Sunday, 23 November 2008

Solemnity of Christ the King Year A

The Kingship of Christ is a reminder that Christ is King of all creation and that all humanity must submit itself to the rule of Christ. But, this submission is somewhat controversial for the simple reason that, for many of us, the concept of “kingship” is rather outmoded or outdated. We might be one of the few remaining countries with a monarchical system but by and large, most countries have gotten rid of their kings or queens; the latest example being Nepal. Some of the Commonwealth countries which have Queen Elizabeth for their monarch are trying to become republics. In fact, the idea or the notion of “kingship” can be rather oppressive. Given our preference for democratic principles, I have seen the term “kingdom of God” being translated as the “kin-dom of God”, a term which seemingly fulfils the principles of democracy as it connotes or stresses the equality of our kinship or relationship. The Solemnity of Christ the King is akin to Good Shepherd Sunday, a symbol which finds little correspondence with reality.

So, if the Solemnity of Christ the King is to make sense, and that we ought to submit to the rule of Christ, then it is imperative that we understand how His Kingship is exercised. In this regard, the Gospel is most helpful. The Kingship of Christ is a ministry of service, not of military might or oppression. Listen to what Jesus tells His disciples in Matt 18. “You know that among the pagans, the rulers lord it over them, and their great men make their authority felt. No; anyone who wants to be great among you must be your servant, and anyone who wants to be first among you must be your slave, just as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, to give his life as a ransom for many”. (Matt20:25).

What Jesus says is telling. You’d be pleased to know that tyranny is not a new invention. If you remember, Jesus called Herod a fox. Given that Jesus was familiar with the popular (more fittingly unpopular) image of a king or a lord, yet He did not reject the concept of kingship or lordship, but instead re-defined it. For Jesus, a king is but another word for a slave. He himself is the prime example. Through the Incarnation, He, the Son of God became man. Paul’s Letter to the Philippians 2 says, “His state was divine, yet he did not cling to his equality with God but emptied himself to assume the condition of a slave, and became as men are, and being as all men are, he was humbler yet, even to accepting death, death on a cross”. A King is to serve.

Fortunately, this notion of kingship as servitude is not entirely alien to us all. In fact, those of you parents who have one child, even though you may be the “exalted” head of the family, often enough your life revolves around your child. You drive your child here and there. In fact, some of you practically have no social life at all simply because your daily schedule revolves around the activities of your child. Those of you who have a son (or sons) serving as altar server, would feel this more, especially when your son (or sons) has to serve at a funeral at 2pm on a Thursday afternoon. You have to change your hectic schedule just to fit his (theirs).

That is the meaning of servant-hood. He or she who is leader or head is servant of all. And this is where the model of Christ’s Kingship is different from the conventional model of lording over the “subjects”. In fact, it is even different from being a slave to your child. It is different because being a slave to your child is, if you like, your “sad destiny” or “ill fate” (not that we believe in pre-destination). It is your child which pretty much means you have no choice though you may do it out of love or maybe out of “justifiable” fear for the safety of your only child. The point is your service is conditioned by being a parent to your child. But, service goes beyond that.

Thus, the model of Christ’s Kingship is best expressed and our submission to him is more perfect when the vision of our service looks beyond the familiar kinship (like parent to a children) ties to whom the Gospel today calls the hungry, the thirsty, the stranger, the naked, the ill and the imprisoned. We have no reason, no kinship that ties us to these categories of people. It is easy to serve those whom we know or like, whom we are familiar or have a rapport with. Our challenge is to cross the bridge of familiarity to the unfamiliar and uncharted territory of the stranger or to breach the walls of our comfort zone. It takes a lot to forego our status, forget ourselves and a lot more humility, a lot more sacrifice to serve those who cannot repay our kindness, who are incapable of loving us in return.

A point may be made here that it can become fashionable to rattle off the familiar list of “the hungry, the thirsty, the stranger, the naked, the ill and the imprisoned” and when we do that, we may just make them even more invisible to us because they become comfortable “categories” for us to deal with. It’s like once a year, we write a cheque for donation to the Little Sisters of the Poor and we sort of salve our conscience that we’ve fulfilled our annual quota of the corporal acts of mercy. I have done my duty so leave me in peace. Today’s solemnity is a reminder that the Kingship of Christ is not “up there” but is very much tied or moored down here and therefore, a Christian, in order to fulfil his or her vocation, must enter into the service of those who are forgotten, not just at arm’s length but in reality, this or that person. As one serving the parish, we have our fair share of the cuckoos, the unreasonable and always the one who comes with a “cock-bull” story. Even in my heart of hearts, I am pre-conditioned to think the person in front of me is trying to cheat or lie, yet, I have to be conscious not to treat the person with indignity. [1] Why? Firstly, it is on this that we will be judged. And secondly, our encounter with this or that person is an encounter with Christ Himself. Thirdly, not only do we encounter Christ, for in serving, we are indeed acting out the servitude of Christ who Himself came to serve.
[1] In fact, it was uncanny. Christ always comes unbidden in the poor. In the afternoon of Sunday, after preaching this homily, a man was hobbling in search of a priest. And I had the misfortune of bumping into him. Why misfortune? He had been one who had lied and cheated a number of people in the parish, me included. Furthermore, I had seen him in different parishes with the same story that his salary was delayed. I had also “driven” him out of the parish ground not because he was poor but because he had been lying. Whatever the “justification”, the point was, this was Christ unrecognised. I was acutely aware of my antagonism towards him and my shame that I refused to acknowledge the Lord in him. Anyway, I gave him money but there was still the annoyance etc. The submission of Christ demands that one even dares to love so “unloveable” a character. That is why there are saints and we are struggling!!!