Bishop Charles’ homily for the Solemnity of Christ the King
Trump, Putin, Duterte, the embattled Theresa May, the increasingly under pressure Jacinda; political leaders are more than ever in the lime light. As always few remain popular for long. Either we expect them unrealistically to play God or worse still they start to think they are God.
Also in the time of Jesus, leadership and governance was a hot political issue. His home territory of Israel and surrounds – what would become known as the Holy Land (Israel, Palestine and Jordan) – was under occupation; it had been annexed and folded into the massive Roman Empire, united under a system of local all-powerful governors. They reigned supreme, supported by the Empire’s advanced knowledge particularly around road and aqueduct building – which built up trade –; and the Governors supervised the one “non-negotiable”: the collection of taxes for the Emperor.
In Israel in Jesus’ time, that political scene was framed by an ancient cultural backdrop: deep in the Jewish people’s DNA was a religious sensibility of expectation and hope. For generations they had been waiting, watching out for, a messiah: a king whose popularity would never wane, one who would crown their aspirations for a nation full of integrity justice and hope.
In our first reading today we heard the young Daniel who lived about 200 years before Jesus, imaging how that King might arrive – on clouds from heaven. And in our gospel, we heard Jesus himself confirming that he was this king. Many had indeed begun to wonder if it might be him. Andrew one of the first disciples, who became an apostle, had dared to make the claim to his older brother Peter: “we have found the messiah” (John 1:41).
So, what then happened? We arrive at the difference between claim and belief. To claim Jesus of Nazareth is the messiah is the King, and to believe that, are two very different things. It’s the same for us today. One a statement or words, the other a commitment which slowly slowly becomes a whole way of life.
The claim and belief of Andrew – he is the messiah and I will follow him – soon met with doubt among the crowds: the problem was that this carpenter’s son from backwater Nazareth, who though most definitely spoke with authority and could hold a crowd, on the surface level, the level of appearances or looks, bore no resemblance to a King. No gold no robes no bling.
So, slowly the crowds became distracted, even bored when he did not offer material security or political liberation but instead offered spiritual sustenance – more difficult to see, and proposed a kingdom not created by decrees or enforced by laws but a kingdom grown and nurtured through participation. A kingdom more like a garden than a barracks. And the crowds, the disciples, us – not just himself – were in his kingdom to be the cultivators or co-builders of integrity, justice and hope.
I think for us today too we can sometimes find ourselves following appearances – the superficial or the bling – and sometimes we can shy from the work of patience, the work of being watchful (that’s the Advent season), the work of listening out for or seeking to grow in understanding of the internal, not always easy to comprehend, transforming message that Jesus places before us calling us to be the workers in and for his kingdom.
At our baptism we were anointed into Christ’s life as priest, prophet, and King. But we aware too of other kingdoms – political, business, lobby group and interest group, crime and tax avoidance kingdoms and so on. Our kingdom has no boarders or limits; we are not called to set up a pious walled city but we Christians are called to permeate every community every entity every organization or business for the good, working for justice and integrity and fairness including a helping hand to those who are fragile or in need.
Jesus called that mission, bearing witness to the truth. Which sets us free. The term truth can sound cold or distant or even a bit scary but it isn’t, because truth far from shunning God’s infant mercy and forgiveness, includes it. So whenever we are tempted to run away from truth we are only running away from our loving God, who as it were, is always seeking to return us to our true selves; the self we really want to be and know deep down we can be; in order that then in turn we may share our inner peace and our clarity of hope-filled vision with others.
As the gentle and soothing season of Advent draws near, let us in humility again resolve to work peacefully yet tirelessly for God’s kingdom of justice and charity in our world, as we edge towards being ourselves people of God’s radiant truth and love.