Friends, this Solemnity feast of Jesus, Our Brother and Friend, as I have named it, traditionally known as, Christ the King has only been with us since 1925. Pope Pius XI established it, because in his words, “People had thrust Jesus and his holy law out of their lives.” He also said, “These laws [were given] no place in public affairs or in politics,” basically suggesting, that they should! The pope continued, “As long as individuals and states refused to submit to the rule of the Savior, there would be no really hopeful prospect of a lasting peace among nations.”
Now there may be some truth in that because if we are to look at the message of Jesus’ life; we can sum it up quite succinctly by saying that it was, “all about love.” The pontiff’s words say that if we don’t follow Jesus’ “law of love” in our dealings around the world; there is no hope for peace. I think “love of adversaries” is probably not the first item on the list when trying to figure out how to deal with other nations.
So, from the standpoint of a “Roman” Catholic pope declaring this feast; we can perhaps understand the naming of Jesus, the Christ, as “King.” It is interesting though that Jesus was not a king in his own time, nor did he ever claim the title for himself. In fact, the title was used to mock him as he hung, dying on the cross—as I just proclaimed, “You saved others, save yourself, if you are King of the Jews!”
All the people, living in the time of Jesus, knew of kings—there was Herod, a puppet king set up by Rome, who knew nothing about being a true king—one who would care for the people and be about their best interests. The people of Jesus’ time awaited a Messiah and had the mistaken idea that when this messiah came, he would take on Rome and conquer this enemy, once and for all. Imagine their disappointment and confusion when Jesus was crucified. We might say that many in this country were awaiting a “messiah” of sorts when they cast their votes almost two weeks ago.
But Jesus was about something else—“I have come to set a fire on the earth”—a fire basically of love—there will be no more bloodshed, either of animal offerings or human sacrifice—I am coming to do something new.
It strikes me that we saw a similar phenomenon in this year’s election. The president-elect made it abundantly clear who he was, who he didn’t like and who in fact he would wield the power of the White House against—minorities, immigrants, women—yet as one commentator said this last week, many, many people who have good hearts put these truths aside and voted for him anyway thinking that he would make their lot in life better, even though through his many business dealings; he proved that the opposite was true.
I have not commented on the election yet in a homily and throughout the election process, I tried not to, simply because I think I need to keep the lines clear. I speak now only because when someone who wishes to lead our country displays an inability to do so coupled with a moral sense that in the least, seems to be lacking, such as we have not seen before in an aspirant for the White House; we have to ask, “What is going on?”
There have been many explanations given as to why we experienced this outcome and it isn’t my purpose to get into that except to mention that our Church in its hierarchy was less than prophetic when it encouraged parishioners—in some cases, rather strenuously to “vote pro-life.” I say, “less than prophetic” because their definition of “pro-life” was very narrow—being “pro-life” means from birth to death, and everything in between. Just because someone talks about overturning Roe v. Wade, that is a far cry from doing it. Pro-life is also about uplifting minorities, refugees, women and all others down-trodden—being pro-life is hard work! Or as one of you has been sharing in emails recently, “Good is something you do, not something you talk about. Some medals are printed on your soul, not your jacket.” Another way to say it, “when convenient and when not,” and certainly never because you are trying to get votes!
Next Sunday begins Advent and the words of the prophets will don some the cards we send out for the Christmas Season—“The lion will lie down with the lamb.” Jesus indeed asks something new of us—even now, over 2,000 years later. We must not just speak about being good; we must in fact, BE GOOD and object when we see less than good in those who want to be our leaders.
Several years after Jesus’ resurrection, when the people truly thought about it, they began to give him the title of “king.” People did this in that best sense of what a king should be—one who was wise, good—a person of justice, who would truly care for the needs of people and call them to be the best they could be for themselves and others. This was truly a description of who they knew Jesus to be. People instinctively know when goodness and truth appears and name it for what it is.
In our quest then to understand the naming of Jesus as king, we can look to the early years of Christianity. As the young Church was growing and becoming more established, it was no doubt felt important to state, in no uncertain terms that Jesus was the fulfillment of the religious expectations of the Jewish people and thus the tracing of him back to David in the genealogies.
In the first reading from Samuel, we learn what can be expected from a true king—this person would shepherd and protect the people—would be their leader. They also saw the king as the one who would be the commander of Israel—the one who would lead them into battle against their enemies, thus the misconception of who Jesus, the Messiah would be. I think for too long, our Church has been under the misconception as well of what Jesus intended for our world.
We see the response of the true king in Jesus as he gave his life—he wasn’t ultimately concerned about himself, but promises paradise to his brother criminal for recognizing his royal nature—both that of Jesus and his own, when he said, “Remember me when you come into your kingdom.” In Jesus’ response, he proves himself a king, even though his throne isn’t majestic, but a cross. And again, we must remember, Jesus never claimed “kingship” for himself.
Paul, in our second reading today, gives many names to Jesus to add to his royal title; first-born of all creation, image of the invisible God. These two names alone tell us much about our God. If we see and know Jesus, we then know what our God is like. If we look to the Scriptures and study the life Jesus lived, we know that our God is a God of love, mercy, justice—one who lifts up the lowly, one who will fight for the down-trodden—one who is not about being served, but one who wants to serve, wants to share with us this beautiful creation—wants us to be close. And on this weekend when we celebrate what it means to be a true leader as we see it in Jesus, we can’t help but grieve as we contemplate the election of a man who does not emulate any of these qualities.
Paul continues with the names he attributes to Jesus: In his resurrection, Jesus is first-born of the dead. This title should give each of us hope—knowing that Jesus rose, signals what we can expect!
So, one thing that we can say about Jesus Christ, the King is, as a scripture scholar has said, “He is unparalleled in all history as far as kings go,” whether he ever saw himself that way or not. It is understandable that Jesus never claimed a title or position for himself—the true prophets are about something different—not taking care of themselves, but others—calling each of us to our best selves. And in my mind, because he is such a great role model in simplicity and servanthood, “Brother” is a much better title than “King.”
Each year at this time; we recall the death of John F. Kennedy—a young man taken too soon for whom Joan Chittister stated, “With the death of the young president came the death of the spirit of the nation. Hope died and direction died and idealism died in an entire generation with [his] death. If we learn anything from such waste, it is that each of us carries some part of another person’s life; but we never know how much. We as a people must realize that we live not just for ourselves, but for others –this is not just a Christian attribute, but a human one. It is one we will need to keep in mind these next four years and speak up when we see less than that!
Pope Pius XI was concerned back in 1925 that Jesus and his message needed to once again become more familiar to each of us—needed to penetrate our lives and as we move out into our society, state and government—allow Jesus’ way of life to seep into all the structures that govern our world and its people. If we want to bring peace to our world, we need to remember the golden rule of Jesus, our Brother—that we do to others as we would want others to do to us. Maybe the question we should all ask ourselves as this Church Year ends and a new one begins next week—can we recommit ourselves to follow Jesus’ lead?