Friday, November 23, 2012

Lord, you've done it again!

Click here to listen to a Podcast of this homily: Christ the King

A woman went on a parish pilgrimage to the Holy Land and one of the places they visited was the village of Cana where Jesus performed His first miracle changing water into wine.  At the gift shop there, they sell a fine vintage of wine which they claim will be the best you’ve ever tasted.  The woman bought several bottles to bring home as gifts for family and friends.  At the end of the pilgrimage, she and her group were at the airport just about to head through security when the woman realized that she forgot to put the bottles in her checked luggage and instead had them in her carry-on.  Thinking quickly, she took out a marker and labeled each of the bottles “Water.”  When she got to the security officer, he opened her bag, looked at the bottles and said, “What are these?”  She calmly responded, “They are just water.”  The officer looked suspiciously and said, “Well, we’re going to have to open one to check.”  He opened the bottle and poured some out and of course it was the fine vintage from Cana.  “Ma’am,” he said. “This isn’t water.  It is wine.”  Without missing a beat, the woman threw her arms in the air and cried out, “Hallelujah, Lord, you’ve done it again!” after which the officer waived her through.

It might be hard to believe, but today we celebrate the final Sunday of the Church year.  Like the punch line in our joke – the Lord has done it again.  We have, once again, made our yearly pilgrimage of faith through the birth, death, resurrection, teachings and miracles of Jesus and now we come today to the last act.  And as you might expect, as we again prepare to go back to the beginning of this great story, we end on a high note. Effective endings tend to be climactic.  Speeches often end with a ringing acclamation; songs try to end on an up note; operas build up laboriously to a grand finale.  And, it is for this reason, presumably, that the Feast of Christ the King was chosen for this final Sunday of our Church year.

So, we liturgically ascend to the Throne where Christ reigns as King today.  But, this is a notion that might have trouble getting traction for us because in our democratic society, the notion of royalty or of kingship doesn’t have much appeal. As Americans, we honor the voice of the people above that of the Divine Right of Kings.  If this is the case, Pontius Pilate, I think, felt the same way.  As we hear in our Gospel today, he had no sympathy for the concept of Christ’s kingship either. Even though he was an imperialist, Pilate viewed the claims of Christ’s kingship with suspicion.  If Christ were claiming to be a king in a political sense, then he could represent a threat to Pilate’s own position and the empire he was there to defend. Notice that the question uppermost in his mind was not “Are you the Messiah of the Jews?” but “Are you the king of the Jews?”  If the answer was a political one, then the Roman Empire would have a subversive on its hands and Pilate and Jesus would find themselves on a collision course.

The answer that Jesus gives is a relief to Pilate.  He says, “My kingdom does not belong to this world.”  This is a truly shocking statement from Jesus.  Unfortunately, it is one that we have heard so many times that it may have lost its punch.  Jesus tells Pilate that His Kingdom is not made up of kings and queens, of armies and wars, of territories and conquest.  His Kingdom is made up of something entirely different – it is made up of the Truth.  It is made up of something that can’t be won or purchased or conquered. And His kingship cannot be stripped away even as He is stripped and beaten because He is the very Truth of that Kingdom.  “I am the way and the truth and the life,” He said. “No one can come to the Father except through me.” Christ is saying to Pilate and to us, “I am the Truth from God – I am God’s revelation of Himself. I am God’s Word.  God is speaking to the world through me.” 

This must have been an amazing thing for Pilate to hear; and it should be something amazing for us to hear as well. St. John spelled out the reality of this in the prologue to his Gospel, “In the beginning was the Word: the Word was with God and the Word was God…The Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, the glory that He has from the Father as the only Son of the Father, full of grace and truth.” 

What Jesus had to say to Pilate doesn’t end with His statement.  In fact, it ends with a challenge when He said, “Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.” Would Pilate listen? Do we?  As far as we know, Pilate did not choose to accept the invitation of Christ to become one of God’s children. What he did at the end of the day, instead of listening to Christ, to the Truth, was to wash his hands of Him. We, too, can be tempted to wash our hands of what Christ asks of us.  But, today’s feast reminds us that our allegiance belongs to Christ our King; that we are all called to belong to the Truth and to listen to His voice. This is how Christ is meant to be our King – ruling our hearts and our lives.

We know there are many voices in our modern world competing for our allegiance – the call to unbridled materialism and consumerism; the call to a secular self-sufficiency that convinces us we can do it all on our own with no need for God; the daily distracting calls to the trivial and the transitory. There is no shortage of calls. But, in the midst of it all, Christ is calling too. He is telling us emphatically about the uniqueness of His authority and the reliability of His claim to be the very incarnation of God’s Truth.  He is calling us to the counter-cultural truth that we are meant to love radically – both our neighbors and even our enemies; that we are meant to reach out to the needy, the homeless, the addict, those on the margins.  He is calling us to transform our broken world into His Kingdom of love and peace and holiness.

As our Church year ends on this high note, let us raise a cheer for Christ our King, let us abandon all other false kings that demand our loyalty; let us listen to the voice of the One who saves us and let us dwell in His abiding and unchanging Truth.

“Everyone who belongs to the truth, listens to my voice.”

May the Lord give you peace.

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