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Homily - Feast of Christ the King - Bishop McKeown


Sunday, 22 November 2020 

Pope Benedict had a beautiful description of the Bible. It recounts, he wrote, "the love-story between God and humankind" [1]What we celebrate today is the final chapter of that love-story, the final touch that makes sense of the twists and turns that have gone before. Thus, we celebrate this feast as an core part of the whole story. If we detach it from the rest of the Christian worldview, we risk misunderstanding and misrepresenting what we celebrate. What does Christ the King teach us today? 

Firstly, St Matthew places this parable of the Kingdom as the last item in Jesus' public ministry, two days before the Passover. Immediately after this, Jesus starts preparing for Good Friday. Prior to this parable, he has been talking about being prepared, since you do not know the day of the hour. He has left us the image of the wise and foolish bridesmaids, the story of the hardworking and lazy servants. Now he is clear that, despite the horrific apparent defeat of Calvary, good and God will be victorious. There will be a divine judgement on how people have lived their lives and used their talents. Jesus will reign as King. All things will be reconciled and made whole. Jesus, exalted at the right hand of the Father, has gone before us to prepare a place for us. Despite all appearances, greed and brutality, arrogance and abuse will not have the final say. Good will be rewarded in God's own good time. Jesus first public preaching in St Matthew's Gospel began with the Beatitudes. This parable of the Last Judgement reassures those who are gentle, mourning, poor in spirit, peacemakers and persecuted that theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven.

Each time we gather to pray - and especially at Mass – we join with the angels and saints in their unending hymn of praise to the Holy God who is already stronger than sin and whose victory will ultimately be made visible. This is wonderful, good news for everyone, especially for those who feel ignored or abandoned. There is no room for - as Pope Francis memorably wrote – 'a defeatism which turns us into argumentative and disillusioned sourpusses'[2] Today we give thanks and praise to Christ the Universal King who tells us that good deeds are not a waste of time and that sin will not have the last laugh. That is why our response to the scripture readings and the last words of the Mass are 'Thanks be to God'. We are blessed with Good News, even in the face of terrible pain and injustice.

Secondly, this is a strange type of kingship. The image is not one of power and majesty but of the Shepherd. People will be judged on the basis of whether they lived as Jesus did. The Good Shepherd – Ezekiel tells us – will not condemn the lost one, the stray, the wounded and the weak. God will seek them out in the mist and the darkness. This contrasted strongly with the Pharisees' teaching that only those who considered themselves super-pure had any hope to divine reward. For Jesus, eternal life is based on superabundant divine mercy, not on human achievement. Those who are rewarded in the Gospel parable were not even aware of what they were doing. They had generous hearts for the hungry, thirsty and imprisoned strangers because they were learning how to love the apparently unlovable. And in the process they discovered where God who is love lies hidden. Thus, Jesus invites all who labour and overburdened to come to him, and he promises them rest. But when we come to worship, he also sends us out to find more people who hunger and thirst for justice so that they, too, can be satisfied by Jesus who is the bread of life. We gather around the sacrament of Calvary so that we can become missionaries of Calvary's mercy. Before the Eucharistic Christ, we are stripped of the temptation to adore a domesticated Christ in the service of our earthly power and status.

Jesus will judge us not merely on how well we fought to keep churches open but on whether we neglected to look after the least of His brothers and sisters. If we do not seek Him at the street corners and in charity shops, we will be seeking a false God in our churches.

Thirdly, the Word of God today is both comforting and uncomfortable. In these times, many people are understandably upset about the prospect of churches being closed, even for private prayer. For very many people, sacred space is a refuge from pain and from the deadly banality of so much entertainment. The human spirit can get rich nourishment from places other than off-licences. But I would also be worried if churchgoers put all the emphasis on our rights and were inclined to forget those whom the Good Shepherd seeks out. Because of the pandemic, we are facing a wave of poverty, alienation and depression. This will go on, long after medical answers have been found to the virus. Jesus calls us together into our churches so that we can mirror his generosity when we go out. His followers are concerned not so much about how the pandemic affects us but how it affects those who are hanging on by their fingertips, whoever may be to blame. Financial difficulties, mental stress and alienation mark the lives of many people. Jesus will judge us not merely on how well we fought to keep churches open but on whether we neglected to look after the least of His brothers and sisters. If we do not seek Him at the street corners and in charity shops, we will be seeking a false God in our churches. When we leave our churches after worship, we do not walk away alone. Jesus says, 'Come with me and I will show you I live.' That is the sort of Christ the King whom we celebrate today.

Next Sunday, we begin again to tell all the chapters of the love story between God and humankind. The Advent theme is expectation, waiting. The emphasis is on the desert where we prepare a way for the Lord. There we will meet the promises of Isaiah, the preaching of John in the wilderness and the grateful hope of the pregnant Mary. We will begin Advent, experiencing two weeks of no public worship. People of faith will make this into an opportunity to experience emptiness and expectation rather than to wallow in self-pity and anger. Christ is King, even in the desert of apparent failure and desolation. For, if we think that Jesus is not King in the desert of people's life, then we have missed the point of today's wonderful feast.

+ Donal McKeown

[1] Deus Caritas Est, 17

[2] Evangelii Gaudium, 85

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