November 24, 2006

Seeking the Face of the Lord

Service to this kingdom and to Christ the King is our shared vocation

The last Sunday of the liturgical year is the solemnity of Christ the King. In a sense, this feast suggests a reflection about the mystery of Christ’s life and the meaning of his kingdom.

Pilate would put the inscription over his head on the cross: “This is the King of the Jews.” There was a double mockery going on here. Pilate, who ordered the inscription to be put on the cross, was a Roman mocking the Jews. Some Jewish leaders and soldiers and one of the criminals were mocking a person named Jesus.

In the wee hours of the dark night of his Passion, Jesus stood before Pilate wearing a crown. It was the first and only time he wore a crown, and it was a crown of thorns and worse: It was a crown of mockery. He held a reed “that shakes in the wind” for a scepter, which is supposed to be a symbol of power. He was robed with an old purple cloak on his shoulders. Later, he carried the ordinary criminal’s cross, which would bear the inscription “This is the King of the Jews.”

The double mockery was not just the mindless entertainment of a few mean drunks. These were angry leaders and soldiers who had been provoked to anger. Pilate and the Jewish leaders were well aware that Israel was expecting a powerful political deliverer, a great king like David.

Along comes this wandering 30-year-old named Jesus claiming he was a son of David, and that the kingdom of God had arrived. And people were beginning to take him seriously. This frightened and angered the leaders.

Jesus announced: “The time of waiting is over; the kingdom of God is close at hand. Change your ways; believe in the good news” (Mk 1:15). He preached the kingdom of God. He did not openly deny that he is king. In fact, he claimed for himself the responsibility of our lives, our very souls, our debts and our sins. But he denied himself pomp and ceremony.

Like a king, he commanded and organized a following. Unlike a king, he did not set up a palace and he did not promise material riches to his followers. He asked his followers to be poor, to make peace, to turn the other cheek, to go the extra mile.

In the eyes of most of his contemporaries, Jesus was counted as a fool. At best, a troublemaker. In the eyes of most of our contemporaries, Christ and what he stands for is still counted foolish.

More refined words would be used today: anachronistic, old-fashioned, unrealistic, “out of it,” extremist. In the eyes of his contemporaries, the followers of Jesus were fools. In the eyes of many of our contemporaries, we who follow Christ are fools.

Our king lost an insignificant battle back there 2,000 years ago. True, he died like a criminal with a mock sentence over his head. He won the greatest battle of them all when he conquered death and sin.

We are grateful for that, but today we especially admire him for the way he set up our kingdom. Courageously, he threw off the trappings which separate kings from their people. First of all, his kingship is one of genuine service: He came to feed the hungry, to bring healing to the sick, to bring good news to the poor and to set captives free.

His kingdom is also one that demands service. This wonderful feast is a great occasion to pray about our expectations of the kingdom of God in our midst and our own part in making it real. It is a good time to pray about what expression of service Christ asks of us in his kind of kingdom.

In these our days, it is only through our hands that the hungry are fed, the sick are healed. Only through our cooperative ministry is the Good News proclaimed and the oppressed set free. We are the hearts and hands and voices of Christ among us.

That’s how the kingdom comes alive today, through our hands: the hands of bishops, priests, deacons, religious and lay folks—all of us working together.

Through our ministry together, Christ the King carries on his mission even today, even in our midst, until he comes again in glory.

That’s what we mean when we say the kingdom of God is not far away. That’s what we mean when we say the kingdom of God is in our hearts. It is with that understanding when we pray “Thy kingdom come ...”

Service to this kingdom and to Christ the King among us is our shared vocation. That’s the bottom line.

And it is why we are counted foolish by some. We are in very good company. †

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