Christ the King
Diocesan Pilgrimage for Year of Mercy Conclusion
I love today’s Feast Day of Christ the King. I always have, from the time I was a little boy attending Mass with Mum and Dad and the family at our simple little parish church that used to double as a school classroom during the week. I think I always liked Christ the King because it had a touch of what we used to call the Church Triumphant about it. This feast said to me that even though we gathered each Sunday to worship God in pretty humble surroundings the God we were worshipping was the King of the entire Universe! We lifted up our hearts and worshipped this God well in our simple little church. Today we want to lift up our hearts and worship God well in our beautiful Cathedral, and we shouldn’t feel guilty if today our worship has a touch of the Church Triumphant about it. For of the three images of Jesus’ Kingship presented to us for contemplation in today’s Readings, one of them is a triumphant image.
In Saint Paul’s letter to the Colossians we see Jesus proclaimed loudly and proudly as the eternal Son of God and Lord of all creation. He existed before anything was created; he is perfect; and everything that exists, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, was created through him and for him; and our King has rescued us out of the power and kingdom of darkness to place us in his kingdom of light and love. If this doesn’t move me to lift up my heart, I’m not sure what will!
As well as a triumphant king we also meet Jesus today as a caring king, a guiding and pasturing king. In the First Reading from the Prophet Samuel we see King David, and as we know Jesus is a descendant of King David; not just any random descendent but the one who fulfils God’s promise that a descendent of King David will reign over God’s people forever. Before being anointed as king, David had been a simple shepherd boy caring for sheep and goats when he was told “You are the one who shall be shepherd of my people.” It’s no accident that we usually sing that beloved hymn The Lord’s My Shepherd on the Feast of Christ the King. For Jesus is the Shepherd King who knows each one of us by name; who personally calls each of us to follow him; who, with crook and staff, guides us through life’s troubles; who drops everything to search for us when we go astray; and who leads us to the green pastures and restful waters of the Father’s house, the Kingdom of Heaven. If this doesn’t move me to lift up my heart, I’m not sure what will!
So we have Jesus our Triumphant King and our Shepherd King. But the most beautiful image of our King comes in today’s Gospel where we meet our Suffering King, our Merciful King. From his chosen throne of the cross, a simple and hastily made rough wooden sign announces him to the world as its King: INRI, Jesus the Nazarene, King. How do the people gathered around the cross respond to Jesus the king? Luke tells us that the leaders jeered at him, the soldiers mocked him, and a criminal abused him. Jeering, mocking, and abuse for our King. But from Jesus’ chosen throne of the cross, amid these insults, comes one of the most beautiful scenes in Jesus’ life and some of the most moving words in the Gospel that once heard are never forgotten. A nameless criminal, known now in every generation as the good thief says “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom”. As if these words were not moving enough comes the stunning reply from Jesus “Indeed I promise you, today you will be with me in paradise.”
These words of pure mercy give hope and courage to every repentant sinner. In fact they give hope and courage to every non-repentant sinner too, they give hope and courage to swallow our pride and repent. “Indeed I promise you, today you will be with me in paradise.” These are the words awaiting every repentant sinner; the words Jesus wants to say to every one of us. If this doesn’t move me to lift up my heart, I’m not sure whether anything will!
Concluding the Year of Mercy today I hope that the beautiful liturgy, the Readings, and my few words will help to bring you comfort and joy in the knowledge of God’s great love, care, compassion, and mercy for us. But if we do not also conclude the Year of Mercy with a challenge ringing in our ears and echoing in our hearts Pope Francis’ hopes for this Extraordinary Jubilee Year will have failed to materialise. Today’s Gospel passage issues us two challenges:
Challenge number one. The moving and merciful encounter between Jesus and the Good Thief in today’s Gospel comes about because the Good Thief is prepared to admit that he had done wrong and deserved his punishment, and because he turns to Jesus for salvation: “Jesus remember me”. If mercy for us is to be more than a word on our lips, a picture we carry, or a banner we fly; if mercy is to be a true experience of God’s tenderness that changes our lives, we too must admit we have done wrong and deserve our punishment and turn to Jesus for salvation. A couple of years ago Pope Francis said to a group of people in Saint Peter’s Square: “Everyone ask themselves: when was the last time that I confessed? If a long time has passed, don’t miss another day, go, the priest will be good. Jesus is there … Jesus receives you, He receives you with so much love. Be courageous and go to Confession!” (General Audience 19th February 2014)
Challenge number two. While the leaders jeered at Jesus on the cross and the soldiers mocked him and a criminal abused him, what were the rest of the people doing? Luke tells us in the Gospel that they “stayed there before the cross watching Jesus”. How sad! They stood there and watched! Sure, they didn’t attack Jesus or hurl insults at him, but did they say or do anything for an innocent man who was being attacked, tortured, and executed? Maybe some of them were not sure whether he was guilty or innocent; perhaps some of them thought it’s all very complicated so I don’t know what’s the right thing to do; maybe some of them were simply indifferent and didn’t care about his sufferings; and I’m sure many of them were just too plain scared to get involved.
But merciful people do get involved. The word ‘mercy’ (Misericordia) literally means a heart that suffers with you, a heart that feels your pain. Mercy is not just feeling sorry for someone. Having mercy means entering into the other person’s suffering, feeling their pain, and responding to their most immediate and their deepest needs. This is why Pope Francis has been calling our attention back to the corporal and spiritual works of mercy. In Misericordiae Vultus he says “Let us open our eyes and see the misery of the world, the wounds of our brothers and sisters” (15) and “It is time to return to the basics and to bear the weakness and struggles of our brothers and sisters.” (10) So let’s get involved with those who are jeered, mocked or abused; with those who are hungry, sick, or cold; with those who are ignorant, sorrowful, or astray. Let’s get involved, let’s be merciful so that they too have good cause to lift up their hearts to the God of mercy whose grace acts in and through us.