Jesus Christ, King of Thieves

Jean Fouquet, The Crucifixion

O Rex Gentium, et desideratus earum,
lapisque angularis, qui facis utraque unum:
veni, et salva hominem,
quem de limo formasti.

O King of the nations, and their desire,
the cornerstone making both one:
Come and save the human race,
which you fashioned from clay.

The O Antiphon today is a cry for the return of the King. It is the coming of this King that we look forward to during Advent: during the first half we look for His second coming and during the second half we remember His first coming and prepare ourselves to welcome Him anew at Christmas. However, as Americans, we do not have the best associations with kings. So what kind of king should we be anticipating? The Jews didn’t really know either; most of what Jesus said about the kingdom of God didn’t fit with their expectations. What it boils down to is that no matter what kind of king we expect Jesus to be, we’re probably going to be surprised.

For example, there is a sense in which Jesus Christ could be said to be the King of Thieves. Now, just so you don’t think I’m coming from way out in left field, Christ does compare Himself to a thief in the Gospels. We heard about it on the first Sunday of Advent:

Be sure of this: if the master of the house had known the hour of night when the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and not let his house be broken into. So too, you also must be prepared, for at an hour you do not expect, the Son of Man will come. (Mt 24:43–44)

King of Thieves can be said in two ways. One could be a King of Thieves if one were a king and all of one’s subjects were thieves, or if one were the most skilled of thieves. Jesus Christ could be said to be King of Thieves in both senses.

I think the first sense is best illustrated by the Gospel we heard on the feast of Christ the King, the last Sunday before Advent began. In this Gospel passage, Christ forgives the good thief and tells him that this day he will be with Christ in heaven: so a thief is among the first to enter into heaven. And since all men have sinned, aren’t all men in some sense thieves, having stolen something from God when we turned ourselves away from Him? It’s a theft that makes the thief less and doesn’t lessen God, but it’s a theft nonetheless. And so aren’t all of Christ’s human subjects thieves?

On the other hand, I think the second sense of King of Thieves is well expressed by a line from my favorite movie, The Princess Bride. Vizzini, holding the kidnapped Princess Buttercup at knifepoint, says to the Man in Black, “You’re trying to kidnap what I have rightfully stolen.” If we are all thieves, then when Christ redeems us, He is in a way stealing from us what we have first stolen. Of course everything belongs to Him by right, so His theft is more a reclamation of what is His own. And by this counter-theft Christ gives us the ability to turn back to God, once more in right relation with Him.

All of this is to say that it might be a good exercise to ponder what kind of king Christ will be when He comes again. Are we prepared to welcome Jesus Christ: King of Kings and Lord of Lords, meek and humble of heart, He who wounds but binds up, bearing in one hand perfect justice and the other hand overflowing with boundless mercy, coming to humble the mighty and exalt the lowly, ready to judge the living and the dead and usher in new heavens and a new earth over which He will reign in glory forever? Or when He comes at an hour we do not expect, will we look upon Him and say “not my king”?

Image: Jean Fouquet, The Crucifixion

You May Also Enjoy:

As You Wish You are my friends if you keep my commands. (Jn 15:14) Although we can be obedient out of fear, perfect obedience is the result of love. We obey those whom we love. The Princess Bride begins by introducing Westley and Buttercup. Buttercup had no greater pleasures in her young life than riding her horse and tormenting Westley the farm boy. “‘As you wish’ was all he ever said to her.” One day she realized “that when he said ‘as you wish’ what h...
Locking Out Jesus Jesus is the One who holds the keys to Heaven, but there is one door He won’t unlock without permission: the door of our hearts. Christmas is close, and today the Church’s liturgy calls upon Christ as the Key of David: “O Key of David, opening the gates of God’s eternal Kingdom: come and free the prisoners of darkness!” Jesus is the One who finally unlocked the promises that God made to David for a flourishing kingdom. He unlocked the chains o...
It’s Good to Serve the King “The Lord, our All-Powerful God, is King; let us rejoice, sing praise, and give Him glory! Alleluia!” In our society of the popular vote, rejoicing under the domination of a king is inconceivable. We view kings as despotic and tyrannical, the scourge of the medieval world, and the bane of many a hapless peasant. Even God himself tells his people that they will rue the day that they asked for a king (1 Samuel 8). And yet, the Lord God is called...
Holding Out for God What is it that we desire? With today’s O Antiphon, the Church invokes our Savior as “the King of the nations and their desired.” While it is true that the desire for a savior is present in all men, does the savior we meet in Jesus Christ satisfy the expectations and preconceived notions we’ve built up in association with that desire? Popular culture (or, at least, Bonnie Tyler) reveals something of what men naturally desire in a savior, or imagi...
Br. Bartholomew Calvano, O.P.

Written by:

Br. Bartholomew Calvano received a B.A. in Molecular Biology and Biochemistry/Mathematics/Computer Science from Rutgers. He worked for two years with The Brotherhood of Hope, helping out with campus ministry at Northeastern University in Boston, before entering the Order of Preachers in 2015. On