The Peace Pulpit:  Homiles by Bishop Thomas J. Gumbleton

  The Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ the King November 21, 2004

By special arrangement, The National Catholic Reporter Publishing Company is able to make available Bishop Thomas J. Gumbleton's weekly Sunday homilies given at Saint Leo Church, Detroit, MI.  Each homily is transcribed from a tape recording of the actual delivery and made available to you as an NCR Web site exclusive.  You may register for a weekly e-mail reminder that will be sent to you when each new homily is posted. From time to time, Bishop Gumbleton is traveling and unable to provide us with the homily for the week. NOTE: The homilies are available here five days after they are given, always on Friday.
This week's readings **
2 Samuel 5:1-3
Then all the tribes of Israel came to David at Hebron and said, "Behold, we are your bone and your flesh. Previously, when Saul was king over us, you were the one who led Israel out and in. And the Lord said to you, 'You will shepherd My people Israel, and you will be a ruler over Israel.' " So all the elders of Israel came to the king at Hebron, and King David made a covenant with them before the Lord at Hebron; then they anointed David king over Israel.

Colossians 1:12-20
giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified us to share in the inheritance of the saints in Light. For He rescued us from the domain of darkness, and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by Him all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities -- all things have been created through Him and for Him. He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together. He is also head of the body, the church; and He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that He Himself will come to have first place in everything. For it was the Father's good pleasure for all the fullness to dwell in Him, and through Him to reconcile all things to Himself, having made peace through the blood of His cross; through Him, I say, whether things on earth or things in heaven.

Luke 23:35-43
And the people stood by, looking on. And even the rulers were sneering at Him, saying, "He saved others; let Him save Himself if this is the Christ of God, His Chosen One." The soldiers also mocked Him, coming up to Him, offering Him sour wine, and saying, "If You are the King of the Jews, save Yourself!" Now there was also an inscription above Him, "This is the king of the Jews." One of the criminals who were hanged there was hurling abuse at Him, saying, "Are You not the Christ? Save Yourself and us!" But the other answered, and rebuking him said, "Do you not even fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed are suffering justly, for we are receiving what we deserve for our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong." And he was saying, "Jesus, remember me when You come in Your kingdom!" And He said to him, "Truly I say to you, today you shall be with Me in Paradise."

* A longtime national and international activist in the peace movement, Bishop Gumbleton is a founding member of Pax Christi USA and an outspoken critic of the sanctions against Iraq.
He has appeared on numerous radio and television programs, and has published numerous articles and reports.

* Scripture texts in this work are in modified form from the American Standard Version of the Bible and are available as part of the public domain.

For your convenience, the Scripture texts, as they appear in the Lectionary for Mass for Use in the Dioceses of the United States, second typical edition, Copyright © 1998, 1997, 1970 Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, Washington, D.C., may be found at the website of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCC).

** The Web link to Pax Christi is provided as a service to our readers.

I hope that all of us have struggled with this idea that Jesus is a king. If we haven't, but we should, because there is nothing in the scriptures that is more clear, hardly, than that Jesus rejected the whole idea of being a king!

There was never a feast like this until the 20th century. 1925. The first time we ever had a Feast of Christ the King. That is probably because we understood that Jesus never claimed to be a king. In fact, a number of different times in the scriptures, he rejected this idea. For example, when he was in the desert place and was able to feed thousands of people with -- what was it? -- five loaves and two fishes. And they wanted to make him a king. What did he do? He went and hid himself because he rejected the whole notion.

Or remember when Jesus was beginning his trip to Jerusalem, his last trip to Jerusalem? He was teaching the disciples along the way, and he told them that the son of man was going to Jerusalem to pick up his cross and be crucified. Executed. Peter objected. He said, "No, that's not necessary." This is at the end of Jesus' life. There are crowds of people following him. Peter must have felt, "Well, of course, you can do whatever you want. You have the power. You're a king or could be a king. Why would you allow yourself to be put to death, to be executed?"

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Remember what Jesus did? He turned to Peter and he said, "You Satan!" He called him a devil for even thinking that Jesus would want to be exalted as a king and use power and force over people. Peter didn't understand so Jesus had to be very direct and confrontational; "Golly Peter, you're wrong! Get it straight!"

In another incident Jesus clearly rejects the notion that he would be a king. Again it is toward the end of his public life. The disciples are still trying to imagine Jesus as a king. They wanted him to restore what we heard about in the first lesson when David was made the king of the united, chosen people and became a great king in their history. They wanted Jesus to restore the kingdom. And they thought he was going to do it. The sons of Zebedee, James and John, very famous apostles, their mother comes to Jesus and says, "Look, when you become the king, when you take over this kingdom I want one of my sons on your right hand and the other on your left hand. I want them to have the greatest places of esteem, power and prestige in your kingdom." And Jesus is very disturbed.

