Even though I understand scripturally, theologically and historically the meaning of this feast, I can’t help but wonder what a young adult or teen might think or envision when they hear “King of the universe.”
Does the word “king” conjure up boring history classes or thoughts of total irrelevance for our world today?
Does “King of the universe” sound like some video game with the “Ancient One” and the “Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven” as main characters and plot?
As college students head back to university and into the world of academia and we wrap up a four-day holiday weekend, what possibly could our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the universe have to say to us? I offer a few thoughts from our Scripture readings, God’s word to us today.
“Jesus answered, ‘My kingdom is not of this world.’” That was Jesus’ answer to Pilate, the one who represented the most powerful kingdom of the time. And just like now for so many people, Pilate didn’t understand.
The kingship of Christ does not resemble the power of human rulers, whether they be kings or dictators or terrorists or CEOs of the most influential companies in the world.
Throughout history, human beings exercised power over others with threats of violence or concentrations of wealth to put their desires into effect. There have always been oppressors and the oppressed, the strong in the weak, the advantaged and disadvantaged.
Yet, throughout salvation history, God has chosen the weak, the disadvantaged and the most unlikely characters to bring about God’s plan.
There was that old, seemingly sterile couple chosen to be the parents of a great nation more numerous than the stars in the sky or the grains of sand on the shore.
There was the man who stuttered and who was so self-conscious about his speech whom God chose to go before Pharaoh and bring about liberation for the Hebrew slaves.
There was the last of the sons, a young shepherd whom God chose to gather the scattered tribes of Israel into one.
There was the virgin chosen to be a mother.
What was, what is, God up to?
Does anybody really care these days? What difference does our gathering together make in light of all that is going on in our world?
“Pilate said to him, ‘Then you are a king?’ Jesus answered, ‘You say I am a king. 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.’”
Kings then and so often those with power now, take pleasure in inspiring fear and degrading others, making themselves superior. At times, they perform arbitrary acts of generosity, cynically hoping to inspire devotion without actually meeting the needs of the people. They so often see themselves as the center of the universe, black holes sucking more and more to themselves.
This is contrary to and opposite of everything Jesus stands for.
When Jesus washed the feet of his disciples at the Last Supper, he toppled these human delusions. His humility threw into high relief the real source of his power: the ability to speak true words that required no enforcement to have effect.
People listened, followed and obeyed Jesus not out of fear or greed or power, but because he told them the truth.
What Jesus said about God whom he called, Abba, about human life, about generosity and forgiveness, about love and sacrifice were so intuitively true that people followed him and obeyed him without reservation.
This loyalty would lead them to lay down their lives as witnesses, as martyrs to the saving death and resurrection of Jesus who set them free from fear.
In John’s Gospel from which we heard, the deepest truth is that we must love one another the way God first loved us. Living out of this belief is what gave Jesus’ words their power. Building our lives around the same divine love will give our words and actions the same power to heal, to deliver and to save.
That is the meaning and the hope of this feast. Yet sadly, not always the reality.
This has been a particularly painful and discouraging week for me personally. On Tuesday morning, my day off while having a bite of breakfast, I picked up Monday’s Olympian and on page 3 read, “Seattle Archdiocese spends $7 million to settle abuse claims.”
As I read the story, which appeared the week before in the Seattle Times, I felt an overwhelming sadness for the victims who were telling their story. My heart hurt for them. I had to stop and pray for healing for them.
I also found myself engulfed in a deep shame because of my brother priests who abused these folks. Even though the abuse occurred 30 to 60 years ago and the priests named are either deceased or permanently removed from ministry, it felt as if it just happened. The wound felt so fresh, so raw.
What has been such a burden this week for me is that the Church, the Body of Christ is so bruised and beaten and that it is of our own making. As much as I want to rationalize, clarify and become defensive, I know that such a stance is not helpful nor honest. As Jesus says in John 8:32, “The truth shall make you free.”
It feels so hurtful because I know for most people in the church, the laity, religious and priests alike, that we simply want to help people. We want people to experience the love of Jesus and not the trauma of sexual abuse. We want to bring about healing, not inflict pain. We want to speak freedom to those whose lives are oppressed.
But because of the abuse and cover-up, for many our words ring hollow and fall on deaf ears. The Catholic Church and the bishops lose their credibility because of what has happened. It can be so discouraging.
Yet, because of the person of Jesus Christ who has entered into my life and my heart, I am a person of hope. I believe, as our first reading states, “His dominion is an everlasting dominion that shall not be taken away, his kingship shall not be destroyed.”
Christ has won the victory on the altar, the throne of the cross. Christ has conquered sin and death whose crown is made of thorns. Christ is the Alpha and the Omega, the one who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.
The cross, our King’s throne is our hope. It proclaims that Jesus, God’s very self, takes on all of the suffering, all of the injustice, all of the sin of the world in all of its torturous cruelty.
As Bishop Tyson said in his Thanksgiving Day homily, “there is not one corner of suffering creation unknown to God. We can give thanks because whatever our suffering, whatever our sorrow, whatever illness, whatever our addiction, whatever torture, whatever political oppression, whatever social injustice, God has first descended into that place and in Jesus, redeemed it.”
This is why we celebrate Jesus Christ, our King of the universe, because he has served and serves us, his so often unappreciative brothers and sisters. Jesus longs to wash our feet and have us do the same for others.
As this church year draws to a close and we begin anew on the first Sunday of Advent, let us look to our Savior, our brother Jesus Christ, our servant King to show us the way to our heavenly Father and the eternal hope of heaven.