Sunday, November 26, 2006

Christ the King, Redeemer of Man

(Feast of Christ the King-Year B;This homily was given 25 & 26 November, 2006, at Our Lady of Mercy, East Greenwich, R.I.; read Revelation 1:5-8 and John 18:33-37)

Our Gospel for this Feast of Christ the King is the mysterious passage from St. John’s Gospel, where Christ is questioned before Pontius Pilate. It is mysterious because it involves the Son of God being interrogated by a man, but it is also mysterious because it is difficult to understand just where Pilate is coming from.

Is he serious and sincere as he questions Christ? Is he simply curious about who this Jesus of Nazareth is, or is he outright sarcastic? Whatever the case may be, one thing is perfectly clear: Pontius Pilate does not realize who Christ really is.

Christ describes Himself as a King whose “kingdom does not belong to this world” (John 18:36). He certainly is a King in the world, but His kingdom is not of this world. With that, a light seems to dawn for Pilate. He asks, “Then you are a king?” And Jesus responds:

For this I was born and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.
—John 18:37

It is a response that is unfortunately lost on Pilate, but it stands at the heart of today’s Feast of Christ the King, and is fundamental for understanding who Christ really is: the one who “testifies to the truth.”

In 1979, just a few months after being elected Pope, John Paul the Great issued his first encyclical letter: Redemptor Hominis—The Redeemer of Man. Re-iterating many of the foundational principles of the Second Vatican Council, he described how the key to understanding the history of humanity, and to understanding humanity itself, is found completely only in Jesus Christ. He alone is “the center of the universe and of history” (Redemptor Hominis, #1).

Directly paraphrasing Vatican II’s Gaudium et Spes, he went on to describe Christ as the one who reveals who God is, since He is fully Divine, and who also reveals the truth about man, since he is also fully human (Gaudium et Spes, #22, Redemptor Hominis, #8).

Again, we can listen to the words of Christ to Pontius Pilate:

For this I was born and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth.

Christ comes to testify to, or bear witness to, the truth about God and the truth about man. That truth is this:

That God created us, He loves us and has redeemed us in Christ; even when we had turned away from him, even when we had sinned, God still sent Christ to suffer and die on the cross to save us so that we might live with Him forever in heaven . That is who God is, as revealed by Christ.

The truth about man is directly related to that. Because Christ came and took on our human nature, He has also raised us “to a dignity beyond compare” (Redemptor Hominis, #8). We who have been baptized into Christ have been made a part of God’s own Kingdom: Sons and Daughters of God, kings and queens in a sense, as members of His kingdom.

These are not just the pious thoughts and sentiments of Pope John Paul the Great, nor are they merely theological reflections from the Second Vatican Council. They are truths that are found all throughout the Scriptures.

In our second reading for the Feast of Christ the King, from the Book of Revelation, we hear that:

Jesus Christ is the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead and ruler of the kings of the earth. To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood . . .
—Revelation 1:5

That is the first truth Christ reveals to us, about who God is: The one “who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood.” The second truth follows directly after that: He is also the one “who has made us into a kingdom, priests for his God and Father” (Revelation 1:6).

We have been made into a kingdom, raised to “a dignity beyond compare.” Because of our baptism, we share in the very life of God. What more could we possible want than that?

You may have read the book “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe,” from C. S. Lewis. It is one of the books in a series called The Chronicles of Narnia and was recently made into a movie.

The story—an allegory for the Christian faith—is an endearing tale of four children who enter the mystical Land of Narnia, and meet there a lion named Aslan, who is the King of Narnia. He is the one who will eventually give his life for the sake of the people, and obviously represents Christ.

These four children serve along side Aslan, and they, too, give completely of themselves for the sake of the King and for the Land of Narnia. In a very moving scene at the end of the book, Aslan has them sit in four thrones, and he places a crown on each of their heads. With great solemnity he says,

“Once a king or a queen in Narnia, always a king or a queen.”

C. S. Lewis, a devout Christian, understood the dignity of Baptism. It is not something that can easily be revoked when we fail; it is not something we can easily lose because of our sins and weaknesses. But it is something we are called to live up to.

That is our challenge today on this Feast of Christ the King, to fulfill what John Paul II calls our “kingly service” (Redemptor Hominis, #21), following in the footsteps of Christ the King, who came “not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45).

We do that—Redemptor Hominis continues—in two very practical ways. First and foremost, by being faithful within our own vocation. Whether we are called to the priesthood, religious life or the married life, we are called to be faithful and fruitfull right where God has called us.

Secondly, we fulfill our “kingly service” by using our freedom wisely. We are called to use our freedom, not for selfish gain, but to love and serve God and others. “Christ teaches us that the best use of freedom is charity, which takes concrete form in self-giving and in service” (Redemptor Hominis, #21).

Might we be found faithful in following the footsteps of Christ the King in our own kingly service here on earth, and come to discover the truth that: “Once a king or a queen in the Kingdom of God, always a king or a queen.”