THE SOLEMNITY OF OUR LORD JESUS CHRIST THE KING – C – November 24, 2013

 

The second Book of Samuel 5:1-3

St. Paul’s Letter to the Colossians 1:12-20

The holy Gospel according to Luke 23:35-43

The Liturgical Year concludes with the celebration of the Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ the King.  Through the thirty-three Sundays of Ordinary Time we journeyed with Luke’s Gospel in the Liturgy of the Word.  Once again, Ordinary Time concludes as we ponder the beginning of Christ’s reign.  The Feast of Christ the King is an odd one to celebrate in this country with a people who pride themselves in the fact that we do not have a king (or queen) ruling over us.  The only royalty we have are those celebrities of sports and entertainment before whom the commoners bow and adore and scream their hosannas.

I think of a painting portraying Jesus as king.  The figure is regally gowned, his head bearing a splendid, bejeweled crown of gold.  He carries an orbed scepter in his hand.  Perhaps that is how Jesus is adorned at the Father’s right hand, but I seriously doubt it.  There is nothing in the Gospels that would correspond to Jesus’ being that kind of king.  Clearly, the opposite is true.  Jesus, as the full revelation of God, might urge us to alter the image we have in mind of the Lord God Almighty.  After all, Our God is a god who pleads with us to let God be god in our lives so that we can be God’s people.  God, in Hebrew Bible, can rage and wreck havoc on the wicked.  That’s true.  Most often, however, God rushes to forgive even in anticipation of signs of repentance.  (Remember the parable of the Prodigal Son?)

It might be jarring for the newbie to hear the Gospel that is proclaimed on this solemnity.  If you could choose, which pericope would you select for this feast’s Liturgy of the Word?  Jesus walking on the water, calming the wind and the waves?  Or, perhaps, you would opt for Jesus cleansing the Temple, ridding it of the moneychangers?  Real kings are powerful, aren’t they with forces at the beckoning to mop up the spoils?  In the First Reading, David, Jesus’ ancestor, is a commanding presence, one who leads soldiers into battle and helps them be victorious.  The people give him power over them as they anoint him king.  Jesus is king in David’s line.

Is that what we hear as the Gospel is proclaimed?  Jesus hangs on the Cross, nailed to it with a mocking sign tacked above his head: This is the King of the Jews.  Those Jewish leaders gathered around and watching, taunt Jesus and dare him to give some evidence of the powers that were manifest in the miracles he was reported to have performed.  The soldiers, that is, the gentiles, the foreign rule, taunt him as they offer him wine to dull his pain: If you are King of the Jews, save yourself.

Crucifixion is a grisly, slow, and torturous form of capital punishment.  Fortunately we are spared the awful details.  But if this reading depicts Christ, the King, that must mean that the cross is his throne and his crown is of thorns.  In the 21st chapter of the Book of Revelation, Christ, the King, declares: Behold, I make all things new!  That applies what he thinks it means for him to reign as king.  There are ample implications for those who wish to reign with Jesus.

In the Last Supper scene in John’s Gospel, Jesus teaches the disciples what his being Lord and Master means.  He moves among them clad as a servant and washes their feet.  That is an image of Christ the King.  His command?  What I have done for you, so must you do for one another.  In other words, the highest aspiration Jesus’ disciples can have is to be sharers in Christ’s reign as feet washers.  Hear Pope Francis’s call for a poorer church serving the needs of the poor.  Witness his renunciation of the splendor of the regalia and residence of his predecessors.  And there are those bristling in resentment at the direction Francis is taking.

Don’t miss the manifestations of power and authority in the Gospel.  Jesus is crucified between two criminals, the bad thief and the good thief, as they are popularly called.  It is interesting that often times when stories are concocted about those two, tellers have no trouble assigning terrible deeds, capital crimes to the bad thief.  However, in their estimation the good thief must have really meant to be good all along.  He just traveled with the wrong company.  I don’t think so.  The good thief may well have been as bad as the bad thief and just as guilty of crimes.  This encounter may well be a proof for one of the accusations leveled against Jesus that merited his crucifixion.  This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.

Notice what the bad thief says to Jesus.  To revile means to berate, or, to insult.  That would be the tone in his voice as he said to Jesus: Are you not the Christ?  Save yourself and us.  How well did he know Jesus?  How much had he heard about him?  We don’t know.  But it can be assumed that he knew enough that he could taunt Jesus with the title of Messiah, or Christ.  Chances are that had Jesus performed the miracle the thief sought, he just might have become a disciple.  On the other hand, maybe not.  History has borne evidence to the fact that the enthusiasm of infant faith sometime does not perdure.

