And the LORD said to you, “You shall shepherd my people Israel and shall be commander of Israel.” When all the elders of Israel came to David in Hebron… they anointed him king of Israel. (2 Sam 5:2-3)
Many years after Moses and Joshua died (and not long after Samuel went into semi-retirement – 1 Sam 8:1) the Israelites begged the Lord to place a king over them even though God counseled them through Samuel that they would pay dearly for being ruled (1 Sam 8:11-13). The Lord appeared slighted by their request for an earthly king, not because it took away his sovereignty over the earth, but because it was a sign that Israel was beginning to stray and follow the pagan way. Yet, God honored Israel’s request and lifted up Saul as their first king.
God never does anything grudgingly, but only willingly. Thus it became God’s will that through the vehicle of earthly kingship, the Lord would save mankind by sending his only divine Son, Jesus Christ as everlasting king in the line of the Davidic household (2 Sam 7:11-12). Thus when Jesus descended to earth it was necessary that He teach about the true nature of kingship: “The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them …but among you it shall not be so. Rather, let the greatest among you be… as the servant” (Lk 22:25-26).
King David in his second psalm explains the malicious activity of these “kings of the gentiles”: “The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against the Lord and his anointed, saying, ‘Let us burst their bonds asunder and cast their cords from us’” (Ps 2:2-3). The heathen kings were an affront to God not only because they ruled harshly over their people but because they conspired against the Lord.
Now we being a free people have a natural umbrage for kings though we should never be wary in principal of a good king (St. Thomas Aquinas was himself fond of the constitutional monarchy!) We should also contemplate the full spiritual meaning of David’s second psalm which applies not only to monarchs but to all men, male and female; for the “kings” described here are not just the world’s sovereigns, but you and I who have traded in just, communal dominion over the earth (Gn 1:26) for unjust personal domination. The bonds that we burst and the cords that we cast away are marriage, family, friendship, and all the moral virtues which unite us in the image of God.
We place on our bulletin cover for this Feast of Christ the King a fresco by the Venetian master Giovanni Battista Tiepolo entitled King David Playing the Harp (1739). Here we see David in all his stately regalia not as a conqueror of men but as a servant of God offering his service to the angelic messenger above him. David has set at his feet the sword of Goliath which began his princely career. Tiepolo has painted David as a sage, a poet, and a leader through prayer. The harp that David plucks is itself is an indication of the king at prayer since many of the Psalms were composed for this musical instrument. Artistically, we no longer have the contrast of heaven and earth as in Mannerism, but their union in the Rococo style.
Whether we be kings over the earth or only kings of our own castles, we must faithfully serve others through the preservation of all our natural and gracious bonds to God the Father and his anointed Son, Jesus Christ.
-Steve Guillotte, Director of Pastoral Services