P.S. Next Sunday is "Liturgical New Year's Day" (the First Sunday of Advent). Are you planning any celebrations for the New Year?
Homily: Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe – Cycle C
Michigan mega-church pastor Rob Bell has produced a series of videos that take a simple, straight-forward approach to demonstrating how the Gospel applies to everyday life. In one of the videos that I’ve seen, Mr. Bell speaks about the importance of saying “yes” to something. In doing so, he emphasizes, we can then come to know what it is that we need to say “no” to in our lives. He uses Jesus as an example to illustrate his point, stating that because Jesus said “yes” to do the Father’s will, announcing the Good News and redeeming God’s people, he could say “no” to many other things (like when Jesus turned away when he knew the crowd was going to carry him away to make him their ruler).
This is a video (a short film, really) and so of course there is a visual component to his speaking. In the film, the whole time that he is talking he’s walking, seemingly from one side of a city to another. At first his surroundings just seem like normal busy streets, but if you’re paying attention you begin to notice that the surroundings are part of the point. The visual noises are distractions that surround him as he walks. At a couple of points, a person actually walks in between Mr. Bell and the camera as he’s walking, but he never loses his stride until he arrives at his destination (which happens to be a school where he meets a young girl that we are to assume is his daughter). The well-made point of both his words and the visual presentation is to emphasize how knowing what it is that we have said “yes” to keeps us focused (i.e. able to say “no”) in the midst of the world’s distractions.
In the Gospel today, we jump right into the middle of Luke’s account of the crucifixion. In it Jesus is being taunted by bystanders while he is in the midst of his greatest suffering. The Jewish authorities, the Roman soldiers, and even one of the criminals crucified with him all pressure him to prove he’s the Messiah—the divinely appointed King of the Jews—by using divine power to save himself from the crucifixion. I can only imagine what Jesus felt. He knew that he was the king, but reviling him these men were calling him a phony, a poseur, because the real king would save himself from this disgrace.
Jesus also knew that he had the power to save himself. Recall what happened when, in the synagogue at Nazareth, the townspeople tried to throw Jesus over the brow of the hill on which the town was built for what he had said, but that Jesus “passed through the midst of them” and escaped. But Jesus didn’t do that this time, did he? And why? Well, because he knew that he had already said “yes” to do the Father’s will, which was to be sacrificed for the redemption of all mankind. And because of this, he could say “no” to the distractions surrounding him: the temptations to use his divine power to save himself from this incredible suffering.
Yet, there was one voice that refused to revile Jesus: the voice of the other criminal crucified with him. He, it seems could see something… let’s say… incongruent about Jesus’ crucifixion. This criminal could see that Jesus was innocent of any capital crime and hadn’t really been any threat to the power of the Roman occupiers, and so perhaps he thought Jesus really was who he said he was: a king who has yet to come into his kingdom. And so, in his own suffering and nearness to death, this criminal makes an incredible act of faith in Jesus—he decides to say “yes” to Jesus by acknowledging him as King—and for that “yes” he received his eternal reward.
And so the question, of course, comes back to us. Have we said “yes” to Jesus? In many ways, this is what the Year of Faith, which ends today, has been all about. It’s been about re-discovering and renewing our faith—our yes—in Jesus. And whether or not we spent this year well, today we are called to acknowledge the kingship of Jesus—that he truly does rule over us—and to renew (or, perhaps, to speak for the first time) our “yes” to follow Jesus, so that a new flourishing of faith can blossom as we begin a new liturgical year.
You know, as Catholics, we don’t do the whole “Have you accepted Jesus as your personal Lord and Savior” thing, but the idea of it is what we are constantly being called to. In baptism, we receive the grace of salvation: the grace won for us by Jesus’ death and resurrection. Yet, at some point in our lives, we all have to say “yes” to Jesus and to acknowledge him as Lord and ruler of our lives. In other words, we have to let Jesus be our king.
But this is dangerous, is it not? I mean, if we say “yes” to Jesus, then we’ll have to say “no” to so many other things, won’t we? So how, then, can we say “yes” to him? I mean, where can we find the courage to allow him to be Lord and ruler of our lives? This courage, my brothers and sisters, comes only through an encounter with him. And where do we encounter him? In prayer (especially before the Blessed Sacrament here in the Church) and in communal worship (especially here in the Eucharist), in the Scriptures (especially when we meditate on them and allow them to speak to us and to our lives), and in our suffering (i.e. when we are able, in our suffering, to turn, like the “good thief” in today’s Gospel, and see Jesus, crucified there with us).
My brothers and sisters, when we encounter Jesus we can see the hopelessness of our striving in contrast with the hope contained in Jesus’ resurrection from the dead, and in this light we can find the courage to say “yes” to him (and, thus, “no” to so much else). In this Eucharistic encounter with Jesus, let us not fear to say “yes” to him and acknowledge him as our King; and let us not fear all that we’ll have to say “no” to because of this: because paradise—that is, eternal happiness—awaits us.
Given at All Saints Parish: Logansport, IN – November 23rd & 24th, 2013