November 23, 2013

Homily for the Solemnity of Christ the King, Year A

Fr. René J. Butler, M.S.
Director, La Salette Shrine
Enfield, NH
I once met a woman who was descended from the first man executed in the American colonies. It was a curious fact, but it did not reflect negatively on herself.

There are people, however, who live with inherited guilt. The descendants of famous Nazis such as Himmler, Goering and others have distanced themselves as much as possible from their cruel history. Descendants of Hitler’s nephews have changed their name and live a secluded life.

There is also guilt by association, as expressed by sayings about “birds of a feather” or “you are the company you keep.” Even the British royal family, in 1917, because of strong anti-German sentiment during World War I, changed its name from the German “Saxe-Coburg and Gotha” to “The House of Windsor.”

And yet, Matthew in the very first chapter of his Gospel seems to go out of his way to remind us that Jesus’ ancestry included incest (Judah), adultery and murder (David himself!) and kings who worshipped false gods.

In all four Gospels we find Jesus crucified with two criminals. During his public ministry Jesus had associated with sinners, but this was different. Here, he is one of them! Crucifixion was designed to inflict not only pain but also humiliation. Any one crucified had no dignity left.

And this is the image put before us on the feast of Christ the King! Again, all four Gospels relate the inscription over the head of Jesus, indicating the charge, the crime for which he was being executed: “King of the Jews.” The other two criminals presumably had charges above their heads, and we can be sure it wasn’t petty thievery!

This is the Jesus whom Paul calls “the image of the invisible God... in whom all fullness was pleased to dwell.” No higher rank, no higher dignity is conceivable.

We just commemorated John F. Kennedy’s assassination. It still shocks us when people of high status are assassinated. The French revolution’s execution of royalty sent shock waves throughout Europe. More shocking perhaps for us at that time is the official execution of an entire convent of Carmelite nuns!

Jesus’ execution actually shocks us less, maybe because we are so familiar with it, but especially because through it he was “making peace by the blood of his cross.”

A governor can pardon a criminal, but he can’t “reconcile” the criminal with anyone. In today’s Gospel we witness a royal pardon. Christ the King says: “Today you will be with me in paradise.” This is more than a pardon, it is reconciliation.

Years ago in Rome I noticed a government building with a large inscription: Ministero di grazia e giustizia, Ministry of Mercy and Justice. That is the reality of today’s scene in Luke. Jesus performs an act of justice towards the Father, atoning, making peace, reconciling. At the same time he performs an act of mercy towards the criminal, an act of reconcilIation.

This is the King we celebrate today. In the very moment when he is sneered at by his enemies and by a “fellow criminal,” and with no human dignity left, he shows himself to be worthy of all glory.

And so we make ours the words of St. Paul: “Let us give thanks to the Father, who has made you fit to share in the inheritance of the holy ones in light.” In other words, by the very name of Christian, we are meant to be “guilty by association” with Jesus Christ our King.

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