Sunday, November 25, 2012

Christ the King

Homily Rev. Hezuk Shroff

        Today is the last Sunday of the Church’s liturgical year.  Ever year, we end the Church’s liturgical cycle by celebrating the Kingship of Christ.  But what exactly do we mean when we say that Christ is King?  Even in the Gospel, we see that Pontius Pilate is confused over the whole notion of kingship?  “You are truly king?”, he asks Our Lord.  And Jesus’ reply is very enigmatic, but also very enlightening:  maybe not for Pontius Pilate, but it certainly is for us.  Jesus replies, “My kingdom is not of this world.”  And then he adds, “I came into this world to bear witness to the Truth.  Everyone who belongs to the Truth listens to me.”

        Our Lord Jesus Christ, then, is truly a King.  But his Kingship is not of this world.  It is not a kingship founded on worldly power and strength and might.  It is a Kingship that is founded on Truth.  Jesus Christ is King in the realm of Truth.  What exactly does this mean, and how does it apply to us today, we who desire to be his disciples, faithful to his Commandments and his teachings?

        In the Old Testament, the people of Israel did not originally have a king.  They had patriarchs, elders, and then judges.  But there came a time when the Israelites looked all around them, and saw kings on all their borders.  They became jealous, and so they cried out to God, “We want a king!  We want a king!  We want a king, just like all the other people around us!”  This cry for a king saddened God.  It was never in his divine plan to give his people a king.  Why?  Because he wanted them to understand that he himself was their King!  They did not have a human king because their true King was God himself.  That is what God meant when he said to his people through the prophets, “You shall be my people, and I shall be your God.”  And also, it is what we heard proclaimed in the responsorial psalm:  “The Lord is King; he is robed in majesty!”  Now you have to admit that having God himself as your King is not a shabby deal at all!  And yet that was not enough for the Israelites.  They insisted, “We want a king!  We want a king!”  And so, God finally said to them, “You want a king?  Fine.  I will give you a worldly king.”  And that is when the monarchy was founded among the Israelites.  Some of Israel’s kings were good, others were horrible.  Every king in the Bible was measured against one standard alone:  was he faithful to the Will of God?  In other words, was he faithful to the true King?  Some kings instituted sacrifices to idols or false gods.  Others remained faithful to the one true God of Israel.  Other kings were faithful in terms of how they governed the people, but in themselves, they led very morally questionable lives or frequently fell into sin.  King David is an example of a king who “was after the heart of God”, as the Scriptures say.  And yet, he too fell into moral vices, such as adultery and murder.  But King David repented, and that is what made him so blessed in the eyes of God.

        Finally, the monarchy fell apart among the Israelites.  And despite their attempts to restore it, it was never restored to Israel.  And so, when Christ came into this world among the Jewish people, they had long lived without a king of their own.  The only kings they knew were representatives of their oppressors, the Romans.  And so Our Lord’s response to Pontius Pilate was a bit of a surprise.  He clearly told Pilate that he is truly a king, but not a king in the worldly sense.  And he unites his Kingship to the notion of Truth:  “Whoever belongs to the Truth listens to me.”  This is a very bold claim that Our Lord made.

        Psalm 22 (or 23 in some modern Bibles), begins with the famous words, “The Lord is my Shepherd, there is nothing I shall want.”  This translation follows the Hebrew version of that psalm.  But the Latin and Greek versions of psalm 22 are very different to the Hebrew.  They both begin the psalm with the words, “The Lord rules over me; there is nothing that I lack.”  These versions of the psalm do not speak of God as being a Shepherd (as the Hebrew version does):  rather, they speak about God as being a ruler over his people:  in other words, God is King!  And so it seems that the Israelites finally understood through the psalms and the prophets why the monarchy had to die:  because they came to a realisation that God himself is the only King that they truly need, and when God rules over you, how can you possibly be in want of anything else -- much less, of an earthly king?

