Hi everyone, here’s my homily for the SOLEMNITY OF JESUS CHRIST THE KING, Sunday, November 25, 2012 -The readings for today can be found at http://usccb.org/bible/readings/112512.cfm. As always, thanks for reading, for sharing this blog, and all your feedback and comments. God Bless You, Fr. Jim
The other morning I saw an article that kind of surprised me. Every 4 years we are accustomed to the American ritual of electing a new president. Each time we hear it’s more negative, more polarizing and more divisive than ever before, but I must admit, this was the first time I remember seeing a story like this. The article was about how families who have people of different political ideologies, parties, etc are dealing with coming together so soon after this year's election for Thanksgiving, the national holiday that is known for bringing families together to give thanks to God for the blessings we have received – both in our own personal lives, as well as collectively as a nation.
Some families reported that they were simply going to continue the contentious discussions they had on facebook in person. One guy seemed a bit anxious about it realizing that people had some strong views and heated conversations, now being face to face and adding some wine to the mix was only going to “amplify it.” Things have gotten so tense over politics between one fellow by the name of Brian Davidson, and his father, that they changed their plans completely, deciding not to even come together for Thanksgiving. “We’re not even going,” says Brian. After sharing who he voted for and being somewhat sharp in his characterization of his father’s ideology he ended his conversation with the reporter saying, “Better to skip this one than suffer ‘a non-recoverable blowup.’“
I’m sure that some probably opted not to discuss politics at all - realizing how strongly people believe in their positions and wanting to be able to be together in some relative peace. I know that’s kind of where me and my family have fallen. Part of the reason is we’re Italian, so things can get loud just over whether the turkey is ready or not. But I think part of the problem is that elections, campaigns have become almost like a sporting event. People have chosen their sides, fight to win and then you have a “winner” and a “loser.”
Rather than thinking about what is right, what is just, instead of acting for the good of all the self interests of politicians and lobbyists for different groups or constituencies seems to rule the day. The notion of compromise isn’t about people coming together to forge a solution on something but rather what individuals do to their values just so they can win. It’s no wonder that so many become frustrated and disgusted with the whole thing that rather than become engaged in issues some become apathetic. The number of people who are eligible to vote but actually turn out on election day still hovers around 50-60%. And when pollsters talk to those who actually do cast ballots, often times people say they doubt that even the person they voted for will actually do anything to improve things.
A bit discouraging isn’t it? With such polarization and more and more people becoming either extreme in their views or apathetic (and sometimes ignorant) to them, you’re left with two sides who are absolutely convinced that they are right - that they speak the truth and that the other side is completely wrong. In the process the one thing that both sides seem convinced that they possess, “the truth” is actually discarded..
That’s what’s happening in the Gospel today. Jesus is dragged before Pilate. His own people, fellow Jews have had it with Him - what he’s saying - what he’s doing. These same individuals hate the Romans for occupying their land, for making them second class citizens in their own country, but they hate Jesus even more, so much so that they want Him gone. They don’t simply want him imprisoned, they want him crucified.
Now Pilate has no love for the people he is responsible to govern. So he tries some politics - Jesus violated Jewish rules not Roman laws, why are you bringing him to me? OK, you people want him killed - it’s Passover and it’s Roman custom to release a prisoner sentenced to death - you want me to release a crazed, convicted murderer named Barrabas or do you want this guy who basically you are bringing here because you find him annoying, Jesus?
We know what happens. The Jewish leaders got louder and louder; Pilate, despite knowing in his heart of hearts that Jesus was an innocent man compromises his values and allows a murderer to go free and Jesus to be crucified. And, the truth is discarded once again. In this case, the embodiment of “the truth” - Jesus Christ, God’s Son - is crucified.
It’s kind of peculiar for us to focus on this gospel, and this reality on a feast we celebrate called CHRIST THE KING. Yet, the Church in her wisdom uses that contradiction as a call to humility and a call to reality.
The world has always and will always reject Jesus Christ. His radical call of selfless, sacrificial love isn’t as popular in a world, in a culture looking for people to pick sides of an issue, be counted on to support a certain ideology or candidate. God’s kingdom could never be run by humanity because quite simply humanity always has to deal with original sin. Original sin isn't simply about Adam and Eve eating some fruit they were told to stay away from in a Garden... Original sin at it’s core is self-centeredness: Who needs God when we can be gods ourselves?
Jesus is brought before Pilate in the Gospel and questioned, “Are you the King of the Jews?” From the scene that’s before Pilate with Jesus’ own people turning Him in to a hated occupying force, the evidence would appear to be pretty obvious to any observer - “Ah, no”. Yet Pilate asks the question anyway. Perhaps recognizing that despite the loud and conflicting voices, there was something royal about this man before him. Perhaps seeing truth within this man, but still unwilling to sacrifice himself to stand up for the truth.
For you and I Pilate’s question resonates thousands of years later in our own day and our own age. As a contentious, polarizing campaign has ended with people backing different politicians, we’re not being polled or asked to vote for someone, but to answer that question – Do we recognize Jesus Christ as our King? Whatever our answer, it’s worth noting that this loving King reigns for all eternity and His Kingdom already outlasted the Roman empire and every subsequent human government that has risen and faded into the history books. Should we truly wish to be apart of His kingdom, our good citizenship isn’t verified by our physical residency, taxes paid or any of the usual normal duties expected but rather a willingness and desire to move beyond our own opinions, our politics, our wants, our desires to truly serve, to follow, to love the embodiment of “truth”– Jesus Christ our King.
Please excuse what I’m sure are numerous grammatical errors and some “rough edges”. Thanks to Hurricane Sandy, the Newman Center has been without power since Monday and so this was written the old fashioned way on paper and pen - transcribed on computer with limited battery life, etc... you get the idea. Keep all of us in this region, particularly those who’ve lost loved ones, their homes or seen serious damage done to their property (especially along the Jersey Shore) in your prayers.
And as always, thanks for your comments, shares and feedback on the homily, Fr. Jim
Special announcement, before the homily: With election day two days away, I hope you'll check out a blog I wrote for FOCUS (the Fellowship of Catholic University Students) entitled WHY I AM A SINGLE ISSUE VOTER - that can be found here:http://www.focus.org/blog/posts/why-i-am-a-single-issue-voter.html Thanks and don't forget to VOTE - it's a life and death issue... seriously...HOMILY:
Do you remember Drivers Ed? For some of you it was probably just a couple of years ago... Not sure how much has changed, because for me it’s now 23 years ago (wow that’s not a fun revelation) but back then, there were two parts of it in one semester. The first marking period we would be in a classroom talking about driving. We had a book from the NJ Department of Motor Vehicles (that looked like it had been written in the 60's) with all kinds of rules, laws about driving. We had videos, – oh those videos! About how to drive. Again, mostly 60's films (remember ladies and gents, this was right when VHS was the “new” electronic equipment, so we actually had movie projectors, with the films, etc) There were women in beehives and these poodle skirts, guys in shirts and ties demonstrating how to drive. The one exception was a much more current film showing the effects of drunk driving (I think it was called “Death Highway” or something... I just remember it was pretty horrific - making the point of how horrific drunk driving was).
This part of drivers ed was designed to give you the theories behind the practice. I remember them giving us “the rule of thumb” for highway driveway (or as they called it “on the speedway” or “the Motor-highway”) for every 10 mph you drove, you should be 1 car length away from the car in front of you (so at 40 MPH, you should be back 4 car lengths - that you’d measure by thumb in front of you...) One guy in my class raised his hand and said “Mrs. Ratched, I thought we were supposed to keep both hands on the wheel, how are we supposed to use our thumbs to count car lengths.” She threw him out of our class. Anyway.
The second half of that semester, after we had completed the theory part was when we were finally put in a car with another drivers ed teacher and actually went out on the road. And it was amazing - because as excited as you were to finally get behind the wheel and drive, there was a great amount of fear. The one student that I was paired up with got behind the wheel first... and when one of the gym teachers (who we nicknamed “Gumby”) who was our instructor said to her “So what do you do first?” She froze. As I chimed in “put the key in the ignition” she said “adjust the mirrors” then I countered back“buckle your seatbelt.” To be honest, I forget what the correct answer was, I just remember Gumby yelling at us telling us how stupid we were and how did we pass the first marking period.
