Homily for the Solemnity of Christ the King, Year C 2019
“What sort of King is Christ” begs the question, what sort of subjects are we.Are we subjects who accept the Universal Kingship of Christ and live by His Holy Laws, or are we subjects who have ‘come of age’ and live by philosophies similar to Protagoras’ ‘man is the measure of all things…” and he has arrogated to himself the right to determine what is right and what is wrong. Philosophies that were fledgling in the twentieth century with the rise of atheistic secularism.
We look back to that time, and we remember sadly the consequences of this philosophy. We remember the rise of the Bolsheviks to power in Russia in 1917. We remember the rise of Fascists to power in Italy in 1922. And we remember the rise of Hitler in 1933. By 1939 Europe was at war with itself and the world by extension was disfigured and wounded by men who were set on building a civilisation that would have no place for God nor religious values.
It is disturbing to recall the statistics of the abuse of human dignity, the collapse of the economy, the lack of social amenities, the indifference to the poor, the disabled and the barbaric intolerance to people who were different. While we remember the twentieth century with so much pain in our heart, we can only wonder if our 21st century is any different. We do not have to look too far to name the overwhelming reality of man’s inhumanity to man, human trafficking.
However, it was during these upheavals in the world that Pius XI in 1925 instituted the Solemnity of Christ the King. He instituted the Solemnity to summon humanity to face itself; and to accept the fact that we can only have good leaders when we submit ourselves to the Kingship of Christ. For it is only when we have been led by the Good King into the goodness of God, Our Father, that we can become good leaders who will cultivate a civilisation of love.
So, we gather today to pay our homage to Christ the King. We gather as a worshipping community to reflect on what sort of King is Christ. We gather to tell our Christian story. A story that reveals Christ as the King who became a child; vulnerable, helpless and dependent on His parents and others. He is the King who was internally displaced and knew first-hand what it feels like to be homeless. He is the King who had to seek refuge, asylum in a foreign land.
He is the king who was like us, but at the same time more than us. He transcends us. He is a mystery. He is that real person that is with us, confronting us, and gradually leading us to a deeper reality. He is the King that is “strange”; He hangs on the cross with two criminals. He is not ashamed of them. He does not condemn them in order to save Himself as the leaders in the Gospel reading from Luke 23:35-43 expected of Him. Rather, He was with them as their King.
He is the King who had the power to lay down His life for His subjects; the King who allowed His subjects to question His Kingship. “If you are the king of the Jews, save yourself.” He let them do this to draw their attention to what their kings ordinarily do. They save themselves at all cost, even at the expense of their subjects. He allowed them to figure out the difference. To know that He is the Shepherd King of His people, who follows His own even to their death.
This is the beauty of our Christian Faith. It is the beauty that we behold when we accept Christ as Our King. The King who is always in the details and patterns of our lives. He is right here with us. He is waiting for us to accept His Kingship. He is very unlike many of our leaders who force their ways on us. Christ the Kings waits patiently, and most times in silence. Thus, we have to be attentive, intelligent, reasonable and responsible as Bernard Lonergan advised.
One person in today’s Gospel who followed Lonergan’s advice and taught us how to accept the Kingship of Christ is the other criminal. He was attentive to all the details of the scoffers. As they taunted Jesus, he seemed to have mentally distanced himself from them to do what the Greeks call Theôria, to consider deeply what they were saying. Spiritually, it means he was praying. He was entrusting himself to Christ and allowing Christ to be his King, leading him to the truth.
And when he finally came to terms with the truth, everything changed. He stopped acting as the criminal he was and started living as the king he had become through his quiet encounter with the King of kings. Here Luke is using the criminal to teach the Jews how to accept their King. He is also telling us that to know what sort of King Christ is, we must be in prayerful conversation with God who is forever in silent conversation with us whether we know it or not.
So, as a king, the criminal became reasonable, that is, he discerned the truth and passed his judgement, “You got the same sentence as this man, but in our case we deserved it: we are paying for what we did. But this man has done nothing wrong” (Luke 23:40-42). He corrected wrong utterances made by the other criminal. He admitted his own wrong doings like the Great King David (2 Samuel 12:13). And he vindicated the Innocent One, the King of kings.
As a king, he turned to Jesus and said, “Jesus remember me when you get into your Kingdom.” And Jesus replied, “Indeed, today you will be with me in paradise.” At this point, he became responsible, a king with the mission of asking thy Kingdom come! A king who is the answer to the question, what sort of subjects are we. We are kings by baptism. Thus, we have to live as kings paying our homage of right worship to the King of kings. For when we worship rightly, we get our politics, our economy right. This is the wisdom behind the institution of Christ King Sunday.
Fr. Francis Afu