Christ the King Sunday, A
Scotch tape…was invented in 1925. What a world changer that was, heh? 1925 was actually kind of a big year. Not just the Scotch tape thing, although that was really big. 1925 also saw the death in Congress of what could have been the first U.S. Child Labor Law. The law met its demise largely due to concerns of child idleness. In 1925 Sears Roebuck opened its first retail store, Britain’s first television transmitter was created. In 1925 Adolf Hitler published Mein Kampf and Benito Mussolini declared himself dictator of Italy.
And in 1925, in what has been described as “perhaps the most…ignored encyclicals of all time” Pope Pius XI established “Christ the King Sunday”, making today’s feast day one of the newest on the liturgical calendar. In the changing world around him, Pius XI saw an increasingly secular world; a growing division between the life of faith and “real life”. He established Christ the King Sunday in a deliberate attempt to strengthen his flock in their knowledge of Christ as the seat of their true allegiance. In a day and age in which allegiance to “king and country” was part of the cultural fabric through which all of life was woven, the concept made sense.
In the here and now Scotch tape does far more to hold our lives together than any notion of kings and queens. Our idea of royalty lies somewhere on that convoluted line from fairy tale character to the fascinating curiosity that is the House of Windsor to the sort of despotic dictator from whom our ancestors escaped to a new land and which remain far too common still today. Kings and their ilk summon images of power, of opulence, of entrenched tradition, of form over substance, and of self-important grandeur. The images bear little resemblance to the radical, homeless, penniless, counter-cultural, mystical rabbi Jesus.
The Gospel lesson starts out sounding pretty kingly. “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory. All the nations will be gathered before him.” There the resemblance to our pre-conceived kingly notions ends. ‘I was hungry,’ says our king. ‘I was thirsty.’ ‘I was a stranger, naked, sick, in prison.’ This is, in Matthew’s Gospel, the last time Jesus teaches the disciples. This is is it. The last lesson. Two days later He’ll be debating the nature of Kingship with Pontius Pilate.
Read superficially, the lesson seems to be a checklist. Feed hungry, clothe naked, visit prisoners. Done. Sheep it is. See ya later, goats. Heaven, here I come. But wait, does that mean all the hungry? Am I a goat if I miss one? There are 2.3 million prisoners in the US alone – do I have to visit them all?
I may be getting myself into theological trouble here, but I don’t think that’s what Jesus was talking about at all. I don’t think he was taking this last teaching opportunity to advocate a running reckoning of righteousness. Jesus absolutely wanted the hungry fed, the naked clothed, the strangers welcomed – no question about it. And he wanted us, his body, his followers to do it. All the same, I don’t think He was offering us Heaven as a reward for living compassionately the way we might offer an extra story to a child because she got ready for bed without fussing.
Jesus was really saying something much more profound, about who he was, why he was here at all….Peter Woods says, “If I look closely at the Gospel for this Sunday I see not a distant detached King but a comrade who is hungry, thirsty, a stranger who is naked sick and in prison…Jesus is the one who comes to me when I am hungry even after my lovely home cooked meal, thirsty after my bottled Evian water, a stranger in my home town, naked in my designer labels and in prison whilst speeding down the freeway.” Jesus came to us to share our lives, our struggles, our journeys, our deaths.
Suzanne Guthrie writes, “… the moment my suffering meets your suffering, the moment our eyes meet, an alchemical change takes place. I am in you and you are in me. Suffering makes us one.” Jesus would be one with us, if we will join with Him. To join with Him, we must open our eyes and see – see the suffering, see the injustice, the pain, the love, the beauty – see the Christ in the eyes of all humanity and respond as we would to someone we love, someone who loves us.
Barbara Brown Taylor says of this process, “I will tell you something you already know. Sometimes when you look into those eyes all you see is your own helplessness, your own inability to know what is right. And sometimes you see your own reflection; you see everything you have and everything you are in a stark new light. Sometimes you see such gratitude that it reminds you how much you have to be thankful for, and sometimes you see such a wily will to survive that you cannot help but admire it, even when you are the target of its ambitions. These are all things we need to know—about Jesus, about our brothers and sisters, about ourselves—but we cannot know them if we will not look.”
To live is to be in relationship. To live in Christ is to be in relationship with Christ. Jesus does not offer us a get out of Hell free card – but He does offer us a choice. Today marks the last week of the church year. Next Sunday we begin afresh in the anticipation of new birth. Amidst the frantic hustle and bustle of the upcoming commercial season and the contemplation and uneasy expectation of the Advent season, we have a choice. We can live and love, eyes open, hearts open; or we can die into the emptiness of self-imposed isolation from God born in indifference.
May God bless you with discomfort at easy answers, half truths, and superficial relationships, so that you may live deep within your heart.
May God bless you with anger at injustice, oppression, and exploitation of people, so that you may work for justice, freedom and peace.
May God bless you with tears to shed for those who suffer from pain, rejection, starvation and war, so that you may reach out your hand to comfort them and to turn their pain into joy.
May God bless you with enough foolishness to believe that you can make a difference in this world, so that you can do what others claim cannot be done.
(Franciscan Blessing – author unknown)
Amen and amen