There are a lot of rules and laws to driving that are all there for important, various reasons. But there’s a day when after studying them, you gotta get behind the wheel, and start to drive, start to put it into practice, start to realize that - yeah there’s wisdom to the “rule of the thumb” if you have to stop suddenly to give you enough space to hit the brakes - but that becomes a bit of a drivers instinct that you develop (and at least here in this heavy congested area, rarely will you have room to give 6 car lengths to the person in front of you on the Garden State Parkway, so you compromise on that and try to at least not be right on top of someone). When you’ve seen, or had an experience of what a drunk driver has done - usually that rule, that law becomes sinks in why there is no compromise on that -if you have any alcohol or any drug that can affect your abilities to react, to be alert - you don’t drive.
The theories, the laws move into practice and they are validated in a way that you couldn’t appreciate before... The hierarchy of importance to them becomes apparent to you just as you get behind the wheel and start to drive.
Today’s Gospel is an example of moving from theory to practice; moving from studying to doing; moving from head to heart and soul... This time with the rules, the laws of God. We just heard Jesus’ encounter with yet another Scribe - someone who has been studying the Law probably for most of his adult life - among a group of people who’ve been doing the same thing as well.... They were good at theorizing, debating, arguing with one another, and with other groups of Jewish leaders: what laws are most important to God? how do you interpret them? When did someone violate them and what do we do in those instances? how did one law fit in among the others?
But in someways, these leaders, these scribes could end up so stuck in the theories, the studies, the particulars, it’s like they took the drivers ed class, but have yet to get behind the wheel of the car. Because as Jesus approaches them, here they were encountering the Fulfillment of the Law (as well as the fulfillment of the Prophets and the whole of the Hebrew Scriptures) yet they don’t recognize him as such. Rather, they perceive him as a threat. In the verses before this passage, they had been putting forth all kinds of law-related questions all in attempt to box Jesus into a corner to discredit him.
As this scribe though comes forth, there’s something different. He asks a question which is an important one, one that no doubt his fellow scribes, Jewish leaders had all argued over as well - Which is the first of all commandments – now mind you, he’s not asking the order of the 10 Commandments. Jesus’ response is incredibly revolutionary to his hearers... Because he puts the Love of God on an equal pairing with the Love of your neighbor (as yourself). A safe answer to this crowd would’ve been Love of God alone. Because “love” could have left it somewhat general enough (and some could have argued that love of neighbors falls in that anyway) But by Jesus equating love of neighbor, He’s commanding them to get behind the wheel - to start living in loving ways. He’s telling them that their love of the one true God alone is only validated, only affirmed, only actualized when we actually go out and love others.
One great homilist pointed it out that we have clear examples today of what happens when we don’t listen to Jesus’ command and his insistence that both Love of God and Love of Neighbor are on an equal pairing. For those who chose simply to Love God, we see so-called Christians holding up signs saying “God Hates” and then insert a group of people who they have written off as sinners. For those who chose simply to Love God, that’s where terrorists who drive planes into buildings rationalize their actions saying they are doing that to glorify God. On the other side, for those who simply chose to Love neighbor, you see the birth of secularism... where people will rightly stand up for certain social-justice causes that are important, while ignoring some essential causes that are important as well coming from God’s law and scripture (Dismissing them primarily because they come from scripture). Thats how you have someone argue that they are dedicated to care of the poor and then use Abortion as an example of one way to help people out of poverty.
It is in putting Love of God and Neighbor on an equal pairing that avoids the extremes, and puts things into right balance. So yes, in our Love for God, we are called to turn away from sinful behaviors - we’re not to encourage them - but we have to do that in an encouraging way recognizing our own failures and our need to work together as brothers and sisters in avoiding temptation. Yes, in our Love for one another, we are called to be our brothers and sisters keeper - but not at the expense of recognizing who it is that made us brothers and sisters, and having reverence for Him and the Law that he has given us.
Jesus promises that he will be our constant companion on this difficult road of life we are all on. If we listen to Him, follow his direction, we will find it is possible to take the wheel and drive.
Reminder again, now that you've made it to the end of the homily: With election day two days away, I hope you'll check out a blog I wrote for FOCUS (the Fellowship of Catholic University Students) entitled WHY I AM A SINGLE ISSUE VOTER - that can be found here:http://www.focus.org/blog/posts/why-i-am-a-single-issue-voter.html Thanks and don't forget to VOTE - it's a life and death issue... seriously...