Saturday, November 24, 2007

Christ the King

(Christ the King, C)

The Lord’s torturers made fun of him as he hung upon the Cross. They said, “If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself.”

This only shows that they didn’t know the Scriptures, or the ways of God, or what it means to be the King of the Jews. For as we heard in the first reading from the second book of Samuel, God said to David, “you shall shepherd my people Israel and shall be commander of Israel.” The King of the Jews is not someone who saves himself, but one who shepherds and leads. He is a “suffering servant,” as the prophet Isaiah teaches.

But this is often hard for us to grasp well. God is not a God who is going to control the world. He is not going to make us rich, he is not going to shield us from the consequences of our sins, or from the violence we insist upon for this world with our selfishness.

Look at Christ the King! There he is, nailed to the Cross, unable even to move his hands or feet. This is not a powerful person in any sense that our culture or our world knows.

The power and kingship of Christ consists not in controlling or ruling over the world, but in giving himself, in emptying himself of all his divine prerogatives as God. Just as he offers himself on the Cross, he pours out his divine life in this Eucharist.

This is Christ the King. Not a God who issues commands and demands our subservience, but a God who doesn’t even hold on to being God, and who empties his own divine life into these little forms of bread and wine. He is not a God who rules over us from some heaven, but a God who humbly nourishes us from below.

This is our call as well, brothers and sisters. If we want to be leaders according to the model of Christ the King, we must offer ourselves for the nourishment and support of others. Control, power, influence, fame, glory...these are all dead ends. We could never have enough of them to satisfy us anyway. We should let go of our desire for these things, and accept that true greatness lies in emptying ourselves for the sake of others. And if we can begin to do this in even the smallest way, we too will hear quiet promise of the Lord in our heart, “today you will be with me in paradise.”

Christ the King is the Good Shepherd, who shepherds the New Israel, the people of God, to true freedom.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

The Fiery End

(33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time, C)

And so we come almost to the end of church year, and at the end of the year the Scriptures we proclaim always invite us to reflect on the “end times,” on the final destiny of creation.

In St. Luke’s apocalypse, which we have just heard, the end is a described as a time of great distress. It will be preceded by natural disasters like plagues and earthquakes, and even supernatural events like “awesome sights and signs in the sky.” The destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem, a genuine catastrophe in the history of people of God, provided St. Luke’s community with one way to look upon the utter and decisive change that the world was coming to: “there will not be left a stone upon another that will not be thrown down.”

Jesus’ words can be hard for us to interpret, as we live in a time when we hear unremitting reports of fires, earthquakes, and floods. The bad omens of global warming and new diseases hang over heads. Each day we hear about the wars for which no purpose or end can be imagined. But amid all this, we must listen to what the Lord says in the Gospel today. He says that these things “will lead to your giving testimony.”

All of the troubles and disasters and miseries that this world insists upon for itself, these are all our opportunity to give testimony, to become witnesses of God. Witnesses—in Greek, martyroi, martyrs—those who witness to the goodness and gentleness of God amid all the bad news that this world has to offer.

As the world approaches its end, its final fulfillment in the overwhelming love of God, this is our vocation as Christians. We are to give witness, to give testimony, to be signs that God is good and the destiny that God desires for the world is not something to be feared.

As John Paul II used to say, echoing the words of the Lord himself, “be not afraid!”

Yes, the world will end in fire, blazing live an oven, as the prophet Malachi tells us today. But what is this fire which will bring the world to its final destiny? It is certainly the fire of the Holy Spirit, the fire of God’s own passionate desire for our salvation.

And how could this fire hurt us? We’ve already been through it! As John the Baptist promised, someone was to come after him who would not baptize just with water, but “with the Holy Spirit and with fire.” (Luke 3:16) In our baptism, we have all passed through this fire, our sin and despair burned away and our hearts warmed by the “healing rays” of God’s justice.

