Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe
November 20, 2016
Homily by Fr. John De Celles
St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church
To many people, being in a positon of authority
—whether it’s the absolute authority of some kings or emperors,
or the limited authority of presidents, governors, senators,
or even pastors—
to many it’s all about having personal power over others.
Even when he uses the power to do what he thinks is good for them,
—it’s about what he thinks is good for them, not what necessarily truly is good for them, or what they think is good for themselves.
It’s about his power to impose his will on them.
But that’s not what we celebrate today on this feast of Christ the King.
Of course, Christ is the all-powerful King of the Universe.
But for the omnipotent Jesus, Kingship is not about mere domination,
but about generosity.
It’s not about imposing his will on us,
but offering us, if we want it, everything that is good for us.
Even giving us, generously, the power to choose to take it or not.
And he not only offers us everything we need,
but also, whatever he gives us is infinitely more generous and wonderful
than anything we could dream of.
Perhaps one of the most striking yet simple examples of this is found in today’s Gospel
as the good thief asks his King:
“Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”
And Jesus replied, “”Amen, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”
The thief asks only to be “remembered”,
but Christ promises him not only that, but “paradise today”.
God’s generosity to man begins in the very beginning.
After creating the whole universe
God, as sovereign Lord of the universe,
first gave life to man,
but then gave all his creation over to man as a gift.
But even this wasn’t enough for him to give—he wanted to give us something more:
to give us a share of his own life and love, to live and love with him forever.
But he also gave us free will, as the story of Adam and Eve tells us.
And in that free will God allowed them and us
to choose to reject his most generous offer.
Even so, God never took back the offer.
Instead, he set about a plan to help us to come back and accept the gift.
And so he eventually established Israel as his own people,
the doorway he would eventually enter through to give us another chance.
Now, when God first established the nation of Israel, he established it without a king.
They were governed by Judges, and local rulers.
God told them that the only King that they should have was Him
–God was their true king.
And what better king could they have?
But as time went on the people demanded a human King.
God warned them that a human king
would fall prey to the temptations of worldly power
imposing his will on Israel, and, in effect, make them into “his slaves.”
But in spite of his warning they continued to insist,
so, God, in his amazing generosity, gave them their first human King: King Saul.
And it didn’t take long for Saul to do what God warned against:
caught up in his pride and lust for power,
Saul began to, in effect, enslave his people.
So, God removed Saul, and replaced him with King David.
But David also fell victim to the temptations of power:
we all know the story of Bathsheba.
So, then God made a promise to Israel:
one day a descendant of David would come and rule over not just Israel
but over the whole world as well.
But this king would be different
–perfectly just and not falling to the temptations of the world,
and ruling forever.
Not only would he be David’s son, but he would also be God’s Son, telling David:
“I will raise up your offspring after you,
…and I will establish the throne of his kingdom for ever.
I will be his father, and he shall be my son.”
For a thousand years, through various terrible kings, and wars and exiles,
even as their kingdom was destroyed, and their human kings were replaced
with puppet rulers who ruled under the authority of foreign kings
like Alexander the Great and the Caesars of Rome,
the Israelites clung to their hope in God’s promise for this King,
the Son of God and son of David.
They waited for the one who would be anointed King by God himself
–the one they referred to as the “anointed one,”
or in Hebrew, the “Messiah,” or in Greek, the “Christus”–or “Christ”.
Unfortunately, the King that most of them hoped for was a merely human King
who would come with a human army
and re-establish a human Kingdom, a Kingdom of this world.
A King who would impose his personal power on their enemies.
Of course, such a king would also wind up imposing his power on the Jews as well.
But that was not the King that the prophets foretold;
as Isaiah told them, their King would be:
“despised and rejected by men;
a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief;
…he was despised, and we esteemed him not.”
In the fullness of time God kept his promise:
he sent his Son born of a virgin of the house of David.
As St. Paul tells us in today’s second reading,
he was a king whose kingdom was not of this world,
but rather a kingdom that consists of, as Paul says,
“all things in heaven and on earth…, the visible and invisible.”
A king whose gift to his people is not limited
to his power over worldly goods or economic prosperity, but
to his power to give eternal “redemption, [and] the forgiveness of sins.”
A king who conquered not by making war with the blood of a sword, but by
“making peace by the blood of his cross.”
This king would not be a king who would enslave his people,
but free them.
And he would not be tempted to seek personal satisfaction
in the perks of earthly wealth.
Though worthy of a life of gold, frankincense and myrrh and the adoration of kings,
he was born in a stable and first visited by poor shepherds.
Though worthy of a golden throne covered in jewels
at the right hand of his heavenly Father,
his only thrones in this world would be of wood:
the throne of a wooden manger covered with hay,
and the throne of a wooden cross covered with his own blood.
And so, it was, as we read in today’s Gospel,
that as he hung upon the cross, twice someone said to him:
“let him save himself if he is …the Christ…the King.”
Once this was the voice of the leaders of the people gathered at his feet,
and once it was the voice of the unrepentant criminal crucified next to him.
They didn’t recognize their king,
even though Pilate had placed above his head the sign that said:
“THIS IS THE KING OF THE JEWS.”
Only one spoke up to recognize the king.
Only one…. the one who was suffering with him,
the repentant thief who hanged upon his own cross
recognized that this king did not want to come down from the cross,
because he had no desire to use his divine power to impose his will,
but instead generously offered his own life to free them from their sins,
and to give them a new chance to accept his love, or reject it.
Only one spoke up to recognize his Kingly generosity, and to accept it:
“remember me when you come into your kingdom.”
Christ is King.
But like so many of the people of his day,
we also often don’t recognize him or his kingdom.
Like them we often want him to rule by fulfilling all of our dreams and wishes
and taking away all of our burdens and sufferings
–and sometimes we doubt he is King when he refuses to obey us.
And sometimes we try to replace him as king.
Think about it: who or what is your real king?
Who or what rules your life?
Do you look to the world for your King, and so become a slave to the world?
Is your king worldly power? or money? or fancy toys? or worldly respect? or some worldly ideology?
If so, haven’t they wound up imposing their power on you?
Have you become a slave of sex or drugs or alcohol;
are you ruled by hatred or violence or pride?
Are you a slave of other people’s opinion,
or are you ruled by fear of being unpopular?
Or is your joy and happiness–even the daily joys of this earthly life
–rooted in and transformed by your citizenship in the Kingdom of Jesus Christ?
But a kingdom based solely in power and imposition of that power on others
ultimately leads to slavery
–slavery to kings of this world or to things of this world.
Christ our King, although infinitely more powerful than any human king could ever be,
is also infinitely more generous than any human king could ever be.
And while we can truly begin to enjoy the wonders of his Kingdom
even as we live in this world,
his is not a kingdom of the world,
and so, his generosity isn’t limited to the passing and petty
joys and pleasures of this world:
the true gift of his kingship is a paradise full of treasures beyond all imagining,
a paradise that begins even today in this world as we share in his life and love,
in his grace and power.
So today, and everyday, let us come to come to our Lord,
offering him the praise and adoration
due the King of “heaven and …earth…, the visible and invisible,”
Let us thank him for the many gifts he’s already given us,
but also, let us bring to him all of our sufferings and troubles
–all the crosses of our lives
–not looking so much for worldly relief, and saying with the unrepentant thief,
“if you are king, save yourself and us,”
but rather, accepting our crosses, and as humble repentant sinners, asking only:
“Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”
And let us rejoice in the boundless generosity of Christ the King,
confident that he will reply,
“I assure you: today you will be with me in paradise.”