Have you ever wondered why we as a church celebrate Jesus Christ as king? There was a time in his public life when his followers wanted to make a king and he went and hid himself. He did not want to be a king. Even in today's Gospel, before Pilate he doesn't totally disavow his being a king, but he does make it clear that his kingship does not come from this world. In other words, it's not like any kingship we've ever heard of or known about. Why wouldn't we have made a feast day like Jesus the Good Shepherd? Christ the Shepherd? Or maybe Christ the healer? Christ the teacher? But instead we have chosen to make a feast Christ the King.
The Solemnity Our Lord Jesus Christ,
Perhaps the explanation for that is twofold, I think. One, it was done at a time, 1925, when Pope Pius XI was negotiating with the leaders of the country of Italy, which had just been reunited. All of the parts of Italy had been brought together under Garibaldi, a military person, and the papal state had been taken away from the pope. No longer was he a civil ruler. All of the territory of Italy that belonged to the pope as a civil kingdom was gone. But then, finally, the pope had gone into hiding in a sense. Living as a prisoner in the Vatican palace, but then Pius XI began to negotiate in finding a treaty with Mussolini that established what we now called the papal state, Vatican City. Pius then in 1925, a couple of years before that happened, did establish this feast. It seems almost like he was trying to say it's right for the pope to have a kingdom, so he made Jesus a king.
But, it does seem very anomalous because Jesus seemed not to want to be a king. Maybe the second reason Pius XI did this was because the way Jesus understood kingship was almost too challenging for us. He understood kingship as the one who serves. If you want to be first in my kingdom, he told James and John, the disciples who were looking for the first place, you must become the slave of all. Everything is reversed in the kind of kingdom that Jesus said does not come from this world. It's the reign of God. The reign of dynamic love, not power and might.
Remember how in the beginning of Holy Week when Jesus had great clouds following him, they wanted to make him king. So as they were marching into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, what did Jesus do? He sent his disciples to get a donkey so that he could ride into Jerusalem not on a war horse, as a king would have, but rather on a donkey as a peasant would do.
In the Gospel … John points out, "This is the fulfillment of the prophecy of Zechariah." Way back in the time of the prophets, Zechariah had written this, "Rejoice greatly daughter of Zion. Shout for joy for your king is coming humble and riding on a donkey." And then the prophet goes on to say, "No more chariots in Jerusalem. No more horses in Ephraim. This king will do away with them. The worries, thou shall be broken when he dictates peace to the nations. This king will reign from sea to sea. From the river to the ends of the earth."
So Jesus rides into Jerusalem on a donkey, fulfilling those words of Zechariah. Not a war horse, not a sign of power, not a sign of dominion, not a sign of rulership, not a sign of might, war rank, nothing like that. Humble and riding on a donkey. Powerless. No wealth, no power. Jesus came to teach us that we must reject that kind of kingship that we associate with this world who are powerful with armies, with wealth, with might behind them to try to rule by power and might rather than as in the reign of God, which Jesus preached. The dynamic power of God's love and that alone.
It is challenging to think that Jesus really wanted us to reject power and might, violence and war. Isn't this a lesson that we find very difficult to accept right now? When those terrible acts of terrorism happened in Paris and then in Africa and we feel threatened here. They could happen here. People clamor, "Do it back to them. Return violence for violence. They're going to try to kill us? We'll kill them."
But that's not the way of Jesus, is it? Not if you listen to what Jesus says as a king whose kingship does not come from this world. He rejects all of that. Now, does that mean we should just give up and hand ourselves over and be killed? No, of course not. But Jesus is asking us to try to probe more deeply into his way, his way of love, way of forgiveness, way of healing.
This past week in our local area, we had an example, I think, of how this could be. You may remember reading about it or hearing on the news the former military person who lives up around Mount Clemons and who issued a threat to Dearborn? She was claiming that she would be ready to go into Dearborn and cause chaos by killing the Arabs and the Muslims but she backed down quite quickly because that's a crime. There's a threat of prosecution. She was asked to apologize, so she did publicly.
But then from Dearborn, the leader of Arab-Muslim community addressed here on television, perhaps on the radio. He thanked her for the apology and then he said, "I ask you to go one step further. Come and visit us. Get to know us and you won't be afraid. You won't have to threaten us." And she said to that, "No thank you."
But would not that have been the way for her and for maybe some of us to get to know our Muslim neighbors. Parts of the Arab community to understand that they are part of God's human family. They're struggling to live in peace just like we are. Many of them have come here because they are fleeing from terrorism and violence and more. They want peace and if we respond to what is going on in those acts of terrorism in the same way as the acts of terrorism, we're no better than they. We're not following the way of Jesus, certainly.
So, I think this is time as we celebrate this feast day that we try to understand what is maybe the most difficult part of the message of Jesus. That violence if it's responded to by violence only creates more violence. If you respond to hatred with hatred, there's more hatred. The only way to transform violence and transform hatred into peace is to respond with love. The way of Jesus.
That means we have to look for maybe the deeper reasons. What's behind the terrorism? Rather than simply responding to the immediate actions, what's behind it? And then find ways that we can then build peace in the world. But it would start, first of all, with ourselves and our own communities and our own relationships with other people. Reaching out in love even when love is not shown to us. Responding to hatred with love, to violence with non-violence in all of our ordinary every day affairs. But then as a nation to continue to try to build that attitude.
That's the way we would celebrate what Jesus really intended when he allowed himself to be called a king but insisted that his kingship was not of this world. Not like the kings of power and might and killing and war, but only a king who loves and will bring about the dynamic rule of God's love, transforming our world into the reign of God.
We must try more faithfully than ever in these difficult times to hear the message of Jesus and to follow Jesus in the way he shows us that a true ruler would act. Always with love, peace, forgiveness, reconciliation. It's a difficult challenge, but with the help of God, with the spirit of Jesus within us, we can accept Jesus as the only kind of king he wanted to be, a king of love. In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, amen.
[Homily given at St. Philomena Parish, Detroit. The transcripts of Bishop Gumbleton's homilies are posted weekly to NCRonline.org. Sign up here to receive an email alert when the latest homily is posted.]