Today’s readings speak of kings, kingdoms, reigns of glory and power, and it is all connected to Jesus, the Christ, one, who in my read of Scripture, especially John’s gospel today, did not claim that for himself. He takes pains in fact to explain that kings and kingdoms are the people’s issue—he is in fact more concerned about truth and says clearly that those who would follow him must be about truth too.
So then, we must figure out what “truth” is. In Franco Zefferelli’s 1975, epic film, Jesus of Nazareth, Rod Stieger, who played Pilate was most concerned about this question as he interrogated Jesus, recognizing him as a step above the usual prisoner that he saw. So, what is the truth? Webster’s tells us that “truth” is, “sincerity in action, character and utterance”—or in other words, what we say we believe, we show in our actions and in our words—we are pretty much the same in private as in public—our character is true.
Jesus, we know and believe, was sent by Abba God, our loving maker, to show humankind how to live, because for the best, or maybe not always the best of our efforts, we hadn’t yet got it right. So Jesus came to show us the way, the truth and the life.
Presumably, if we would follow him, it would become crystal clear what we needed to do—how we should live our lives. One of the speakers at Call to Action, Jesuit John Dear, in his quest and passion for peace and justice in our world, a world free of nuclear weapons, said that we should just read the four gospels and forget about the rest of the bible. I took that to mean, keep our eyes on Jesus.
Given that, Paul’s letter to the Philippians, chapter 2, verses 6-7 gives us an idea of what Jesus initially needed to do—he emptied himself of divine privilege and became one of us. From the beginning of his papacy, Pope Francis has been challenging the Church to be of and for the poor. We need to then apply the notion of servant imagery to today’s feast, which we as humans came up with, and search our hearts about “why” it was done and if in fact, we do justice to Jesus, our brother, who appeared in our midst, as servant.
Pope Pius XI, in 1925 instituted the Solemnity of Christ the King to counter the rising tide of secularization sweeping the world. If the intent was to draw peoples’ focus back to the image of a God who was stripped of all power and glory to join humankind in their earthly struggles, it would seem strange that the image of “king” would be chosen—an image that connotes power and top-down authority over others. But then, maybe it isn’t strange because for too long, the power-over, top-down authority, with little or no room for discussion coming from Rome, has been the norm. At least now with Francis; we are seeing more of a chance for discussion and with that, the prospect of more equality, and once again, our Church might be of the people.
We might consider what was in the minds of the early Christians when they considered Jesus to be a king—in fact longed for a king who would save them from the cruel and selfish, power-hungry kings that were their reality. This thinking was part of it, no doubt, but as with other aspects of their belief; they took ancient myths of the time and rolled them over, so to speak, into their understanding of who their God was in light of Jesus.
The ancient Near Eastern myth talked of a cosmic warrior-god who defeated a monster and then thereafter reigned in glory in the heavens, watching over all of creation. Followers of Jesus then took that image and transposed it in significant ways, namely that Jesus conquered evil in our world, not through more war and violence, but through his life of love and justice, mercy and compassion, sharing in deed and word where he came from and what he was about. This is interesting as we struggle in our world to be free of violence as was perpetrated on Paris this past week and Mali, this week.
Our task then as Jesus’ followers would seem to me, to follow his lead. Our challenge will be not to get lost in the pomp and circumstance of images of kings and royalty and trappings of power on this feast of Christ, the King. Truly the glory and honor that Jesus is due today, and every day, is not about crowns and titles, but about deeds and purpose and that becomes the harder task for each of us. If we honor Jesus as a member of royalty and keep it all quite on a surface level, cheering on our king—it is easier then to allow ourselves to be creatures who live rather shallow lives. We don’t then have to try and understand ISIS or try to find ways to stop the violence once and for all in our world. Because my friends, that is the real task, isn’t it?—to find the way to stop the violence, once and for all, knowing that violence only breeds more.
And if we see the truth of who Jesus, the Christ—the Anointed One truly was and continues to be; a man of sorrows and a man of joy—God, yet human, suffering and experiencing all that we suffer—demanding justice for all, accepting all, loving all—and if we say we follow him and this is indicated when we name ourselves, “Christian,” we must, we simply must strive to be like him. And God knows that isn’t easy. When people treat us badly; we want to retaliate. We need though, to learn a new way.
In my mind, and others believe this too, this feast is really more, in truth, about celebrating not a kingdom where Jesus will rule, but a kin-dom where all are accepted, loved and appreciated; and that would be something to truly rejoice about!
It is appropriate at the end of a Church year and as we look forward to a new one next Sunday with the beginning of Advent, to reflect on who we have been this past year, of how we have contributed to the building of the kin-dom, here and now. For most of us; we will probably have to say that we haven’t always done our best, but that in truth; we have tried.
Tomorrow history will record the 52nd anniversary of the assassination of President John Kennedy—a man whom in many ways stood out as a fine, capable leader, who did his part to encourage servant leadership—ideas of justice for all, compassion towards those less fortunate. Was he a perfect human being?—no, but I believe he tried to make a difference for the better—this is our hope as well—to keep trying.
My friends, as we close this Church year, moving this next week into the celebration of Thanksgiving, reflecting and being grateful for all of God’s bounty; we arrive next Sunday at the holy season of Advent. Tonight, we as a community of believers will celebrate a time of thanksgiving in a pot-luck supper lovingly prepared by our community—all of us. Let us be grateful for all this parish has been for each of us and for so many others that have benefited by this community’s generosity in reaching out to others. Let us be grateful to the Spirit of our God for helping us to form a parish where all are welcome at the table, where all are seen as equals, from the youngest to the oldest—where no one’s status is more important than any other’s—pastor or child. Let us be grateful for loved ones who have lived and loved and passed on to their eternal reward this year.
And now, this next week, as we look toward Advent, a time to gently prepare ourselves for the awesome coming of One who loved so much that he was willing to give up everything—all power and glory, to show us the way—let us strive to walk in his footsteps for our own good and for that of the kin-dom. And let the people say, “AMEN!”