Fr Adrian's Homily
Year A 2020
Fr Adrian Farrelly
Only once in the Gospels does Jesus admit to being a king. He makes this admission to Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor of the occupied country of Palestine. Jesus is in custody having been arrested earlier that evening. He has had his last meal with his disciples. He will die in the afternoon of the next day by crucifixion, a humiliating form of execution reserved for slaves and rebels.
From time to time, the people had wanted to proclaim him a king. In many ways this desire is understandable. Much of what he said to the people in his teaching was about the kingdom of God or the kingdom of heaven which he said was coming. However, what he was talking about and what the people were thinking were two different things. The people wanted a king like David a thousand years before. They wanted freedom from Roman rule. They wanted a warrior who would go into battle for them and lead them to victory.
Jesus did proclaim a kingdom but it would come into existence not by force of arms but by freely choosing to look at reality as he himself looked at reality. In his reply to Pilate, Jesus links his idea of King to truth. He proclaims that this was the mission entrusted to him when he came into the world. He was to bear witness to the truth. The truth about God, the truth about being a human being, the truth about existence. People would embrace truth when they embraced him. The famous reply in the Gospel of John has Jesus saying to the apostle Thomas: “I am the way, the truth and the life.”
Whenever anyone really chooses to look at reality as Jesus looks at reality they come alive to the fullest way of living imaginable. What the “new sighted” people see is that we are encountering God and interacting with God in doing the ordinary stuff of life. The final judgement scene in chapter 25 of the Gospel of Matthew has people being welcomed with a blessing or dismissed with a curse on the basis of what each of them did or neglected to do to someone in need. “I was hungry and you gave me food; I was thirsty and you gave me drink; I was a stranger and you made me welcome; naked and you clothed me, sick and you visited me, in prison you came to see me.” “For I was hungry and you never gave me food; I was thirsty and you never gave me anything to drink; I was a stranger and you never made me welcome, naked and you never clothed me, sick and imprisoned and you never visited me.” To respond to those in need is to live the truth of being human and the greatest way of giving glory to God.
Pope Pius XI introduced the feast of Christ the King in 1925. He saw the feast as a way of rallying Catholics against what he denounced as secularism, an ideology which sidelines God from human affairs. At first, it was celebrated on the last Sunday in October but Pope Paul VI in 1969 transferred the feast to the last Sunday of the Church’s liturgical year (next Sunday is the first Sunday of Advent, the beginning of the liturgical year and the beginning of the Scripture readings of year B).
The church has had long associations with kings. The conversion to Christ of the Emperor Constantine was a mixed blessing for Christianity. From being leaders of a persecuted movement the bishops and other church leaders assumed positions of power and dressed accordingly. Popes and bishops lived in palaces and often behaved accordingly. Pope Francis chose to live in a unit in the Vatican complex rather than the papal palace.
Jesus knew the seductive power of being in a position of authority. To ensure authority is always exercised wisely he placed it in the context of service. “I came not to serve but to serve and to give my life as a ransom for many.” As his followers, we are not to lord it over other people. The truth he witnessed to in the world was that a fully alive human being was one who served the needs of others. These were the ones blessed by the Father. Those who neglected to live such a life of service were not cursed by God. They were cursed by themselves and lost what God wanted them to inherit from the foundation of the world.
We take the words of dismissal at mass to heart: Go in peace to love and to serve the Lord.