Fr. Roger J. Landry
St. Bernadette Parish, Fall River, MA
Solemnity of Christ the King, Year C
November 24, 2013
2 Sam 5:1-13, Col 1:12-20, Lk 23:35-43
To listen to an audio recording of this homily, please click here:
The written text guiding the homily was as follows:
Jesus’ Kingdom Didn’t Match Anyone’s Expectations
Thousands of times a year, Christians normally pray, “Thy kingdom come!” We all know the aphorism that says “Be careful what you ask for.” Today on this Solemnity of Christ the King, it’s important for us to ponder what type of kingdom we’re praying will come so that we may enter, dwell and rejoice in it.
When Jesus inaugurated his kingdom, it had nothing to do with the expectations of almost anyone at the time.
The last thing Jesus looked like as he hung upon the Cross on Good Friday was a king. He was bathed in blood, not clothed with royal purple. He was hammered to a Cross, not seated on a throne. He was crowned with thorns, not with gold and diadems. To ridicule him and Jews in general, Pilate had ordered that an inscription in three languages be placed above his head: “Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews.” Rather than pay him homage, most in the crowd mocked him. The chief priests mocked him. The Roman soldiers and passers-by mocked him. Even the thief on his left mocked him. And all of them mocked him in the same way: “If you’re truly the king of the Jews, the Messiah, the Christ, come down from that Cross and save yourself.” Such visible force was the only demonstration of kingly power that they could comprehend.
For most Jews at the time, Jesus’ crucifixion was the proof that he was precisely not the long awaited Messiah-king for whom they had been waiting for centuries. In the first reading, we see the beginning of David’s kingship in Jerusalem. The Jews anticipated that when the Son of David came, he would rule in the way that his ancestor David had ruled. He would defeat all foreign powers and would be brutal to those who opposed him. When David marched into Jerusalem, right after the end of today’s first reading, the inhabitants of Jerusalem who opposed David told him that even the blind and the lame of the city were united in opposition against him and would defeat him. So when David and his men took the city, they went up and attacked even the blind and the lame. The Jews anticipated that the Messiah-King would use his power to subjugate all those who made themselves his adversaries, not take their abuse and die a horrible death to save his abusers. They were totally unprepared for a king who would serve at all, not to mention to the point of death.
The Romans were likewise unprepared for a king like Jesus. When Pontius Pilate interrogated Jesus, he asked him, “Are you the King of the Jews?” Jesus answered, “My kingship is not of this world; if my kingship were of this world, my servants would be fighting that I not be handed over to the Jews; but my kingship is not of this world.” Then Pilate retorted, “So you are a king?” Jesus replied by describing more specifically what type of king he was and what type of kingdom he was establishing. “You say that I am a king. For this I was born, and for this I have come into the world, to bear witness to the truth. Every one who is of the truth hears my voice.” The Romans thought that kingship meant having the power to crucify or pardon. They thought it was associated with force. Jesus said it is associated with truth.
Even the apostles had a false idea about what it meant to be in the service of the king. We see throughout the Gospel that they were competing against each for the greatest positions in the messianic administration as they imagined it would be on earth. After James and John got their mother — how pathetic is that!? — to go up to Jesus to ask him to do whatever she asked and to grant that her baby boys sit on his immediate right and left as began his kingdom, Jesus used it as a lesson for all, who were hungering after the same worldly authority and power: “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great men exercise authority over them. It shall not be so among you; but whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave; even as the Son of man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” That is Jesus’ kingdom. To enter into his kingdom with him, to be his right hand, to be his cabinet ministers, means to be willing to give our life as a ransom for God and others, to serve rather than be served, to give rather than get.
