Homily: 34th Sunday in Ordinary Time – Cycle B
Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe
On Christmas day, in the year 1000, St. Stephen of Hungary, also known as King St. Stephen, was crowned as the first king of Hungary. A fervently devoted Christian, Stephen was instrumental in forming Hungary as a Christian state. During his reign as king, he strove to enact just laws, to serve the poor, and to maintain peace. Often he would take off his royal garments, put on the clothes of a peasant, and walk the streets, giving alms to the poor. He loved his people and the Church and he never lost sight of the fact that his kingship carried with it a responsibility to serve them both. As a result, his people loved him greatly and the Church flourished in Hungary. Fervent devotion to Saint Stephen continues in Hungary even today, and his feast day is yearly celebrated as a national holiday with processions and other celebrations. He was and is an enduring sign of national unity and identity for the Hungarian people.
In 1776, we Americans decided that we no longer wanted to be ruled by a king, and we declared our independence from England. This historical decision is one that most of us, I dare say, are still happy with. This fact, however, has made it difficult for us to find the meaning of kingship in our lives. While the Hungarians find their national unity and identity in one man, the king, we Americans find our national unity and identity in the diversity of our collective spirit. And so we have no frame of reference to help us understand what kingship means for us.
As Catholics, however, we believe that we have a king, Jesus Christ. And like the Hungarians who yearly celebrate and honor their king Stephen, we Catholics also yearly celebrate our king on this, the last Sunday of the liturgical year. This is why, as American Catholics, the life of St. Stephen is such a rich story for us; because by his example we can come to understand the kingship of our Lord, Jesus Christ.
As we hear in the first reading and in the Psalm today, Christ’s kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, where he is robed in majesty and splendor. Yet we also know that he condescended to clothe himself in the garments of human flesh. He walked among us, healing the sick and suffering and bringing comfort to the poor. In spite of being a king, his concern has never been with his own glory; rather, it has always been for his people: that we would be free from sin and made “into a kingdom, priests for his God and Father.”
As king, St. Stephen placed his entire life under the lordship of Jesus Christ. He recognized clearly in his own kingship what our second reading tells us today, that “Jesus Christ is the … ruler of the kings of the earth.” In placing his life under Christ’s dominion he served his people faithfully, in truthfulness and love, and thus he is honored still today as the model of earthly kingship.
Yet, in our Gospel today we see a contrast of this model in the person of Pontius Pilate. Jesus stands accused of trying to usurp earthly power and is being questioned by Pilate. Pilate, however, only understands kingship from a worldly standpoint—in which a king is someone who lords his authority over his people and so forces them to conform to his will—and so Jesus’ answers confound him. “It is your own people who have handed you over,” Pilate says. But Jesus corrects him and tells him “No, no. These are not my people. They do not understand what real kingship is. My people are those who belong to the truth, and those who belong to the truth understand who I am and why I came.” Although we don’t read it today, Pilate’s next line is to ask Jesus, “What is truth?” Can you believe it? Truth himself was standing right in front of him and he had no clue. Pilate had subjected himself to a worldly kingship and so he was blinded to seeing the truth of the kingship of Jesus.
My sisters and brothers, we have a king in Jesus Christ! He is not a king who lords it over us, as do the kings of the earth. Rather, he is a “faithful witness … who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood [and] who has made us a kingdom of priests” for God our Father. He is a king who rules in justice and in truth. Therefore, in order to enjoy that kingship, we are called to subject ourselves to truth, like King St. Stephen did.
This isn’t just for kings, though. Whether you happen to be the king of a nation or the head of a household, we are all called to acknowledge the kingship of Christ and to subject every aspect of our lives to his dominion. And this is not scary; because, as we’ve heard, Jesus is a “faithful witness … who loves us.” And so no matter how we’ve been hurt in the past by those who love us—and all of us, I dare say, have experienced this—we can trust in Jesus’ love because he is truly faithful.
Therefore my sisters and brothers, let us ask ourselves, “which areas of my life do I keep from the lordship of Jesus?” And what we are really asking here is “Does truthfulness truly rule in every aspect of my life?” At work, am I completely truthful with my boss, co-workers, and clients? Do I truly give an honest day’s work, or do I take as much time for myself as I feel like I can get away with? In my relationships with my spouse, my family, and my friends, am I completely truthful? Or do I have a secret life that I hide from those closest to me? Does truthfulness rule how I prepare my taxes and my contributions to the Church and charitable organizations? Some of you might even be asking whether or not truthfulness rules my preaching… Well, fair enough, and that is a question that I must ask myself daily. Does truth rule my prayer? In other words, do I allow myself to be open and honest with God, whether it is in private prayer, in the confessional, or here at mass? And when I come forward to receive the Blessed Sacrament, do I truly open myself up completely to receive the Lord, or do I hold something back, ashamed to let the Lord see it?
My sisters and brothers, Jesus Christ wants to be the Lord of every aspect of our lives. He wants to be Lord of both the good and the beautiful—like the way we love our children or serve the poor—and he wants to be Lord of the bad and the ugly—like when we use our spouses, friends, or others to satisfy our selfish needs. We allow him to be Lord when we submit each aspect of our lives to truthfulness.
Now, we don’t have to do it all at once. We can start with something basic: like giving an honest day’s work at our jobs or turning away from gossip when we are with our friends. If one at a time we submit each aspect of our lives over to truthfulness, soon we will find that truthfulness reigns over every aspect of our lives. And when truthfulness reigns over every aspect of our lives then we will come to know the joy of having allowed Jesus, who is truth, to be our king.
And so, let us begin even now, here in this Eucharist, by submitting ourselves truthfully, flaws and all, to Jesus as we present our gifts of bread and wine to be offered on this altar. Then, with the choirs of angels we can truthfully cry out in joy and say “Holy, Holy, Holy! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest to Christ our King!”
Given at All Saints Parish: Logansport, IN – November 22nd, 2015