Sunday, 22 November 2015

Christ the King (Year B) -- 22 November 2015

Readings: Daniel 7:13-14; Psalm 93; Revelation 1:5-8; John 18:33b-37

In the traditional fifteen mysteries of the Rosary the central moment was the third sorrowful mystery, the crowning of Jesus with thorns. It is a moment familiar from the passion story, as recorded in the gospels of Matthew, Mark and John. It is bizarre, crude and obscene. Jesus is mocked as if he were a king: 'exalted' by being dressed in purple, 'honoured' by being crowned with thorns, 'respected' by being orally abused, 'venerated' by being slapped across the face, and 'anointed' by the spittle of the soldiers.

The prophetic visions of the Old Testament had often spoken of kingdoms. They painted pictures of armies and of victories, of enemies overthrown and of God's people established in a reign that would endure for ever.

The prophetic visions of the New Testament are very similar, but with one striking addition. At the head of the armies, at the centre of the battles, on the throne of victory, stands a lamb. The one who was pierced is now the ruler of the kings of the earth. The one who was annihilated, stripped of all friends, of all possessions, of all security, of all dignity, of all future possibilities, made to be nothing - this one is 'the First and the Last, the beginning and the end'.

A well-known story mocks a proud emperor who thought he was wearing a new suit of fine clothes when all he had on was his underwear. In contrast, Jesus was dressed up 'as if' he were a king - and he really was one. Indeed, the glory of God was revealed in Jesus most clearly in that moment when he was crowned with thorns.

'He loves us', says the Apocalypse today, simply, straightforwardly. 'Perfect love casts out fear', says Saint John in his first letter. Secure in the love of the Father, Jesus gained the victory of the cross. From that brief day of his passion and death, Jesus' martyrdom thunders across the ages and proclaims forever the truth about God: 'He loves us'. There is nothing more serious, nothing more valuable, nothing more true, nothing else worth having, because nothing is comparable to 'the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord'.

Jesus' faithful witness to the truth of God establishes the kingdom that is indestructible, the eternal kingdom. It is built on the solid foundation of what Saint Augustine calls 'the humility of God'. The one who is mocked subverts all human pretension and pride. He teaches us how to conquer our pride, and leads us into his kingdom of truth and life, holiness and grace, justice, love and peace. The weakness of God, His being crowned with thorns, has established this eternal and universal kingdom. For the weakness of God is stronger than human strength.

It is more difficult to believe as we celebrate Christ the King this year, 2015, with the whole world uniting for a merciless campaign against a merciless foe - 'it is time to kill or be killed' as one commentator puts it. That seems like common sense, the only way to protect and defend the people and the things we value. But we know too that violence always generates more violence, that it is not the way to break the spiral. So the feast calls us to deeper meditation on our common humanity, on our common plight, on our need for 'salvation'.

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