The First One to Enter with Jesus
Jesus’ true regality was not lost on everyone. The criminal on Jesus’s right — at arguably the worst moment of his up-to-then bad life, during his excruciatingly painful public execution — had the ability to see how special the one being crucified beside him was. The Good Thief could understand in his own body the incredible, biting pain Jesus would have been experiencing a few feet away, and yet he could see that that pain had not gained the upper hand. He was able to glimpse that for Jesus, to reign is to serve, to reign is to love, to reign is to give witness to the truth, and to reign is to forgive. The Good Thief saw that Love, Mercy, Service and Truth incarnate was triumphing beside him. The good thief grasped what almost everyone else was missing, that Jesus, mysteriously through suffering and death, was not about to lose a kingdom, but to establish one. He wasn’t about to experience an ignominious defeat but a glorious triumph. So with faith, he turned to the Malefactor in the middle — who would breathe his last before even the thief would! — and humbly begged, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom!” He was asking a dying man to remember him, something that would only be possible if the thief realized that the dying man would somehow still live and be capable of remembering, and the King turned to him and promised that he would do more than remember him. With the largesse befitting the most magnanimous monarch, he declared that he would take him with Himself into the eternal kingdom of paradise.
To pray, “Thy kingdom come!,” is to beg for the grace to enter with Jesus into his kingdom. It means to seek to be with Jesus, not in a generic sense, but to be with him in giving witness to the truth even if we should have to die for it, to be with Jesus in laying down our lives in service of others, to be with Jesus in suffering and death, even on the Cross. The ancient Christians used to say, Regnavit a ligno Deus! “God reigns from the Cross.” To say, “Thy kingdom come,” to seek to enter his kingdom, is to reign with him by living with him a cruciform life, a life of the true sacrifice of oneself out of love for God and others. This is what we celebrate today.
False versus True Expectations Today
But is this what we want? Do we really want this Kingdom to come?
We live in a day that, just like 2,000 years ago, has many false ideas about Jesus, many erroneous expectations about the kingdom he came to establish, the way he reigns and the way he calls us to reign with him. We, too, are tempted to reject the truth of the kingdom, the service of the kingdom, the suffering of the kingdom. We need to confront this, because when we pray “Thy Kingdom come!,” we need to know that we’re not going to receive in response to those prayers the kingdom of our false expectations but the real Kingdom Jesus established.
The Kingdom of Truth
Let’s begin with the truth of the kingdom.
In his most famous homily of all, Christ the King said that the kingdom of heaven belongs to those who are poor in spirit, and yet so many — even those who call themselves his followers — set their hearts not on spiritual poverty, but on riches, houses, cars, and material things.
Christ the King says his kingdom is one of meekness and that the children of the kingdom are those who work to make peace, and yet so many — including those who call themselves disciples — spend far more time cheering on wars than they do working for peace.
Christ the King says that his kingdom is a kingdom of mercy and that only the merciful will find the mercy necessary to enter his kingdom, and yet so many — including those who pray every day “forgive us our trespasses just as we have forgiven those who have trespassed against us” — still hold grudges and seek to settle scores, even to the grave.
Christ the King says that the pure of heart will see him reign, and yet so many — including the baptized and confirmed — pursue impure relationships, websites, and practices.
To enter his kingdom, Christ the King says, we need to be willing to be persecuted and hated because of him, and yet so many seek popularity and to be liked so much that they buckle in their fidelity as soon as anyone gives a hint of disapproving the Gospel.
In short, Christ the King says that his kingdom is a kingdom of truth, and that everyone who is of the truth hears his voice. To enter into his kingdom we must seek to live by the truth that sets us free and gives us entrance into relationship with Jesus.
Living by the truth isn’t easy. It never has been. That’s why St. Paul needed to tell the Corinthians, who thought that they could have their Christian faith and their orgies, too: “Do you not know that the unjust will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither those who have sex outside of marriage nor those who adore other gods nor adulterers nor prostitutes nor those who engage in same-sex activity nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor robbers will inherit the kingdom of God” (1 Cor 6:9-10).
It’s just as important for us to grasp this as it was for the ancient Christians in Corinth. We can’t live by the truth and support the killing of innocent unborn children, or the “mercy killing” of the elderly, or the pseudo-matrimony of those of the same sex. We can’t live by the truth and treat the poor, the immigrant and stranger, the hungry and thirsty, the imprisoned or sick any way other than the way that we would treat Christ himself. We can’t live by the truth and reject the truth at the same time.
To say “Thy Kingdom come!,” is to make a commitment to know the truth and to structure one’s whole life in accordance with the truth of the kingdom. To say “Thy Kingdom come!” is to fulfill the Hebrew couplet Jesus taught us to pray in the Our Father, “Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” One enters into Jesus’ Kingdom precisely by doing God’s will.
Those who use their freedom to reject the truth Christ has revealed to us in Sacred Scripture, in the constant teaching of the Church he founded, tragically won’t enter the kingdom. This isn’t because Jesus wants to exclude them. He died on the Cross to take away their sins and make entrance into the kingdom possible for everyone. But if someone chooses to hold on to one’s sins and live contrary to the truth Jesus revealed, Jesus will reluctantly abide by that decision.
As C.S. Lewis, the great 20th century apologist who died 50 years ago on Friday once wrote, “There are only two kinds of people in the end: those who say to God, ‘Thy will be done,’ and those to whom God says, in the end, ‘Thy will be done.’ All that are in Hell, choose it. Without that self-choice there could be no Hell. No soul that seriously and constantly desires joy will ever miss it. Those who seek find. Those who knock it is opened.” To knock on the door of the kingdom is to seek the truth and let it set us free from sin, from error, from death.
Jesus said in the Book of Revelation, that he himself is knocking. He’s knocking at the door of our heart seeking to invite us into his kingdom, but we have to leave behind our own kingdom, the kingdom of lies, the kingdom of self-centeredness, the kingdom of comfort. “I stand at the door and knock,” he says. “If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, then I will enter his house and dine with him and he with him. I will give the victor the right to sit with me on my throne, as I myself first won the victory and sit with my Father on his throne.” Jesus is doing all he can to give us his throne, his kingdom, his victory, but we must will it, we must choose it, and do what it takes to live in accordance with that choice.
The Kingdom of Christ-like Service
Likewise, to enter into Jesus’ kingdom, we need to grasp what the apostles struggled to get, that to reign is to serve. If we’re truly in Jesus’ kingdom, then we will seek, like Jesus, not to be served, but to serve all the rest to the point of offering our life to ransom, to set them free, from slavery. On this Solemnity, knowing that God wants to give us all the help we need to enter into his kingdom, we need to ask: Do we serve in this way? Do we honestly even try to serve people in this way? When we see someone in need, do we respond like a Good Samaritan and cross the road or do we pass the buck and say that someone else will do it or that it’s someone else’s responsibility? At home, when there’s work to be done, do we think that that’s mom’s job, or dad’s job, or one of our brother’s or sister’s responsibilities, or do we look at that task as an opportunity to love others in deeds, almost competing with them to get the chores done? To be a true Christian is to seek to serve others in this way. When there’s a need for volunteers for an important parish activity, do we step forward to serve or do we make excuses as if Jesus doesn’t really care if we step forward or not?
To pray “Thy kingdom come!” is to ask God for the grace actually to become people for others, who wash others’ feet, who bind others’ wounds, who do the dirty work of the kingdom out of love for others just as Jesus did it for us.
The Kingdom of Martyrs
Likewise, for us to enter Jesus’ kingdom, we need to grasp the lesson that most on Calvary missed. We need to be willing to suffer, just like Christ the King suffered on the Cross. Jesus’ kingdom, as I’ve been saying many times throughout the Year of Faith, is a kingdom of martyrs. It’s a kingdom not of spiritual wimps but of humble heroes of faith, strengthened by the Holy Spirit to give witness to Jesus even when people are pressuring us, or intimidating us, or threatening us to compromise on our faith. And the way we remain faithful in the most challenging times is to seek to remain faith at every moment, especially the ordinary moments of the day.
And so on this Solemnity, we can examine our consciences about whether we’re witnesses or wusses with regard to passing on to others the good news of great joy and inviting them to enter with us into Christ’s kingdom. Do we regularly give witness to our faith to our friends and family members, to our co-workers and fellow students, or are we too afraid?
Just like someone who is married should not hide the fact that he or she is married from his co-workers and friends — and if one did, it would almost always be a bad sign — so when a Christian basically hides the fact that he is a faithful Covenant with Jesus that influences his entire identity and life, it’s always a bad sign, too. If we’re living in Jesus’ kingdom, we’re going to be living differently than all the rest. We’ll be living in the world, but not in a worldly way. We’ll be giving witness by the way we live that Jesus calls us to holiness and we know it, that Jesus calls us to sacrificial love and we’re living it, that Jesus calls us to give faithful witness to him, and we’re unashamed to show it.
To pray, “Thy kingdom come!” means that we want everyone to come to the joy of Christ’s kingdom, and that means we’re going to open ourselves to receive God’s graces so that we may courageously and lovingly announce the good news of that kingdom to others. And if we’re doing that in ordinary moments, we’ll be much better equipped with God’s grace to give witness to Christ in the supreme moments, just like the apostles and so many saintly martyrs — men and women, boys and girls — have done throughout the centuries.
Conclusion of Year of Faith
As we finish today on this great solemnity the 410-day Year of Faith, it’s an opportunity for us to remember that the life of faith is a life in and of Christ’s kingdom. We’ve been praying throughout this holy year, “Lord, increase our faith!,” and that phrase is synonymous with saying, “Thy Kingdom come!” Since the kingdom is a kingdom of truth, to say, “Lord, increase our faith!,” means that we have a hunger to grow in our knowledge of the truth so that we might better live it and pass it on. Since the kingdom is a kingdom of Good Samaritans and Christ-like service, to pray, “Lord, increase our faith,” means to beg God for the grace to have our faith overflow in love (Gal 5:16). Because the kingdom is one of fidelity even in suffering and death, to pray, “Lord, increase our faith” means to beg God’s help to remain faithful in good times and in bad, in sickness and in health, in poverty and prosperity, in things both little and small, just as Jesus was faithful to us unto death on a Cross. To live by faith means to allow Christ the King to reign in all parts of our life.
That’s why the Year of Faith finishes by God’s Providence on the Solemnity of Christ the King, because the increase he faith God wants to give us is meant precisely to help us to live by faith in all moments of our life, to say “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done” in all our attitudes, our desires, and our actions. The life of faith is a life of true friendship with the King of Kings who loved us to the point of becoming one with us, teaching us, washing us, and giving his life to ransom us from faith. That’s the Christian life.
Today as the Year of Faith ends, we beg Jesus to increase our faith to such a degree that he might be able to say of us in each moment, “Great is your faith!” and say to us at the supreme moment what he said to the Good Thief, “Truly I tell you today, you will be with me in paradise!,” where he lives with the Father in the unity of the Holy Spirit, King forever and ever!
Thy kingdom come!
The readings for today’s Mass were:
2 SM 5:1-3
“Here we are, your bone and your flesh.
In days past, when Saul was our king,
it was you who led the Israelites out and brought them back.
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,
King David made an agreement with them there before the LORD,
and they anointed him king of Israel.
PS 122:1-2, 3-4, 4-5
I rejoiced because they said to me,
“We will go up to the house of the LORD.”
And now we have set foot
within your gates, O Jerusalem.
R. Let us go rejoicing to the house of the Lord.
Jerusalem, built as a city
with compact unity.
To it the tribes go up,
the tribes of the LORD.
R. Let us go rejoicing to the house of the Lord.
According to the decree for Israel,
to give thanks to the name of the LORD.
In it are set up judgment seats,
seats for the house of David.
R. Let us go rejoicing to the house of the Lord.
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.
He 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.
He is the image of the invisible God,
the firstborn of all creation.
For in him were created all things in heaven and on earth,
the visible and the invisible,
whether thrones or dominions or principalities or powers;
all things were created through him and for him.
He is before all things,
and in him all things hold together.
He is the head of the body, the church.
He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead,
that in all things he himself might be preeminent.
For in him all the fullness was pleased to dwell,
and through him to reconcile all things for him,
making peace by the blood of his cross
through him, whether those on earth or those in heaven.
“He saved others, let him save himself
if he is the chosen one, the Christ of God.”
Even the soldiers jeered at him.
As they approached to offer him wine they called out,
“If you are King of the Jews, save yourself.”
Above him there was an inscription that read,
“This is the King of the Jews.”
Now one of the criminals hanging there reviled Jesus, saying,
“Are you not the Christ?
Save yourself and us.”
The other, however, rebuking him, said in reply,
“Have you no fear of God,
for you are subject to the same condemnation?
And indeed, we have been condemned justly,
for the sentence we received corresponds to our crimes,
but this man has done nothing criminal.”
Then he said,
“Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”
He replied to him,
“Amen, I say to you,
today you will be with me in Paradise.”