11-20-16 Readings: Samuel 5:1-3 Ps 122:1-2, 3-4, 4-5 ,Colossians 1:12-20, Luke 23:35-43
Most of us have some pretty weird images in our minds when we hear the word “King”. Perhaps you think of TV images of British royal family, with huge spectacles of weddings, the gloved hand waving slowly from the motorcade, and the invasive pictures taken by the tabloids. Maybe you think of palaces, golden crowns with jewels, and social elites. Some think about the King Arthur stories or movies of heavy handed monarchs with no compassion for the impoverished peasants they rule. All in all, kings are not like anything in our lives, and, as students of American history, we may even have a cultural dislike and distrust of kings.
So we find ourselves at a loss to understand why we would celebrate Christ as a King. I will suggest that we should travel back in time, back to King David of the Old Testament. I pick this point in time because we are about to begin the season of Advent, and will soon read that Jesus was of the family of David; there is something special about the Kingship of David.
Our 1st reading comes from 2nd Samuel, the book of history about the reign of David. Saul was the 1st king of Israel. God directed his prophet Samuel to anoint David as the next king. After Saul’s death, all of the tribes of Israel came to David and announced, “Here we are, your bone and your flesh. (When) Saul was king, it was you who led the Israelite army out (to war) and brought them back (triumphant). (God) said to you, ‘You shall shepherd my people Israel (in their relationships with each other and with me) and shall be commander (of the military forces) of Israel.’” This marks the moment when twelve tribes, previously only loosely connected, really became a unified kingdom. What were they saying? Their sense of solidarity under David’s rule was so strong that they refer to Genesis 2:23, when God makes a woman from the man and Adam exclaims, “This one, at last, is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh.” The tribal leaders of Israel are declaring their people to be one with this King who was chosen by God.
Our Psalm offers a snapshot of exactly this – all of the tribes in Jerusalem, flowing up to the temple together. The people are rejoicing in each other as they feel the unity, and they rejoice at being together and in worshiping God as one community. This is also an image of the heavenly Jerusalem, where for eternity we come to God, cleansed of our ideological differences, as one body in love.
From this we get powerful images that transcend culture and time. We are all one in God. God walks closely with us; God is the source of all that is good. Amazingly, God took David, an adulterer and murderer, a warrior and politician, and used his gifts to make a unified people out of twelve tribes which had fought among and against themselves. We too, can be somewhat less than perfect, and still be God’s beloved people, in a mutually loving relationship, and our gifts can be used to bring peace and community from hatred and chaos.
But we cannot miss the image of warrior in this story, because that image led to the popular idea of the Messiah, or Christ, as a military leader, a King like David, who subdued all of Israel’s enemies. The people of Jesus’ time were more than willing to believe that the Messiah would destroy the Roman armies that oppressed them, and would bring peace to Israel once more. As a result, the Romans took no chances with this “so-called” Messiah. The sign, “This is the King of the Jews” makes the crime against Roman power clear. It is the lowest of mean-spirited domination to use the title of “King” in this way. The crucifixion of Christ offers an opportunity for the rulers, the soldiers, and the thieves to mock Jesus, this man who apparently will do nothing to save his own life.
But love that is willing to suffer is greater than the power to dominate. Jesus is indeed a King, but his reign does not end at the temporal limits of one place or time. He tells the thief who defends him, that “Today you will be with me in Paradise.”
What is it with that “today” thing? It is a term Luke uses to announce a significant and almost breathtaking change. While not necessarily some measure of time, it marks an event has begun a new day in our lives. At the nativity story in Luke 2:11, the angel tells the shepherds that “Today a savior is born; he is Christ the Lord. In the synagogue of Nazareth in Luke 4:21, Jesus reads from Isaiah 61 that he has been anointed to preach, proclaim, recover, and release, and says, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing”. In Luke 19:9, Jesus says of Zacchaeus, “Today salvation has come to this house…for the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost.” Suddenly, the Kingdom of God has broken through and the unexpected, the unimaginable has happened, “Today,” St Paul would say in Colossians, “(We were) delivered from the power of darkness and transferred to the kingdom of God’s beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.”
