Friday, November 21, 2014

Christ the King: 2014: Homily: Updated

The King will answer them, `Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me.'

At St. John the Baptist, Newcastle, the English parish where I served my first curacy, I once suffered a mild crisis of conscience. On Accession Day, the annual anniversary of the 'dread sovereign' – as she was known in the parish—it was the custom -- and a custom mandated by the English Prayer Book—to sing “God save the Queen” at the end of the High Mass. The vicar and the servers solemnly wondered ‘what will Fr. Allen do?” What was I supposed to do? Fold my arms, refuse to join in and think “I will have no truck with this undemocratic nonsense”. Actually with children like Queen Elizabeth II has she needs all the prayers she can get! I sang loudly and with just a bit more enthusiasm than everyone else.

Although we Americans are avid consumers of everything royal, few of us would actually like to be ruled by a monarch. Huck says to Jim in Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Fin “All I say is, kings is kings, and you got to make allowances. Take them all around, they're a mighty ornery lot. It's the way they're raised”.  “Ornery’ is something of an  understatement when it comes to kings.

Ivan the Terrible merited his nickname by torturing enemies and friends alike for sheer pleasure. Henry VIII altered the moral code to suit himself and married six times, murdering two of his wives to clear the way for others. Montezuma, great king of the Aztecs, waged war solely to obtain thousands of captives for human sacrifice. Almost every monarch you can think of has grown rich at the expense of their subjects.

It was not God’s idea that Israel should have a king. It was the people who demanded “give us a king”.Samuel warned them: he will take your sons for soldiers; he will make your daughter  slaves; he will tax you; seize your grain and cattle; and the day will come when you will pray to be delivered from kings. Besides you already have a king: the Lord your God. But still the people said: “we want to be like other nations: set a king over us.”

Fast forward to Ezekiel: the day has finally come: the net result of centuries of apostate, corrupt, greedy and murderous kings is the destruction of Israel: the Babylonian captivity. God says enough is enough: "For thus says the Lord GOD: Behold, I, I myself will search for my sheep, and will seek them out”.

Fast forward again: the prophesy is fulfilled in Jesus Christ: God himself reasserts his rule and authority over his people.

The Gospels insist on  two things about  Jesus. First that he was a king,  descended from the House of David . Second he was a King like no other:  born in royal David's city, Bethlehem, but in a stable not a palace, with no place to lay his head, and buried in another man's tomb. His accession to the throne was his entry into Jerusalem, the royal capital, riding on a donkey rather than in a state coach. His royal robe was a spittle-covered purple rag, his crown was of thorns and his scepter a reed. He made his royal progress weak and bleeding through the streets, to the jeers not the cheers of the populace. At Calvary he was enthroned on a cross.   

From beginning to end the life, death and resurrection of Jesus mocks rather than imitates earthly kings. In his realm there are no masters because everyone is a servant. Even the King came to serve and not to be served. Those who would be greatest in the Kingdom are those who make themselves the least. The reward for service is not promotion and financial gain but to be given further opportunities for service. When his subjects become rich or gain promotion, they are impoverished and demoted, the mighty being cast from their thrones and the lowly exalted. The lowest are the highest and tax collectors and prostitutes will get into the Kingdom before the hypocritical Pharisees, members of the religious and political establishment, who take the best seats in the synagogues, encourage salutations in the market places and create heavy burdens for other people to bear without lifting a finger to help them. 

The hard thing for Christians is that we live simultaneously in two kingdoms, that of this world and that of Christ.  We are prone to amalgamate them, to make one look so much like the other that we can't tell the difference. “We want to be like other nations.” Often it seems that the Church, and our lives within it, have been made to fit the image of an temporal earthly kingdom rather than making earthly kingdoms fit the image of Christ's eternal heavenly Kingdom.

“I will feed them with justice” says the Lord God. The distinguishing feature of Christ's rule is that of justice, but not the kind of justice we're used to, not the justice we deserve but just the opposite.    Most of us would be cast into that outer darkness Jesus talks about in today's Gospel. Throughout his life Jesus emphasized forgiveness and it is this that tempers justice. 

You can recognize the people who feel at home in the Kingdom, they are the ones who are ready to forgive. They are the people who feed and give drink to the hungry and thirsty, who welcome strangers, who clothe the naked and visit the sick and imprisoned.

The only tell-tale signs of the King and His Kingdom around here and everywhere.

The King will answer them, `Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me.'

As is the often the case I had Dominican help with this homily, Fr. Anthony Axe;  they are the experts in preaching after all and I only steal from the best.

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