THE SOLEMNITY OF OUR LORD JESUS CHRIST, KING OF THE UNIVERSE: THE KING WHO COULD NOT SAVE HIMSELF

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Royalty is the stuff of dreams and fantasies. Who wouldn’t dream of royalty? King and royalties live in magnificent palaces, attended by many servants, occupies highest seat of honors in social and civil functions.

No wonder many follow the activities and personal lives of the British Royal family on Instagram. Many have been keeping up with Meghan Markle’s pregnancy since the first day it was announced.

On this last Sunday of the liturgical year, we celebrate the Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ as King of the Universe. In the gospel of today’s feast, the kingship of Christ is proclaimed as he hung upon the cross along with two hardened criminals. Inscribed over his head as he hung on the cross are the words: This is the King of the Jews!

Indeed, Christ the King rules from a throne made to execute criminals. His Kingdom is a place of death outside the city. His subjects are the poor and outcast, the rejected of this world. In this upside-down Kingdom, it is not the executor but the executed who will be with Christ in paradise.

If you are King … save yourself” the soldiers jeered at Jesus on the cross. So did the rulers and one criminal crucified with Jesus taunt him about saving himself. But they misunderstood what “save yourself” means. The rulers, soldiers, and one criminal thought being saved meant that Jesus should come down from the cross, avoid any more suffering, certainly avoid death. But Jesus shows us through his words to the other criminal what being saved really means: “you will be with me in Paradise.” Salvation is less a matter of saving yourself , than a matter of offering yourself for the salvation of others.

There is none other like the crucified king in the fables and fairy tales of human consciousness. No cult or culture could ever dream about it. Jesus’ kingship is a total reversal of what we know and understand about royalty.  Jesus’ kingship is a subversion of our notion of kingship. He refuses to be the master of the world, the mighty monarch, the spiller of blood. Christ’s kingship is an abomination of any earthly royal aspiration. Our hunger for pre-eminence, our desire for dominance, which may well motivate our every choice and predilection, is spurned by this king.

René Girard, professor of language and culture at Stanford University, in his book Things Hidden Since the Foundation of the World, shows how Christ dismantles the triangle of desire, violence, and retribution.

In Christ there is no envy, greed, or lust for power. He, the innocent king who executes none, is executed. He seeks no vengeance. Christ the king is the only sovereign to embody such principles.

Girard comments:

It can be shown, I believe, that there is not a single action or word attributed to Jesus—including those that seem harshest at first sight—that is not consistent with the rule of the Kingdom.

It is absolute fidelity to the principle defined in his own preaching that condemns Jesus. There is no other cause for his death than the love of one’s neighbor lived to the very end.

Fr. John Kavanaugh, SJ, professor of Philosophy at St. Louis University, commenting on Girard, says that when we acknowledge Christ as God and king, we accept his reversal of the violence that dominates humanity. “A non-violent deity can only signal his existence to mankind by having himself driven out by violence in the Kingdom of Violence.”

Jesus is the sole king who saves fallen humanity from its twisted wish. In this respect he is truly original, truly exceptional, the divine challenge to a world which imagines kingship to be enslavement of the other.

Christ’s kingship transcends any earthly style of government and politics. Christ’s kingship is the victory of Christ over all things—even death. Christ the King makes possible among us a reign of goodness, mercy, forgiveness, justice, reconciliation, and peace.

 

22ND SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME: TRUE HONOR

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One of the most common Filipino cultural trait is utang na loob which, when translated literally, means “a debt of one’s inner self (loob)” or simply a “debt of gratitude.”  The essence of utang na loob is an obligation to appropriately repay a person who has done one a favor. I do you a favor; you do me a favor. According to Filipino Psychologist Katrin de Guia, however, utang na loob goes much deeper than ordinary debt or even the western concept of owing a favor because loob involves a deeply personal internal dimension.  Utang na loob thus reflects the kapwa orientation of shared personhood or shared self, which is at the core of the Filipino values system. [1]

This trait is also very common among the Jews in Jesus’ time. In the Gospel of today’s 22nd Sunday in Ordinary time, Jesus told a parable which comments on this practice of reciprocity. The practice of reciprocity was a key factor in the economic life of equals in Jesus’ day. I do you a favor; you do me a favor—endlessly. This basic rule of behavior guided every host in drawing up the guest list.

Thus, accepting an invitation to dinner in the ancient Jewish world obligated a guest to return the favor. It was not uncommon for guests to decline the invitation, especially if they realized that returning the favor was more than they could or cared to handle (Luke 14:15-24). On the other hand, inviting people who cannot return the favor is viewed as cultural suicide. Jesus’ advice to his host was, therefore, not only rude and insulting but also shocking.

Then he said to the host who invited him,
“When you hold a lunch or a dinner,
do not invite your friends or your brothers
or your relatives or your wealthy neighbors,
in case they may invite you back and you have repayment.
Rather, when you hold a banquet,
invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind;
blessed indeed will you be because of their inability to repay you.
For you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.”

Such guests—the poor, crippled, lame, and blind—are clearly people of a lower social status than the host. To associate with such is to dishonor one’s own status. One’s social equals will then shun future invitations, and a host of means will be socially ruined.

Jesus, however, paints another picture of “true” honor. It is not human judgment, the return invitation, that determines honor. God determines true honor, and at the resurrection of the righteous, God personally will reward and honor the host who has been gracious to those unable to return an invitation.

Jesus echoes the First Reading, from Sirach:

My child, conduct your affairs with humility,
and you will be loved more than a giver of gifts.
Humble yourself the more, the greater you are,
and you will find favor with God.

Humility is the virtue by which we acknowledge our status before God: we are “the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind” who come to God’s table because of God’s invitation and generosity.

God, in the person of Jesus (see Lk 14:8), is inviting all people to the messianic feast. The only way to respond to this invitation is to renounce any claim or merit of one’s own.

The Pharisees expected the best seats as a reward for keeping the Torah, but, like the outcast, they have to learn that salvation has to be accepted as an unmerited gift—exactly as Sirach proclaims in the first reading.

Today’s liturgy challenges us to a different lifestyle, one based on forgiveness, love and faith, humble living, the following of Jesus, who is gentle and lowly of heart, peacemaking and suffering persecution, and service of others. It is responding to the challenge of living a shared personhood or shared self with others in the “God who has made a home for the poor.”

 


 

[1] Katrin de Guia,  Kapwa: The Self in the Other: Worldviews and Lifestyles of Filipino Culture-Bearers (Pasig City: Anvil Publishing, Inc. 2005), 378.