And so, an entirely new image of “king” has entered our lives. It is the reversal of all that we may have been thinking. He is the king who serves us, not the mighty monarch we cower before. He is the king who died at human hands, so that we can join him in eternity, not the warrior who sends us out to fight his battles. He does not have an army. He has no need to protect himself, but he shields us. He forgives those who offend his laws; he does not punish but restores. He does not tax, but invites us to his banquet. He is ridiculed, scorned, mocked, and appears politically powerless, yet he performs miracles and leans his ear to the softest whispering of a prayer. This is a King who has no need of violence or vengeance, no use for envy or lust or desire, yet he controls the wind and the waves. This King is innocent of any sin, yet knows all of our follies, loving us while we are at our worst. This King needs no riches, furs or purple robes, but is himself the source of all beauty.
In the end, we call Jesus “King” because our vocabularies do not yet know the fullness of his Glory. The Title “King” tells us more of what he is not than what he is. But he gave us a concrete gift that we hold dear. Jesus left us the gift of the Eucharist, where we draw together, like King David’s people, where we can be joyful as we recall his life and teachings, his death and triumphant resurrection, where we know we are one with the body and blood of our Christ, and will be forever.
As I have said in past years, the Feast of Christ the King is a rather late addition to the liturgical calendar. The Papal States had fallen and a secular government had taken over Italy with Mussolini on the rise. Communism had taken hold in Russia. Pope Pius XI was very concerned at the time with secularism and the Roman question. Secularism rejected religion in public affairs and in the schools. The Roman question referred to the Pope’s civil authority and independence from the Italian State. At best, his status was tenuous and Pius was working hard in many different was to solidify the Papacy which he did in 1929 with the Lateran Treaty making the Vatican a city-state. For many centuries, religion and state were often identified with each other and there were state religions that followed the religion of the ruler. With the beginning of the 1900’s and the rise of secularism, the events of the early century leading to World War I, and the separation of religion from secular affairs and the turmoil following WWI, secularism rose and religion declined. In trying to restore and emphasize the importance of religion, Pius instituted the feast of Christ the king trying to bring the laity to realize that Christ was a King over all above and beyond all secular power and having all authority over the universe. Surely, scripture tells us Christ was a king, but not in any way an earthly king. His kingship was evident the day he died, his crown was one of thorns. His kingship was one of being of the Trinity, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Faith and religion are a part of a person’s belief, a part of their being. Ultimately, every person meets and answers to God in light of that faith life he leads. Regardless of the state, country or kingdom in which we live, What Christ has done is always before us and calling us to him and his Father. In his own way, he is present in the world today, in his Eucharist to nourish us and feed us as we move on in this life, and with his Spirit who comes to each of us and helps and guides when call upon him for His help. No matter how extreme or far out things may seem or even be, Christ and his Spirit are with us and will see us through if we watch, listen and pray. Our life of faith is one that while being within our world, is at the same time looking and being in the next. Can faith and life or living in the world be in conflict? Yes, they can and often are. But seeing, knowing and resolving the conflict is simply part of being human and answering Jesus’ call
Today, Malachi and Luke talk of coming days, death, the end of the temple, wars, insurrections, even the end of nations and the fighting of nations. The earth itself will suffer quakes, plagues, and famines. Look back in history and all these things have occurred in the past centuries and in every lifetime and generation. Rejection and persecution of believers has occurred throughout history, even at the time of Christ’s birth if we recall the innocent children slaughtered by Herod. Christ himself suffered rejection and persecution and even experienced betrayal and felt abandoned.
Christ said these were signs of the times, and yes they are. They are signs in all times of the fallen nature of humanity. What age or country or century has eliminated these times and signs from the world? What victory has ever given peace to the world? Was there ever a time that a true Christian was immune from ridicule, rejection, whether from family, friends, or a state or country. Has sin been removed from the world?
Keep in mind that each day is new, but the last was an end. Each moment is an end time where someone will not face another. Each of us faces an end time whether it be days or years. The signs are there for us to see. Christ says these things are bound to happen not just at the end of all times but in every time. God is a God of Love, certainly not a human being, and so we must realize he is not subject to anger and other emotions. Sin and evil come from the freedom hiscreatures receive and abuse. God loves and forgives and embraces all who ultimately reach out to him. Punishment or being cut off from God is what we do by the choices and things that we do.
The sign of our times at the moment are not far from Malachi and Luke today. As Christians we are called to witness Christ’s message of love, forgiveness, healing and the life of Jesus Christ. We have all put on Christ, now is the time to step up and be the light of the world. Jesus said: “Follow Me.”