And so when it comes to the end of the world, when all creation is consumed and brought to its final destiny in the burning passion of God, we have only to look forward in joyful anticipation to the fulfillment of the promises of the Baptism in the Holy Spirit we have all received.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

The Resurrection (and Jaws)

(32nd Sunday in Ordinary Time, C)

The year of grace 2007 is beginning to come to a close, and we find ourselves once again at the end of the liturgical year. And at the end of the church year, the liturgy and the readings from Sacred Scripture always invite us to reflect on what will come at the end, the Last Things. Today the readings invite us into the primary mystery of our final destiny, the Resurrection. Though we aren’t sure about what it will be like—and this is clear from the Gospel we just heard—our Resurrected destiny ought to give us faith and courage, as it did for the seven brothers we heard about in the reading from 2 Maccabees.

Since the Resurrection is where we are going, since it is the new life to which we are looking forward, it is good for us to have a strong and intelligent idea of what we mean by the Resurrection.

Whenever we say anything about Resurrection, we are first of all talking about the Lord’s own Resurrection, his rising to new life that we celebrate every Easter and on each Sunday. But what do we mean by our Easter proclamation, “Christ is Risen”? Well, here’s one way to think about it—just go with me on this for a moment.

Do you remember the movie Jaws? Do you remember how Jaws is finally killed? Roy Scheider throws a tank of compressed air into the shark’s throat, and then shoots it with his gun. The tank of air explodes, blowing Jaws up. This is a little bit like what we mean by the Lord’s Resurrection. Jaws is like death, and the tank of pure air is like Jesus Christ.

Just as Jaws was able to partially swallow the tank of air, so in the human nature he borrowed from us, Jesus was able to be die, to be swallowed by death. But because Jesus Christ is also God, death can’t hold on to him. The power and love of God explode death from the inside; though he could be swallowed by death in his humanity, death could not hold on to Jesus Christ in his divinity. As the tank of compressed air blew up Jaws from the inside, so the divinity of Christ destroys death from the inside.

This is the Resurrection, and the good news for us is that there is now a path through death to new life, a path established by Jesus Christ in his humanity and divinity. And we are on this path to the Resurrection because of our baptism and because of the Holy Communion we celebrate in this Eucharist. This communion is the joining of Christ’s humanity to ours; the Mass is a celebration and ratification of the unity of our humanity—indeed our very bodies—with the humanity of Christ. And thus as the body of Christ was raised from the dead, so we too as the body of Christ which is the Church are on our way to Resurrection.

Now it’s true, we don’t know what our resurrected life will be like. That much is clear from the Gospel today, in which the Sadducees make all kinds of trouble because they are imagining our final, resurrected destiny in terms of the human society we have now. And Jesus gently reminds them, no, this is a whole new reality, and you can’t think of it in terms of the life and commitments we have in this life.

But even though we don’t really know what this “life of the world to come” we will be like, it can give us a lot of courage. Think of the seven brothers in the first reading today. They had no fear of death because they knew that God would provide new life for them on the other side of death. Thus, there was no suffering that could make them turn from God. Nothing could scare them. They were perfectly free.

Let us enjoy our freedom from the fear of death. It sets us free to live! Yes, every one of us will die. But we have no need to fear our death, because we know that Jesus Christ has passed through our human death ahead of us, taken away its power, and provided for us a safe path through our dying to the new life of the Resurrection.

Saturday, November 3, 2007

Seeking the Lord

(31st Sunday in Ordinary Time, C)

Note how Luke describes Zacchaeus: he was “seeking to know who Jesus was.”

We should all find and cultivate a little of this desire, to want to see and to know Jesus. But we should be aware that when we do seek the Lord, there will be obstacles. As Zacchaeus had to climb a tree in order to see Jesus, sometimes we too will need to find a way to see over the crowd, to see through all the noise and nonsense of our culture. And sometimes, just like with Zacchaeus, the crowd will even try to stop us, telling us we aren’t worthy, or that it isn’t worth trying to see and get to know Jesus.

The good news is that as soon as we find the desire to see Jesus Christ, we realize his desire to see us. This too we see in the Gospel today. Remember the beginning: “Jesus came to Jericho and intended to pass through that town.” But as soon as Jesus sees that Zacchaeus wants to know who he is, everything changes. He goes from intending to pass through the town to saying to Zacchaeus, “today I must stay at your house.”

Let us also seek to see and know Jesus Christ, and we too will hear him in our hearts as he says, “Today, I stay with you.”