Homily for November 22

Image: Stone Temple Pilots' album Plush

Homily for Christ the King
(Scriptures for today's Mass)

Audio for homily

Has anyone here not heard, not thought about,
not been part of conversations in the past week
about the status of refugees, national security and terrorism?
The arguments and positions on both sides are fierce
and as usual, the greater truth is not likely to be found
in the extremes of either side.

If you think we can turn to the scriptures and church teaching
to show us how a Christian ought to respond to these issues:
you’re correct– we can.

The scriptures and church teaching
(and the pope so many love so much)
all point to opening our hearts, our borders and our resources
to those who are in flight,
terror having driven them to flee their native land, their culture,
their homes and their possessions.

Of course neither the scriptures, nor church teaching,
nor the pope    
counsel indiscriminate acceptance of immigrants,
particularly in these times.

But the message is simple and it is clear
and has been our tradition for over 2,000 years: 
we are to “feed the hungry, clothe the naked
and welcome the stranger.”  (Mt 25)

But on this feast of Christ the King
my purpose is not to persuade you
one way or another on current events.
My task as preacher is, as it always is, to help us look at Jesus,
to listen to his words and to integrate his message in our lives.

In the gospel today we find Jesus on trial,
questioned by the Roman governor, Pilate.
Jesus deftly handles Pilate’s interrogation,
never giving him a direct answer to his questions.

But he’s not trying to evade the truth here.
He just has no time for the object of the governor’s questions.
In fact he has no time for Pilate’s authority or for whatever “truth”
his questions might be intended to reveal.

Rather, Jesus summons the witness of a truth unknown to Pilate.
He calls on an authority that makes of the governor’s dominion
a puny meaningless jurisdiction, indeed.

As he does in all his teaching, in all his parables,
Jesus is drawing us, his followers,
to look at life from a perspective
that turns our reality upside-down and inside-out.
This is Jesus who taught us:

• “You’ve heard it said,
'Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.'
But I tell you: Love your enemies
and pray for those who persecute you.”  (Mt 5:43)

And he said in another place:
• “Fear is useless; what is needed is trust." (Lk 8:50, Mk 5:36)

And in another place Jesus said:
• “I am sending you like sheep in the midst of wolves;
so be as shrewd as serpents and as simple as doves.” (Mt 10:16)
(Too many of us get only one half or the other of that statement!)

And in yet another place Jesus says:
• “You have heard that it was said,
 ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’
But I say to you, offer no resistance to one who is evil.
When someone strikes you on your right cheek,
turn the other one to him as well.”  (Mt 5:38)

These are the words, the teaching,  the truth
of the one we claim today as our King.
So what are we to do with such words, such truth, on any day,
let alone in these particular days of danger, threat and tension
all around the world?

First, we need to wrestle with Jesus’ teaching, with his truth.
We need to take it seriously and then work to understand
how his words, his truth, impact our lives and our decisions today.

Some will choose to reject Christ’s teachings outright:
rejecting them as dated, pious, simplistic and unrealistic.
But those who claim Jesus as Lord simply do not have the freedom
to dismiss Jesus’ words out-of-hand.

We who claim Christ as our King are bound to allow his words
to upset us, to turn us around,
to make us look at life and life’s problems
from his point of view, in the light of his law of love
and from the depths of his merciful heart.

• When Pilate asked Jesus if he was a king,
this is the kind of crown Pilate had in mind:
a crown of power and prestige...

• When Jesus replied that his dominion was one of truth,
he anticipated another kind of crown:
a crown of service and self-sacrifice...

Which crown will we choose?
Which crown will we claim?
If we choose this one we’ll end up not as kings,
but as the court jester.

And Jesus said:
 “For this I was born and for this I came into the world,
to testify to the truth.
Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice."

On this feast of Christ the King, then,
our task is to listen to the Lord’s voice
and to wrestle with the truth of his words in our lives.
This isn’t an easy task in any age
and it’s certainly a difficult and demanding one in our own times.

No simple quoting of scripture will supply a complete answer
to the problem of terrorism in the world today.
But neither can faithful Christians form an opinion on the matter
without seriously wrestling with and integrating
the word and truth of Jesus into the stand they take.

The Cross whose shadow falls on our table and our prayer
is crowned not only with thorns
but crowned with the suffering of Christ’s heart,
a heart that opens wide to welcome in the whole of humanity,
for all time, without discrimination or distinction.

Pray with me at this same table that we listen to our King’s voice,
to his words and to his truth,
and move to open our hearts to one another - and to all -
even as his heart is open for us.


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