        The Church very consciously applies the words of Psalm 22 (23) to Jesus himself.  “The Lord rules over me” means, for us Christians, “Christ rules over me.”  Christ is therefore the true King, in the fullest sense of the word, because he is not only a man, but God himself, the King of Heaven and earth, incarnate in human flesh. There is a very traditional and triumphant hymn in the Catholic Church that always used to be sung on the Solemnity of Christ the King.  The words and melody were both triumphal in nature, very regal we would say.  In that hymn, we would sing, Christus vincit, Christus regnat, Christus imperat!  which means, “Christ conquers, Christ reigns, Christ rules!”  Sadly, it is not heard very often today, except in places where the Traditional Catholic Liturgy is still strong and alive.  Perhaps it is not used today because it appears to sound a bit triumphalistic to modern ears.  But there is nothing triumphalistic about it, in the negative sense.  It is simply a hymn that proclaims the universal Kingship of Christ, over all peoples, all nations, all men and women.  Many who do not accept Christ can deny his kingship over them; but that does not make him any less of a King.  Christ must reign in our hearts, for without him, we can do absolutely nothing. 

        Ultimately, saying that Christ is our King means that we give over all that we have, and all that we are (our very being itself) to him, to do with as he wills, according to his good will and pleasure.  Saying that Christ is our King also means that we must humbly submit ourselves to him, and to his Truth.  Remember what he said to Pontius Pilate:  “Whoever belongs to the Truth listens to me!”  Saying that Christ is our King means allowing all that we do to be offered up to him for his greater glory.  In the Church’s liturgy, we show our reverence to Christ the King is various ways.  For example, the priest bows his head slightly whenever the Most Holy Name of Jesus is said aloud (as we do also at the Holy Name of Mary).  And we genuflect in the presence of Jesus, once again to acknowledge that we are in the presence of our King.  In ancient times, whenever a King entered a room where his subjects were present, they would bend the knee to the floor in order to acknowledge his kingship over them.  In the Middle Ages, this custom was maintained, but with a very important difference:  the right knee was bended only to God (so, for example, before the Real Presence of Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament), whereas the left knee was bended in the presence of the earthly king.  This was done to show that we never give the same honour and veneration to a human king that we would give to God himself.  That is why even today, we always bend the right knee before the Tabernacle or the Real Presence of Jesus on the altar.  This is also why we kneel to prepare ourselves for the consecration, to remind us that Christ our true King is about to become present on the altar.

        One of the natural consequences of acknowledging Christ as our true King is that we also acknowledge the Virgin Mary as our true Queen.  She is Queen of Heaven and earth, because she is the worthy Mother of the King of Heaven and earth.  Images of Jesus as King and Mary as our Queen are not meant to distance Christ or the Blessed Virgin from us:  on the contrary, they are meant to show us how much we are loved by God.  True kingship is not about lording it over one’s subject.  The true king is the one who serves his people, and that is exactly what Christ came to do for us out of love.  As our King, he serves us:  “I came not to be served,” he says, “but to serve, and to give up my life for the multitude.”  Christ the King shows us that true power, authority and kingship always imply humble service; they imply taking the last place, becoming the servant of all.

        Today, we give thanks to God the Father, for sending us his Son to be our Saviour, our Lord, our King.  We pray that one day, all things may be restored to God the Father in and through Christ his Son -- just like the Collect (opening) prayer of this Mass says.  And as the same pray says, we ask for the grace of being set free from slavery and sin, so as to render service to our Majesty, Christ the King, and to proclaim unceasingly his praises for all eternity!  Christus vincit, Christus regnat, Christus imperat!  Christ conquers, Christ reigns, Christ our hearts!  May his Kingdom come, here on earth, as it is in Heaven.  Amen.

Rev. Hezuk Shroff is the Associate Pastor: of Divine Infant Parish
6658 Bilberry Drive
Orleans ON K1C 2S9


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