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Homily- Feast of Christ, Universal King - Bishop McKeown


Sunday, 20 November 2022

Following Jesus in St Luke's Gospel, we arrive today at the destination which Jesus always had in mind – the Cross. This was not a terrible event that the disciples wanted to forget. The crucifixion was at the heart of the early church's preaching. The public life and teaching of Jesus were just a prequel to what would happen in Jerusalem between Good Friday and Easter Sunday. What might we learn on this, the final Sunday of the church's year.

Firstly, Pope Benedict wrote about the love story between God and humankind, told in the bible (Cf Deus Caritas Est 17). Calvary is central to that love-story. Jesus did not merely speak about love. Otherwise, his death would have been unnecessary. He was the love of God made flesh among us. On the Cross, he was the Lamb of God who took upon himself all the sin of the world. Our second reading tells that story which we retell each Sunday in the Creed. Jesus has made peace between God and the world through his death on the Cross. Now he is supreme over all things and head of the church. The Old Testament was a preparation for this event. His death on the Cross makes a story out of all the stories in the bible. If we are to bring people to Jesus in our time, we have to know this story that makes sense of life and death, sin and forgiveness, the sacraments and our church life. Today's feast tells us that our faith is not merely a series of nice stories, favourite moral teachings or pet saints. Jesus as King on the Cross is the centre of our faith. Today tells us not to forget the most important episode in our story that makes sense of everything else.

Secondly, what is the point of his death? The Gospel passage is full of irony. As Jesus is mocked in his helplessness under the sign which reads 'King of the Jews', he is revealed as Lord of all the ages. He exercises power as he hangs on the Cross. Without the Cross and Resurrection, Jesus' life was just a series of impressive moral teachings and strange miracles. If our following of Jesus is merely a question of keeping laws and being nice to everybody, then Jesus was just a great teacher whom we can follow or not, and whose teachings we can update for the 21st century. But, through this Gospel passage, today's feast tells us that Jesus Christ is Lord of all, not merely a teacher whose day has come and gone, to be replaced by some new guru. He is victorious over sin and death, not by standing on the side-lines in disgust and condemning evil. He was born in a stable, touched lepers and was rejected by the religious leaders of his own time. Then he died as an outcast, mocked by the crowd and by the soldiers. He became king by becoming weak with the weak. The only one in today's Gospel who recognizes him for who he is, is a convicted criminal. His followers have always been at their worst when they sought to become strong with the strong and arrogant towards the weak. The great saints were those who embraced poverty and uncertainty. A church that wants to preserve its status wants Jesus as King without the centrality of Calvary. Today tells us, not just that Jesus is king – but what type of King he is and what will conquer sin in our day. Sin will be overcome by an abundance of mercy and virtue, and not merely by a tsunami of laws and the enthronement of choice as the supreme truth. We see in the Gospel how public opinion and the abuse of power treated the one who is Truth.

Thirdly, Jesus was concerned with concrete salvation for all. He wanted to raise up our bodies, however scarred they might be, and renew the face of the earth. St Paul wrote about God reconciling all things in heaven and earth through Jesus. That is why the Preface of the Mass can speak about Christ's kingdom as 'a kingdom of truth and life, holiness and grace, justice, love and peace'. Thus, our concern for social justice is not merely a modern fad. Jesus wants to renew the face of the earth that was created as good and messed up by human sin. The concern for the environment can never become merely some sort of woolly substitute for the real Christ. Jesus wants us to work with him to overcome sin in our own lives so that we can model a world reconciled to God. When we fail to do that through hypocrisy, abuse of power and selfishness, we are a counter-witness to Christ's mission. Today's feast calls us to be what the Second Vatican Council calls 'a sacrament or a sign and instrument both of a very closely knit union with God and of the unity of the whole human race' (Lumen Gentium, 1). The purpose of the synodal way of being church is never to modernise teaching so it causes no offence but to radicalise our way of being church is that Christ can be King and Lord. At the beginning of his public life, Jesus spoke about the Kingdom of God being close at hand and calling on his followers to repent and believe the Good News. Today's feast calls us repent and take seriously his message. If we think that it is non-believers who have to do all the repenting, then we risk standing with the mocking crowd at Calvary rather than with the King on the Cross.

The Feast of Christ the King marks the last chapter story that we celebrate each year. His victory over sin and death tells us that evil will not have the last work, even though so many suffer from injustice and unfairness in this life. That key event of our story is celebrated here around the altar each day and each weekend. We see the power of the Cross in parents who remain faithful to their family even when their lives fall apart. We see it in those who walk and work with the dying and the addicted. We see it in those who are nor seduced by the power of consumerism and rebel against the elite in every generation. Just as the Cross was the place where Christ's kingship was revealed, so, too, we are called here each weekend and sent out to act as if we really believed that the Eucharist is the sacrament of the Cross in all its power and wisdom.

Know the full love story between God and humanity, do not be scandalised by the foolishness of the Cross, and work to build the Kingdom of justice, love and peace. That is the mission for which the church is renewed in every generation.

+ Donal McKeown

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