22 November 2015
Feast of Jesus Christ, Universal King
Daniel 7:13 – 14
Today it is fitting to talk about kings and kingdoms, about the kingdom of God on earth and the kingdom of God in heaven.
The feast of Christ the King was introduced by Pope Pius XI in 1925. We have only to think of Hitler and Stalin, powers of evil, contrasting with Christ the Prince of Peace. However in today’s world kings are a relic from the past. The word has shifted in meaning and has been devalued a little. We have Burger King in Patrick St. selling king size burgers. We have king of the pops, Los Angeles kings – a team in USA.
When the people of Israel came to Samuel, asking for a king, Samuel was against the idea. In 1 Samuel 8:11 – 18, he spells it out, I quote “The king will take your sons for his cavalry, He will make them plough his land and harvest his crops. He will take the best of your fields and give them to his officers. He will take the best of your cattle, & you yourselves will become his slaves.” This notion of kings and kingdoms was one of the many ideas that Christ stood on its head.
- Kings have kingdoms and palaces. Christ left the family home in Nazareth to his mother when he became an itinerant preacher. “Foxes have holes, birds have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head” (Mt.8:20)
- Kings live in luxury. Christ had a simple lifestyle, died without a cent. Even the shirt on his back was taken from him and raffled to soldiers. He died on a cross, was buried in the borrowed grave of a friend.
- Kings rode on horses and chariots. Christ rode a donkey into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, because the horse was an instrument of war, the tank of its day. John 12:15 quotes Zachariah 9:9 “Your king is coming mounted on a donkey.”
Now back to the Gospel:
Pilate asks Christ a vital question, “are you the king of the Jews?”) (Jn. 19:13) If the answer was a political one, then Pilate and Christ are on a collision course, and the Roman Empire has a subversive on its hands. Pilate is relieved to hear, “My kingdom is not of this world.” (Jn. 18:33). Pilate saw through the schemes of the High Priest and the Pharisees, so he declared Christ to be innocent and washed his hands as a gesture.
“If you release this man you are no friend of Caesar” (Jn. 19:12) – Now Pilate himself is on trial. He declares Christ innocent, but he has to watch his back. He was afraid of being reported to Rome. Christ told him to take a stand for truth. Pilate asks, “what is truth?” (Jn. 18:38). Truth was a bridge too far for Pilate. So he sends an innocent man to his death to save his own skin, to protect his political ambitions, his political career. “What is truth?”. A good question, even today the truth in TV and papers is sold off to vested interests, to people with agendas, to the highest bidder.
“Thy kingdom come” (Mt. 6:10) – Establishing the kingdom of God on earth has always been a dream of all religions. Gaelic pre Christian mythology spoke of “Tir na nOg”; the Old Testament speaks of the reign of the kingdom of God on earth, where “the wolf lies down with the lamb, the calf & the lion will be led by a boy” (e.g. Isaiah 11:6 –9). Islam dreams of an Islamic state ruled by the Koran and Sharia law. This return to Eden here on earth is a lovely dream, a new horizon that is never reached. It’s the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, out of reach.
Christ brought the kingdom of God, why is it not established everywhere? The answer is easy, the values of the kingdom cannot be imposed. God gave us free will. Human nature, free will, greed, and self interest continue to thwart the kingdom of God on earth. We all carry human nature around in our shoes. The weeds of sin and selfishness are still thriving everywhere and dropping new seeds.
We may not change the world, but we can change ourselves.
“Thy kingdom come” (Mt. 6:10) – If we want to enter the kingdom of God in heaven, then we must all first establish his kingdom within the boundaries of our own lives here on earth.
We all have our visions or dreams of what heaven is like, “eye has not seen, nor ear heard,… the good things God has in store for those who love him” (1 Cor. 2:9). In the ancient Gaelic manuscripts there is a story about the old man Oisín, back from Tir na nOg, questioning St. Patrick about Christianity. In it Oisín wants to know if he would hear the blackbird and the thrush in the Christian heaven, could he go hunting there as in the old days with the Fianna.
We probably have a different vision of heaven to Oisín, but whatever it is, wherever it is, one thing is sure, we must establish his kingdom in our lives here first, a kingdom of love, of truth, of compassion, and of justice. Then one day, please God, that vision of ours will become a reality. Oisín has probably discovered that there is no killing in heaven, so that rules out deer hunting. He may however hear the blackbird and the thrush, but he will certainly hear the birds of paradise.
May we too walk the kingdom fields of heaven, with our loved ones, and may we pick and smell the flowers of the second Eden. Amen.
– Bishop Tim Carroll SMA