Fr. Michael's Thoughts on Biblical Imagery: Qualities




            In the study of any created being or thing, two ideas come to mind: the ontological nature (that is its beingness) and the qualities of that being or thing. So, for example when one wants to study the nature of human beings, what first comes to mind is that we are all created in the very image and likeness of God. This fact is the same and unchangeable in all human beings. The other aspect to consider is the qualities of human beings and for this, it varies from person to person. Though I am a human being like you (my dear reader), we may differ in our qualities.

At times we differ in our qualities because “a quality is an attribute or a property characteristic of a being or an object.” A quality carries the nuance of: a kind, a nature, a trait, a character, an element, a sort, an attribute, an endowment, an essence, a mark, etc. One’s qualities highlights his/her uniqueness.

            I have chosen for our reflection the theme “qualities” principally because of today’s solemnity. As we end the Liturgical Year C of 2021/22, Mother Church invites us once again to close the year’s curtain with the celebration of Christ as the King of kings. And today, based on the readings given to us for our reflections I would like the term “qualities” to be our guide word.

What are the qualities of the King we are celebrating today? The term king is not ascribed to Jesus alone for history tells us of the kings who have reigned in our world. If our memories are fading and we do not remember all good and notorious kings, at least we remember the kings/emperors who reigned in Rome, Britain, the Americas, Asiatic kings and the kings of Africa. As Africans we remember with pride the Pharaohs of Egypt, the kings of Morocco in Northern Africa, while in west Africa we remember the great Asante kings and the obas of Benin kingdom but down south we can’t but remember the great kings of the Zulu and Swazi lands; and on the lands of east Africa we remember the stylish and ever decorative kings of Ethiopia and Buganda.

            Reading the Bible also reminds us of many kings in the regions of Palestine. Some were good and God-fearing while for others the least said the better. The Old Testament writers seem to agree that David was a model king for all the others and no wonder that Yahweh chose his family line for his only begotten Son, Jesus Christ. God ordained that David be used as a prefiguration of the kingship of Jesus Christ.

            Like studying the nature of a being or a thing, the study of “a king” also brings two ideas to bear. The term “king” can be used to described all kings but for one to know and distinguish one king from the other, the study of their qualities is very important. In today’s first reading and Gospel reading, the inspired writers highlight three basic qualities that make Jesus stands out as the King of kings though in two of the qualities David is used as a prefiguration. The qualities of Jesus as the King of kings (based on today’s readings) are: firstly, as a king he identified himself with his subjects; secondly, as a king, he came to the throne with a track record of service to the people; and lastly, as a king, he was ready to sacrifice himself on the cross in order to save humankind.

            It may have been because of these qualities that the church gave us a second reading that nuance a prayer of thanksgiving. In the second reading St Paul prayed: “Brothers and sisters: Let us give thanks to the Father, who has made you fit to share in the inheritance of the holy ones in light….” For through the kingship of Jesus Christ “He has 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…” With this prayer, let us now study the qualities of our King of kings.

The first quality is identification. Like David and Jesus anybody who wishes to be a leader (a king) should be accepted and acclaimed because he can be identified with the people (his subjects). The inspired writer tells us in today’s first reading that when all the tribes gathered in Hebron, the quality that the people look at to consider David as their king was that he was their bone and their flesh. They said to David: “Here we are, your bone and your flesh…” They could identify themselves with David. In a similar vein when God wanted to give us Jesus as our king, he made him to take on human flesh, to become one like us except sin.

            If one can be considered as a leader of people, before the people acclaim him/her (as the tribes did in Hebron), they should certify if that person can be identified with the people. In our world today, we celebrate great leaders like Pope St John Paul II and Mother St Teresa of Calcutta because they identified themselves with the poorest of the poor during their service reign. Pope St. John Paul II did not stay in the Apostolic Palace in Rome to enjoy his rule as the “Pontifex Maximus” but he traveled to every cover of the world caring for all God’s children without discrimination. He visited towns and villages that normally a vicar of Christ will not visit. He touched and embraced disfigured people that the sight of them were disdain for others. Mother Teresa also identified herself with every person who had the breath of life. She had special care for those who were dying in the slums of our world. For her, even if a person is dying, the person ought to die with a smile on his/her face. When leaders imitate this quality of Jesus, then it is appropriate for us to hang their pictures in our homes and offices. Do we see this quality in some of our leaders? Your guess is probably good as mine. Let us leave the politicians aside for today for obvious reasons. My concern here has to do with priests. We need our priests to rediscover the age-old quality of Christian leaders. Some priests find it difficult to spend the night in village communities. I will leave out the details for this discussion in our formation houses. But please pray for your priests and religious because some are living as kings who cannot identify themselves with the poor.

            The second quality that is worth considering is “track record.” Why did the tribes decide to make David king? Because he came to them with a track record of service to them when he was not even their king. The people said of David: “In days past, when Saul was our king, it was you who led the Israelites out and brought them back…” The Akan of Ghana has a saying that ‘the one who has done it before if (s)he says (s)he will do it again should not invite arguments…” Like David we will be hailing Jesus in our principal streets today as our King because of what he has done for us in the past and the present. If someone wishes to lead, then common sense will tell you to investigate his/her track record of service. In seminary and religious formation today, background checks have become very important for quality formation. It is Christian for one to think that each person no matter his ugly past, deserves a second chance but common sense has it that before you give anybody a second chance just be aware of his past records. There are some religious, social and political leaders who have used the Machiavellian deception on us. They came to seek our approval to lead us as servants only for them to live out their real character in office.

            The last but not the least of the qualities inferred from today’s readings is a king’s ability to sacrifice himself for his subjects. One of the demands of a good king (like David and Jesus) is the readiness to sacrifice one’s life for the sake of saving others. In the gospel reading we read of how Jesus suffered and died for the sake of saving the world. His betrayers and killers mocked him in these words: “He saved others, let him save himself if he is the chosen one, the Christ of God…” but little did they know that through his sacrifice on the cross he was saving the world. In fact, the salvific effect of his death was felt that afternoon. The inspired writer tells us that one of the criminals who was crucified with him was saved that afternoon.

            On this last quality I would like to beg people who are always given the chance to lead that they should not buy into the idea of only “do what you can.” If our forebears did only what they could we would not be enjoying the fruits of their labors. Some of our forebears sacrificed their lives for us to get what we are enjoying now. It is our turn to do same. OUR LADY OF PERPETUAL HELP PRAY FOR US.


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