Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Not so much as a slap on the cheek.

November 23, 2008
The Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ the King
Mass Readings:
Ezekiel 34:11-12, 15-17
1 Corinthians 15:20-26, 28
Matthew 25:31-46

Kingdom. Empire. These are two words that for me at least, conjure images of mighty, wealthy, armed to the teeth countries. Empire and kingdom always trigger for me images of the Roman Empire or Alexander the Great who conquered and claimed the known world as their own.

The New Testament is loaded with tension between the people of God and the powers that be of the Roman Empire. There were zealots of the day who believed that the Jews should physically strike against the Romans and overthrow the empire and reclaim the land. Jesus even had a zealot or two in his rag-tag band of disciples.

In the century and a half before the "Word was made flesh", there was the Maccabean revolt that saw the overthrow of the Greeks. Judas Maccabee was heralded as a "messiah" and that their empire would stand indefinitely. Judas Maccabe also known as Judas the Hasmonean, Judas the Hammer was the model for a messiah. His strength in battle was the ideal and he established a dynasty of security and prosperity. That worked until the Romans decided otherwise. Thing is, the idea of a military messiah was already ingrained in the psyche of the people. The hope was that the messiah would usher in a new empire, a kingdom that would overthrow the Roman Empire and restore control to the people.

So here comes Jesus, the Word made flesh and he doesn't come into the world with a roar and a military brilliance to crush the Roman Empire. Jesus was exactly the opposite of what was hoped for. Jesus enters the world defenseless and dependant. A baby that needs love and support. How could this be the glorious entry of the Messiah sent from God? How can a baby possibly mirror the great Hasmonean Dynasty?

I think in some ways we still look for a "Christian Empire". I am currently reading a book that describes how there are radical, so called "Christian" groups who actually believe that if the Middle East would just devolve into WW III, then Jesus would be forced to return and "rapture" the faithful away and just let the sinners burn! Peace in the Middle East for them is a bad thing. Holy cow! These people even believe that military force is just fine and dandy in order to force Jesus' hand and get him to come back! How can anyone believe such things? Why do some still want to make Jesus a figure of violence? Are some Christians so desperate to escape the world that they believe any means necessary to try and force Jesus' return is okay? As if we mere mortals can force Jesus to do anything! Silly and arrogant stuff yet horrible, terrifying and worst of all, dangerous.

Today we celebrate the last Sunday in Ordinary Time. Today we celebrate the Solemnity of Christ the King. Today we celebrate the Kingdom of Christ. This kingdom is eternal and complete. Jesus' Kingdom is one of absolute good, absolute peace, absolute love and absolute joy and it is built without so much as a slap on the cheek. There can be no violence, hatred, malice, or deceit in Jesus' kingdom.

Jesus' kingdom is the promise of God's love! In Jesus there is life eternal for all who call on his holy name and believe. There are no hidden initiation rites that only a few are privy to. There are no physical battles that must be fought in order to enter Jesus' kingdom. There is only the call from Jesus to surrender to his love and accept his salvation. A kingdom that never fires a shot, a kingdom that is for any and all who merely believe and call upon Jesus. That's a kingdom we human beings can never build on our own because it all rests upon Jesus, the true Messiah who conquered sin and death with love and self sacrifice.

Christ Jesus is the one true and eternal King of all creation and no human being can force or hinder his act of love and redemption. Jesus is not a king of violence and hate and he does not wish for anyone to suffer and die. It is our choice to accept or deny his salvation. If there is to be suffering it is of our own choosing, not his.

So what is our part? Any and all of us who have received the Lord's great gift of salvation are the disciples of today and we are called to go forth and invite all people to the great table of the kingdom so that all may dine with the Lord. We are to build the Lord's kingdom by being the very face of Jesus to all our brothers and sisters. Jesus' idea of kingdom is one that sees to the needs of all who suffer and not the quest for geographical boundaries or riches. Jesus' kingdom is one of justice, love, and peace. Jesus' kingdom is one in which prejudice and bigotry cannot and do not exist. Jesus' kingdom is for all and not a select group that knows the secret handshake.

We gather here today and we celebrate the kingdom over which Christ is the eternal King. This kingdom is of spirit and truth. We receive the Body and Blood of our Salvation and we have a foretaste of eternity in the Lord's presence. Earthly kingdoms rise and fall. Nothing on earth stands forever so we should really be careful where we put our trust. We are to rest in the confidence that we are welcome in God's Heavenly Kingdom where Christ is the king that saves and loves.