Now witness the exchange between Jesus and the other thief.  The difference is marked.  Rarely in the Gospels is Jesus addressed by his name.  Usually he is called Master, or, Lord.  There is no evidence of disrespect, but rather of a degree of familiarity when the thief, after admitting to the justice in the condemnation of the two thieves, says: Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.  Perhaps he had been in the crowd a time or two as Jesus taught.  Perhaps he had witnessed a miracle.  Perhaps there had been an earlier conversation.  We don’t know.  What we do know is that this is a moment of grace, a conversion moment.  The good thief makes a declaration of faith in the one dying with him, a faith that has nothing but grace to support it.  He is not scandalized by the degradation Jesus suffers.  That is what faith is like.  If there were ample signs of Jesus’ power and majesty, if he radiated God’s favor, it would not take faith for the thief to acknowledge Jesus’ authority.  You do not believe in something you can see clearly.  The saints in heaven do not believe in God.  They know God even as they are known.

A word about the word remember.  To remember means more than calling to mind a past event or someone no longer present.  When, in the course of the Last Supper, Jesus said over the Bread and the Wine: Do this in my memory, that is translated as, do this and I am present to you.  This kind of remembering makes the whole mystery present.  That is the implication of the thief’s plea.  He is begging to be present to Jesus when Jesus enters his reign.

Jesus answers the petition with these words: Amen, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.  In other words, you have my promise that it will happen.  Today.  Notice that Jesus does not say, after you have spent some time in Purgatory atoning for your sins, then you may enter Paradise.  He says it will happen today.

Paradise is where the saga began, in the first book of the Bible.  In that myth Adam and Eve lived in close relationship with God in an ordered universe before sin disrupted everything and severed humanity’s relationship with God and with each other.  Jesus’ passion and death, his full acceptance of the implications of being human, his emptying himself of the powers of his divinity, this is our salvation that will be attested to by his resurrection.  The re-ordering of creation has begun.  Sin is forgiven.  That is the substance of the magnificent rhapsody that St. Paul sings in the second reading from the Letter to the Colossians.  For in (Christ) all the fullness was pleased to dwell, and through (Christ) to reconcile all things for (God) making peace by the blood of his cross through him, whether those on earth or those in heaven.  Christ’s reign begins.

Some things to think about as we celebrate the Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe.  I know that I am not the first to say that we are living in very difficult times.  Perhaps the downturn in the economy and the slowness of the recovery are the sources of the pain.  But I wonder if the economic woes have become excuses for unleashing of vitriolic expressions – verbal and physical.  Otherwise civilized people hurl diatribes of racist remarks.  There is no reluctance to make blanket accusations of terrorism against all Islamic people.  The percentage of American people who remain convinced that President Obama is a Muslim and foreign-born in spite of his profession of faith as a Christian and a birth certificate that attests to his having been born in Hawaii is incredible.  I was appalled the other day to read a horrific statement on a bumper sticker on a car parked in a church parking lot.  I won’t quote it here.  The owner was probably at morning Mass and more than likely would receive Eucharist.

Conservative Christian Fundamentalists condemn those who are not Christians.  In the church there is evidence of rising anti-Semitism.  An alleged anti-Semitic pope is on the docket for canonization.  Members of the Assembly walked out of the church recently when they heard the priest preach that he believed that as long as they were sincere in their beliefs and wanted to serve God, Jews, Muslims and Protestants would make it to heaven along with their Catholic brothers and sisters.  (Pope Francis recently added atheists, sincere in their efforts to do good, to that list, by the way.)  Sexism survives and thrives.  How dare the pope say he didn’t feel able to judge gays!  And there is evidence of self-aggrandizing among the clergy.

As we gather to celebrate Eucharist on this Solemnity, may we assemble as a people who give clear testimony to our believe in Christ who reigns from the Cross and whose kingship is expressed in humble and loving service to little ones.  The Second Vatican Council declared that the Church is the People of God.  The Church is the Body of Christ.  As we eat of the One Bread and drink from the One Cup, may we attest to our belief that in Christ all people are brothers and sisters in the one family of God and that all have been saved through his dying and rising.

And then, of course, there is the need to acknowledge that Christ the King lives primarily in the poor, in the little ones, dare we say it, in the off scouring of society.  But, then, we have his word on that, (as Matthew’s Judgment Scene informs us).

If we didn’t get it right this time, don’t despair.  Next Sunday will be the First Sunday of Advent, the beginning of a new Liturgical Year.  We will begin the journey all over again, this time with Matthew’s Gospel.  It is possible that then we will get the message and be transformed.  You never know.  With Christ, all things are possible.

Sincerely,

Didymus

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