freely. “So let each one give as he purposes in his heart, not grudgingly or of necessity; for God loves a cheerful giver” (2 Cor 9:7). While the Law of Moses established duties of tithing (giving a tenth of one’s livelihood), the Gospel teaches us to give our entire life to God. This should be reflected by our magnanimity and hospitality. As Christ makes clear, we shall be judged by how we share our treasures, time, and talents with others, whether it be our brethren in the Church, our neighbors, or strangers in need (Matt 25:31–46).
Non-acquisitiveness is the idea that Christians should not be enslaved to the material world. In other words, there is a danger in being addicted to the material world and all of its comforts and pleasures. As it is sometimes said, we are to hold the world in an open hand, not clenching it, but rather allowing it to be a blessing for whoever is in need. ↩