Solemnity of Christ the King
November 24, 2019
Homily by Fr. John De Celles
St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church
Most of you are familiar with a Great and Powerful King
who History tells us conquered and ruled most of the near east
about 300 years before the birth of Christ
–a young man named Alexander the Great.
According to an ancient story,
it’s said that one day when Alexander was riding with his army
a beggar along the side of the road cried out to him for a piece of bread to eat.
Alexander looked down on the man and instead of giving him the bread he asked for
promised that he would make the beggar ruler over 5 great cities.
Of course the beggar was shocked, and replied,
“Lord I ask for only bread and you make me a ruler,
to which Alexander replied:
“My friend, you ask like a beggar, but I give like a king!”
I think that in some ways this story pretty much sums up
today’s feast day of Christ the King.
For Christ, Kingship is not about mere domination,
but about generosity.
And as king He gives us not only everything we need,
but also whatever He gives us is infinitely more generous and wonderful
than anything we could dream of.
Perhaps one 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 as well.
But even this wasn’t enough for Him to give—He wanted to give us something more:
to give us a share of His life in heaven itself.
And so He eventually established Israel as His own people,
the doorway He would eventually enter to give Himself totally to us.
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 warns them that a human king
would fall prey to the temptations of worldly power
and, in effect, make them into “his slaves.”
But in spite of his warning they continue to insist,
and God gave them their first human King: King Saul.
It didn’t take long for Saul to do what God warned against:
caught up in his pride and lust for worldly power and worldly goods,
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 worldly 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.
And 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 under men 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”.
The King that most of them hoped for was a human King
who would come with a human army
and re-establish a human Kingdom, a Kingdom of this world.
But that was not the King that the prophets foretold; as the Isaiah told them:
“He was despised and rejected by men;
a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief;
and as one from whom men hide their faces 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
“all things in heaven and on earth…, the visible and invisible.”
A kingdom who’s gift to His people is not limited
to worldly goods or economic prosperity, but
to 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,
or who would be tempted to seek personal satisfaction
in the perks of earthly wealth.
Though worthy of 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 on the right hand of His heavenly Father,
His only thrones in this world would be of wood:
the throne of a wooden manger, and the throne of a wooden cross.
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 atHhis 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 need of worldly comforts or a worldly kingdom.
Christ is King.
But like so many of the Jews 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 SEEMS powerless to do so.
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?
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?
A mark of the great kings of this world, like Alexander the Great,
is their generously in giving of their worldly goods.
But a kingdom based solely in this world ultimately leads to slavery
–slavery to kings of this world or to things of this world.
Christ our King is more generous than any worldly 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 an eternal paradise
full of treasures beyond all imagining.
So today, and everyday, let us 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 the crosses of this world,
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: this day you will be with me in paradise.”