Here it is, the end of his public life, and the disciples are still trying to make him a king. They have misunderstood his message. So he calls all of the disciples together, and he says, "Now look, among the pagans, those who don't believe in God, those in power lord it over others. They dominate. Among you it cannot be that way! It can't be that way, because the one who is to lead has to be the servant of all."

Has to be the "servant" of all. The word really means the "slave" of all. That is how you have a first place in the community of disciples of Jesus -- you become a servant, a slave. Jesus reminded them that the son of man did not come into this world to be served but to serve and to give his service even to the point of giving his life.

That is what we see on the cross. He is hanging on the cross, and even there he is being a servant, reaching out to that criminal who recognizes him for who he really is. Not as a king, but as a son of God. Jesus serves him by responding, "Yes, today you will be with me in paradise." Jesus was serving even to the point of giving his life.

"Greater love than this no one can have than to give one's life for another." That is the kind of service Jesus expected of all his disciples. Give up the idea of power, wealth, prestige, lording it over other people. Become a servant.

It's so clear in the scripture. Why then do we have the feast of Christ the King? Why do we go against the words of Jesus and try to make him a king? Well, I don't think I have a perfect answer, but it is an answer, I guess. When Pope Pius XI established this feast in 1925 he wrote a document to explain why and he said: "Because the people of the day" -- of that time -- "had" -- and these are the words of Pius XI -- "had thrust Jesus Christ and his holy law out of their lives."

They were rejecting Jesus. Again the words of Pius XI: "And these [the ways of Jesus] had no place in public affairs or in politics." He went on to claim, the Pope did, and I quote, "That as long as individuals and states refuse to submit to the rule, or the way of our savior, there will be no hopeful prospect of a lasting peace among nations."

Pius XI was writing these words and proclaiming them at a time when the world had just come out of one of the worst wars in all of human history. Literally millions of soldiers had slaughtered each other on the battlefields of Europe. There was no peace after that war, really, because the winners of the war had imposed a cruel kind of punishment on the German nation, making it almost impossible for that nation to survive. Out of anger, resentment and the hatred that was left as a result of that war, the whole ideology of Nazism grew in Germany and led to another war, a war worse than the first.

The "war that was to end all wars" became the seed of a second war that was even worse. Because people had refused, as Pius XI said, to let the rule of Jesus, the way of Jesus, guide their lives, their private lives and their national life.

Is it any better today? Ask yourself, "Are we, each of us in our own life, following the way of Jesus? Do we really want to let ourselves be a slave to others?"

"Be the servant, the slave of all," Jesus said. "That is why I came."

Do we as a nation really enter the international community with that kind of an attitude? It is laughable to even think that that is how we are acting. Supposedly we are a religious nation. More people in the United States go to church on Sunday than almost any other nation in the world, yet are we following the way of God as shown to us in Jesus or are we trying to dominate through the force of arms?

I read something this week that really disturbs me. It shows how, within our own church, somehow we have not still got the message of Jesus.

Archbishop Edwin O'Brien is the archbishop for the military services over all the military of our country. He was celebrating a Mass at St. Patrick's Cathedral in the Norwich, Connecticut, Diocese for military personnel, and here's what he said: "Yours is more than a job. It is a call from God, a true vocation, a call to imitate the very life of Jesus Christ." He said that to people who are taught how to kill.

He said: "Didn't Jesus Christ define himself as one who serves not one who is to be served?" Well, yes, Jesus did say that. Next Archbishop O'Brien said, "And when you are outfitted in that uniform, this is your vocation too."

Can you see the contradiction?

Jesus didn't carry a gun! He didn't kill people! No, he gave himself over to death rather than to kill. He tried to teach us that there is another way, and we keep rejecting it. Don't we?

I think it is a failure of the church, if we don't teach our young people that you don't bring peace into the world by killing and by war. The only way we can do it is if we submit ourselves, as Pius XI said, to the "rule of Jesus," the way of Jesus.

In fact Pius XI could have been quoting St. Paul in our second lesson today. Listen again to what Paul said: "Through him" -- this is through Jesus -- "God willed to reconcile everyone to God." To reconcile everyone through Jesus. That would be Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, Christians and Jews. Everyone can be reconciled to God through Jesus. "Through his blood shed on the cross" - Jesus' blood - "God establishes peace on earth as in heaven."

And that's the only way.

So we can worship Jesus as the king today if we wish, but remember that he objected to any idea of kingship that resembles anything you will see in this world. Jesus gave kingship a whole new meaning

If we are going to worship Jesus as our king, we are going to do it according to his way. The one who is to be first has to be the servant and the slave of all, has to follow the way of Jesus in the way of reconciliation and love. That's how we will bring peace into our own lives and into the world.

And that is the only way.

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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