Deacon Cornell’s Homily


Daniel 7:13-14
Revelation 1:5-8
John 18:33b-37


November 25-26, 2006, Christ the King , Cycle B

Back after 9-11, Satan was getting a little worried. People were starting to say prayers in public, consumerism was taking a hit, and people were thinking about what was really important in life. So he called in his chief advisors and asked them to come up with a campaign that would counteract this trend. After some thinking one of his minions offered this: why don't we convince people that there is no hell, no consequences for doing something wrong? Satan in his wisdom shot that down: people instinctively know when they do something wrong; they'll never go for it. After some more thought one of the other advisors offered this: so we can't convince them there isn't a hell; let's convince them there is no heaven. If there is no heaven to gain, then why bother being good? Satan again shook his head: There is something built into humans that reminds them even in the worst situations that heaven exists. In the darkest night, they somehow know that the dawn is not far off. They'll never go for it. They sent out for deviled ham sandwiches and some devil dogs and continued to brainstorm. Suddenly one of the bright young turks just back from a tour on earth piped up: I've got it. We tell them there is a hell and a heaven but we convince them that there is no urgency. There is no need to do anything differently now because heaven and hell are a long way off. Satan went right over and shook his hand and said, "That's it. Go spread that message far and wide, and we will be back in business!"

We gather here today to celebrate the feast of Jesus Christ the King. The title Christ is the Greek equivalent of the Hebrew Messiah or Anointed. By the time of Jesus' birth, Israel had refined their understanding of the anointed one who God would send to bring salvation. Their understanding had arisen from the recurring experience of oppression that they had lived through as slaves in Egypt, as a tiny nation beset on all sides by marauding enemies, as a people in exile in Babylon, and as a people conquered and abused by the Greeks, and then the Romans. They knew what it was like to suffer from plagues and droughts, to be pillaged and sacked, to be taxed and reduced to slavery. Their longing for the Messiah-King had been informed by the prophets: the chastisement of Jeremiah, the promise of Micah, the suffering servant songs of Isaiah, the apocalyptic visions of Daniel.

And from all this, at the time the Jesus lived, they had narrowed their understanding down to a very specific expectation of an earthly king who would overthrow the Roman oppressors and re-establish the Davidic kingdom. This is the messiah that the Jews longed for, and the messiah the Romans and their vassals feared. At least at some level, this is why Jesus was put to death. Despite the message that Jesus preached, and the life that he lived, his followers hoped against hope that he was the one who would raise up a military force that would overthrow the Romans and their appointed rulers. The ruling class was ever vigilant for signs of revolt; anyone who looked like they could muster popular support must be eliminated. The misunderstanding is starkly visible in the dialog between Pilate and Jesus in this passage from John.

Pilate asks if Jesus is a king, specifically a king who will challenge the rule of Pilate and Rome. When Jesus answers that his kingdom is not of this world, we have to hear that as John's Gospel meant it. Jesus is not implying that his kingdom is not something we need to concern ourselves about here on earth. "The world" in John's gospel means human society organized around its unbelief. Jesus is contrasting the foundation of the Roman kingdom which is power and cruelty and oppression to the foundation of his kingdom which is truth. In John's Gospel, Jesus has come to testify against the world based on unbelief and to testify to the truth. Pilate knows the truth. He has already found Jesus innocent. But knowing the truth is not enough. We must act on it, and Pilate does not. He has bought into the campaign suggested by the young devil: the truth is far off so we don't feel any urgency to act on it.

What shapes our understanding of Jesus the Christ, the Messiah King, the anointed one sent by God to bring salvation? It doesn't take a lot of study to see that the world is not the way it should be. Even a cursory glance at the news each day should convince us that there are many things that fall short of perfection, that are in need of salvation. Have you ever stopped to think about where this salvation will come from? Will it come from the Democrats or the Republicans; the United States or the European Union; the United Nations; Microsoft or Walmart? And if we stop and take a good look at our own lives over the last few days, can we see evidence that not everything is perfect, that we too are in need of salvation right here and now? Where will that salvation come from?

You see salvation is not about something a long time away, like when we die or the end of the world. Christ the King has already been sent into the world to transform the world, to bring about the kingdom of God here on earth; but that job is not yet done.

We give lie to that young devil's campaign every time we say the Our Father, praying that the kingdom of God come here on earth as it already is in heaven. And in gathering to celebrate Eucharist we acknowledge that we too have been anointed in Baptism to be part of the body of this Christ the King who comes to save the world. This world, here. This world, now.

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