Thy kingdom come…but how?
Homily for the Solemnity of Jesus Christ the King
November 22, 2020
Do you remember, when Jesus was asked which of all God’s commandments was the greatest, he gave two? First, to love God with all your heart, all your mind, and all your strength; and second, to love your neighbor as yourself. Here’s an interesting question: what if you are in a situation in which you cannot do both; what do you do then? Let me share a story to illustrate…
An old monk prayed many years for a vision from God to strengthen his faith, but it never came. He had almost given up hope when, one day, a vision appeared. The old monk was overjoyed. But then, right in the middle of the vision, the monastery bell rang. The ringing of the bell meant that it was time to feed the poor who gathered daily at the monastery gate. And it was the monk’s turn to feed them. If he failed to show up with food, the poor people would leave quietly, thinking the monastery had nothing to give them that day.
The old monk was torn between his earthly duties and his heavenly vision. However, before the bell stopped tolling, the monk had made his decision. With a heavy heart, he turned his back on the vision and went off to feed the poor. Nearly an hour later, the old monk returned to his room. When he opened the door, he could hardly believe his eyes. There in the room was the vision, waiting for him. As the monk dropped to his knees in thanksgiving, the vision said to him, “My son, had you not gone off to feed the poor, I would not have stayed.”
Interesting, isn’t it? You might think, logically, that rule number one is God, so you have to put God first. But this story seems to contradict that. When you think about it, however, the story shows that one of the best ways to love God is through others!
But we all know that can be hard to do, especially if you’re having a bad day. In the cartoon strip Peanuts, I always liked Linus who had an idealism about him, a kind of pure honesty. Remember, he believed that each year on Halloween if you waited in the pumpkin patch, and were very sincere, and truly believed, the Great Pumpkin would appear. One of Linus’s lines has always stayed with me… Once he got upset about something, maybe he was angry at his older, crabby, bossy sister, Lucy… Linus says, “I love mankind…it’s people I can’t stand!!”
It seems to me that Linus, even at his young age, realized that what the Lord asks us to do can be hard. We can feed the hungry, but they can take advantage of us and be ungrateful for all we do to them. We can give drink to the thirsty, but they might drool on us or contaminate our drinking glass. We can give someone some clothes we no longer need, but they can then try to sell the clothes so they can buy beer or cigarettes.
Several years ago, at a morning Mass, Pope Francis commented that faithful Christians are called to get their hands dirty, just as Jesus did. He recalled, for example, how Jesus, without shying away, touched and healed lepers. According to the religious leaders of the day, lepers were considered “impure”, and it was wrong, by law, to come anywhere near them. So leprosy was considered a kind of death sentence.
But here’s the point that Pope Francis was making: how many people were watching from afar and did not understand nor care. Some, he said, watched with bad hearts, ready to put Jesus to the test, to criticize and condemn him. Others watched from a distance because they lacked courage. But Jesus touching the marginalized demonstrated how God cares for each and every person, and thus, how we as Jesus’ followers are called to love.
So, I think Linus in the comic strip had a good insight. It is easy to love humanity, and often, far more difficult to love people. Linus clearly loved God and often quoted the Bible. But loving his mean, crabby sister, the know-it-all who made life miserable for others—that was a much bigger challenge.
There’s one further point I want to make about today’s gospel. Jesus teaches that we can love God through others, by showing God-like love and compassion to others. But there’s more. Jesus also teaches that we can love God in others: I was hungry, I was thirsty, I was naked, I was lonely. One of the privileged ways of encountering Jesus himself is by encountering him in those who are being crucified through poverty, injustice, contempt, abuse and neglect. The crucifix, so central in our church, is alive and well, right down to our day. In the poor and forgotten, in those who are robbed of peace and justice, in those who seldom hear a word of kindness or experience a deed of compassion, love is still being crucified. Love still waits to be served. How can love incarnate not care about the unloved? How can we, who are commanded to love, ignore love’s need? When we honor the cross, when we embrace the unlovable, that is when life conquers death, that is when love triumphs, that is when Jesus is King, that is when the kingdom comes, when God’s will is done on earth as it is in heaven.