We often hear the phrase, ‘He lives like a king.’ By this we mean that the individual concerned lives a life of opulence and luxury, not giving a thought to what other people think or giving the remotest concern for the poor. But this is not the way people thought about kings in the ancient world.
People don’t believe overmuch in kings or queens today. Our own monarchy has taken a severe battering and it is suitability in the modern world becoming more and more of an open question and there is constant talk about the monarchy having to reinvent itself. But here in Britain we are talking about a constitutional monarchy which is quite a different thing from a real old-style king with a capital K.
Actually, the word king is one of the most frequently used words in the Old Testament; it is mentioned more than 2,500 times. The people in those days expected a great deal from their kings. Psalm 72 expresses it quite well:
Teach the king to judge with your righteousness, O God;
share with him your own justice,
so that he will rule over your people with justice
and govern the oppressed with righteousness.
he rescues the poor who call to him.
and those who are needy and neglected.
he has pity on the weak and poor;
he saves the lives of those in need.
He rescues them from oppression and violence;
their lives are precious to him.
We are, of course, talking about a good king; bad kings there were in plenty but they get no consideration at all. The people looked to the good king for protection, for justice, for fairness and most of all for mercy.
Look at the first reading today about the Lord protecting and caring for his flock. This is how it is in the Kingdom of God: The Lord caring lovingly for his flock, bringing back the stray and bandaging the weak. Earthly kings, even very good ones, can only ever be a pale imitation of the kind of king the Lord is.
We look to Christ and regard him as king of our lives, king of our hearts. We are glad to be his subjects for we know that he will be a true king to us; one who will guide us and guard us, feed us and heal us, love us and keep us.
When he comes in all his glory at the end of the world and the true extent of his kingship is made known all rulers will honour him, and all nations will be subject to him, and all peoples will praise him. But then, at that moment of glory, something else will be revealed in all its fullness and that is what is expressed very clearly in today’s Gospel. That although Christ is the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords, he is also the weakest of the weak and the lowest of the low.
This is the Gospel paradox. This proves that he is God; that the High King of Heaven becomes lowly for our sake. That he who is to be worshiped by everything that lives and breathes becomes the one most despised of all, and dies in disgrace on the cross of Calvary with the cry of the people echoing through the ages, ‘Crucify him, crucify him!’
Christ the King disguises himself as the poorest of the poor. He is a God who presents himself to us each day as someone who is hungry, or thirsty, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or imprisoned. He is indeed a God who challenges us, who challenges our charity, our patience, our love.
Today we think particularly about our young people. We are so much afraid of losing them from the Church. We are afraid that they will grow up not knowing Christ. We are afraid that they will be infected by the spirit of our age, which is completely indifferent to the religious dimension of human life. These fears are understandable. But these fears reflect only our own inadequacies, our own lack of faith. We want them to go to Church, and we ask them why they don’t want to go to Church. But this is the wrong question.
The real question is why do we go to Church. But we don’t need to tell them or go into long explanations because they already know. They see what we say and see what we do and they already have their answer. Our job therefore is to go to Church for the right reasons and to live our Christian faith to the full; to take seriously the words of today’s Gospel and live our lives accordingly. To regard Christ truly as our King, by respecting the poor, by speaking the truth in love, by leading lives worthy of our vocation. And most of all by spending time in prayer, communing with the one who knows and loves us more than anyone. Do this and you will have no worries about your children losing the faith. Do this and you will have really found what faith truly means.
There are also a fair few young people in this parish, but don’t think I’m letting you off the hook. You hear the words of God just as clearly as your parents. You have all the zeal and idealism of your youth: the wish and aspiration to do something really great, something truly authentic and worthy. This is something marvellous and we wish you all you wish for yourselves.
But there are many different kinds of examples before you and all kinds of ideologies vying for your attention. The crossroads lies just ahead and there are many ways you can go. I only say to you exactly what I say to your parents: don’t ask yourself why other people are doing things in their particular way, but rather ask yourself why are you choosing to do things your particular way.
Be sure of your own motives. Be sure you know your own real deep-down reasons and make sure that they are the right ones. Make sure that they are the ones that really will enable you to reach your ideals and aspirations. Do this and you will keep your integrity, do this and you will find the truth and authenticity that you desire so much.
This is a truly great feast day. Today we celebrate. Today we give praise and glory and honour to Christ who is our King.
Father Alex McAllister SDS
Parish Priest of
St Thomas à Becket