2004—Feast of Christ the King—C
I recently pulled out my heavy winter coat from storage.
In the pocket I found a ticket stub from the movie Return of the King, part III of the Lord of the Rings trilogy that I saw on the big screen around this time last year.
Today as we celebrate the return of Christ the King, there are many people who feel that this image of "king" is no longer relevant in our American, democratic society.
On the other hand, the archetype of king seems to be alive and well in our American culture. Last year Hollywood gave us Lord of the Rings and Troy. This year we'll see Alexander the Great running rough shod across the silver screen at the local multiplex.
We have Burger King, and Budweiser - the king of beers . . . We have the Lion King and Elvis - the king of rock and roll.
Even my four-year old niece can tell you all about the Magic Kingdom in Florida, ruled over by a bevy of Disney princesses, each with her own castle, her own Prince Charming, and her own collection of little furry friends. I recently asked my niece why Cinderella is her favorite princess. Without batting an eyelash she replied, "Because Cinderella is the LEADER of all the princesses."
So, it seems that the image of royalty with all its power and privilege is alive and well out there, even in our American culture.
All the more reason for us to look very closely at Christ the King on this feast day which marks the end of our liturgical year.
We need to look to Jesus to define for us what being king is all about. We need to look to the one who never claimed the title of King, the one whose crown is made of thorns, the one whose throne is a cross, the one whose royal garment is a towel which he uses to wash the feet of his subjects.
Jesus gives us a whole new way of understanding kingship and royalty. On the cross he's tempted three times, by the rulers, the soldiers and one of the criminals, not unlike those three temptations in the desert earlier in his career. Jesus is tempted to use his power to save himself, rather than his people.
But unlike most other kings throughout history, Jesus remains calm and composed in the face of these temptations. He remains calm because he knows who he is, and he knows who he loves.
Jesus is a man in love with his people.
Jesus is a king who puts his people first because he loves them.
Truly, madly, deeply, Christ the King loves his people.
And who are these people Jesus loves so deeply? Who are the subjects of his kingdom?
During this whole liturgical year which comes to a close this week, we've been listening to Luke teach us about the kingdom. We've been listening to Luke teach us about the people Jesus loves, the people who populate his kingdom: -the poor, the sinner, the lame, the outcast. -the prisoner, the hungry, the lonely and the blind. -the tax collector, the Samaritan, the shepherd, and the leper. and of course, those two criminals who hang on the cross with him during those final hours of his life. Several years ago during my first phase of Jesuit formation in Chicago, I had the opportunity to venture into one of the far flung regions of this kingdom described by Luke.
The place was called the Audy Home, more formally known as the Cook County Juvenile Detention Center. It's basically a jail for kids awaiting trial. Some of the kids belonged to big Chicago gangs like the Latin Kings and the Gangster Disciples. Many of them had been caught up in gang violence, drive-by shootings and drug dealing. Most of them came from broken homes and violent inner-city neighborhoods.
Along with a team of volunteers I spent three years of Tuesday nights and Saturday afternoons visiting these kids, listening to their stories and praying with them.
Around the time when I had to move back to Boston for the next stage of my Jesuit formation, the ministry team organized a special party for a group of kids in the jail that we had led through a Confirmation program.
One of the volunteers even managed to smuggle in a camera, hidden in her guitar case. When the kids saw the camera they immediately wanted their picture taken. They all wanted to be remembered.
I couldn't help but think of the line uttered by the thief on the cross: "Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom." Jesus, remember me. Remember me.
Those troubled kids at Juvenal Hall only wanted to be remembered by the people who had helped them to get a glimpse of the kingdom, a glimpse of the paradise Jesus promises the people he loves. What a grace this was for me! What a privilege it was to walk with the people Jesus loves so dearly. It made me feel like . . . . . . well, it made me feel like a King!
By going to the bottom of the world, I felt on top of the world. In the darkest valley, I felt like King of the Hill. And I carry those memories still. Every time I remember those kids I am with Jesus in paradise.
It's the end of the liturgical year. Next week we begin a new year with the first Sunday of Advent. This is the perfect time to reflect on who really is the Lord of our life.
Who is the King we choose to follow? And who are the people of this kingdom who cry out to be remembered by us?
Has the Gospel of Luke changed our Christian discipleship at all this year? Have we allowed Luke to influence the way we think, the way we work, the way we spend our free time, the way we vote, the way we pray?
This week marks a new beginning, a new opportunity to claim the crucified Christ as our King . . . to recommit ourselves and to welcome his return into our hearts and homes.
He promises us paradise if only we respond to his call: