Homily: 34th Sunday in Ordinary Time – Cycle C
Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe
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.
It’s a simple fact that when we say “yes” to something, it automatically says “no” to a lot of other things. Many of these things are known to us at the time: the other options from which we chose the thing to which we said “yes”. Sadly enough, there are whole reality shows based on this premise. Has anyone out there watched the show “Say ‘yes’ to the dress”? This is the whole premise to the show: saying “yes” to one and, therefore, “no” to many others.
Still more, however, saying “yes” to something also means that we’ve said “no” to a lot of things that we haven’t yet encountered. For example, saying “yes” to get married means that I’ve said “no” to many things: namely, to having romantic relationships with other people besides my spouse and to the relative freedom of having lived on my own. It could also mean, however, that, perhaps without your conscious acknowledgement, you’ve already said “no” to the job promotion that would relocate you to another city because your family couldn’t move from where you are.
Catholic author and speaker Matthew Kelly reminds us that to turn towards something is at the same time to turn away from something. He reminds us of this because he acknowledges that too many people ignore this basic reality. In other words, many people think that they can say “yes” to one thing without really saying “no” to the others. But this is a lie, he says: a lie that will eventually leave us feeling lost and dissatisfied. Again, in the midst of all of the taunting and reviling, Jesus remembered that to which he had said “yes” and, thus, could say “no” to using his power to save him from the cross. Similarly, all those who were reviling Jesus had said “yes” to a type of Messiah that was different from the one that Jesus presented to them. Thus, they had to say “no” to anyone purporting to be the Messiah who didn’t fit the type for which they were looking.
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 Mercy, which ends today, has been all about. It’s been about re-discovering and renewing our “yes” to Jesus by saying “yes” to serving him by serving the bodily and spiritual needs of those around us. 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 something to which we are constantly being called. 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? By saying “yes” to Jesus, then we’ll have to say “no” to so many other things. 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), 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 to which we’ll have to say “no” because of this: because, although it may cause us to suffer for a time in this world, paradise—that is, eternal happiness—awaits those who persevere in their “yes” to God.
Given at All Saints Parish: Logansport, IN – November 20th, 2016