Two Thieves and an Unlikely King

[Homily:  University Mass in Honor of Christ the King, closing the Year of Faith]

In all Catholic churches yesterday throughout the globe, the Feast of Christ the King was celebrated.  Today, we come together as Catholic and Jesuit University Community to celebrate Christ the King in our lives.  Together, we recall not the eschatological image of a triumphant Jesus, sitting on a luxurious throne, distinguished by a crown of gold and jewels, and garbed in velvety royal robes, but the biblical image of this, our unlikely King, stripped of his clothes, bleeding from a heartless whipping, hurting from thorns violently pummeled onto his head, hanging painfully from a cross, desperately struggling to breathe.   That is the image of Christ the King, I believe, that we must more deeply appreciate today.  The inscription over him said, “This is the King of the Jews” (Lk 23:38).  The thief at his side mocked him.  If he could save others, how come he could not save himself?  But the other thief rebuked this thief, admitting they had both been condemned justly.  But not this Jesus.  Looking him in the eye, he entreated, “Remember me when you come into your Kingdom.”  From the Cross, Jesus replied, “This day you will be with me in paradise.”  We must appreciate that.  To the person who approaches him in humble recognition of who he is, this unlikely king – stripped of worldly clothes, comfort, dignity, power – resembling a worm not a man – has the power to admit or not to admit to Paradise.   This is the awesome power won on the Cross which the King wields terribly at the end of time, when he either says:  “Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the Kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world” (Mt. 25:34), or he says:  “You that are accursed: depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels…!” (Mt. 25: 41b).

As the image of Christ the King reminds us of ultimate inevitable truths:  eternity, judgment, redemption, final condemnation, eternal beatitude, we also mark the end of the Year of Faith.  For some, the Year of Faith may have come and gone, like fads and fashions come and go.  Much ado, but ultimately much ado about nothing.  But today we may recall the Year of Faith was proclaimed by Pope Benedict XVI, to commemorate the 50th Anniversary of the opening of Vatican II on Oct 11, 1962, that great event in the Church which let fresh air into the musty archives and museums of the Church, and promised for it a new spring in renovated ways of worship, in refreshing openness to the world, in profound Christocentric perspectives, in openness to diversity of confessions and faiths and the affirmation of religious liberty, and the re-discovery of the crucial role of the laity in the world.  The Year of Faith also commemorated the 20th anniversary of the  Catechism of the Catholic Church, the compendium which gathered the Church’s major teachings into one volume and put this in the hands of the faithful.  The Year of Faith, therefore, was about renewal.  But it was also about renewal in truth.  It was a “summons to an authentic and renewed conversion to the Lord, the one Savior of us all” (Porta fidei, 6).  The Year of Faith has ended.

For those for whom this Year of Faith has been an occasion of deep personal conversion to the Lord, a re-encounter with him in searching the Scriptures, in living the liturgy, in silent prayer during retreat, or in a rediscovery of him in the love of  spouse, the joy of our children, the need of our neighbor, or in the challenges of our service of the hungry, the thirsty, the stranger, the naked, the sick and the imprisoned, they have reason for great gratitude as they peer into the eyes of their unlikely King on the Cross, and welcome his gaze into theirs.  For did he not say, very personally, and very compellingly, “…just as you have done it to one the least of these of my brothers and sisters, you did it to me” (Mt. 25:40)?  As you have recognized Jesus in those entrusted to your compassion and love, conversed with Him on the Cross, and felt the warmth of his heart, did you not notice the twinkle in the eyes of this unlikely King?

For those however for this Year of Faith has come, and gone, like advertisement campaigns here today and gone tomorrow, with no renewed insight that “It’s more fun in the Catholic church, with no deep personal re-conversion to the King on the Cross, the ending of the Year does not slam the porta fidei, the Door of Faith on them in dreadful finality, but keeps it open, inviting us yet to discover the twinkle in the eye of the unlikely King on the Cross.  The invitation is still open to authentic and renewed conversion. “Authentic” meaning that it is truly ours, not done for us, not pre-cooked for us, not pre-determined in us, not-prepackaged in us, not forced on us.  “Conversion” meaning that we turn away from the darkness and the despair, that we ourselves recognize as darkness and despair, and turn to the light in the eyes of the King.  Conversion means we turn away from the hatred and the violence, and all the half- and quarter truths that feed these, that we turn away from the superficiality and the boredom, from the personal relationships that interact without love, that are complicated in shallowness, or the technology that communicates without content, and yield to the message of Jesus on the Cross, peering into our eyes with love.  Among the messages from the Cross:  it doesn’t work without love in truth.   It cannot be true without love.

The Year of Faith brought us many challenges.  Some could say it was a Year of Calamity:  the Zamboanga Tragedy which shook up the Peace Process and killed 328 people and displaced 100,000 people, the Bohol Quake with its 7.2 magnitude on the Richter scale which shook up the province with the force of 32 Hiroshima bombs, killed 222, and wounded 976; Typhoon Yolanda, the Category 5 Super Typhoon, which packed winds of 315 km/hr., was the strongest typhoon ever to hit land in recorded history, and so far has killed 5,268, displaced 600,000 and rendered 1.9 million people homeless.  But it was also a year which brought us a new Pope, a Jesuit who chose the name Francis, and new hope, and a challenge to get out of the complacency of our sheltered parishes and cozy institutions.  To the World Youth he said as a result of World Youth Day he wants “a mess,”  a faith-based revolution away from indifference and complacency, a willingness through renewed encounter with Jesus Christ to go the edges, to the peripheries, especially to the poor, with the message and love of the unlikely King on the Cross!

That may mean that we will have to do things differently and shift paradigms to better meet the challenge in the eyes of the King.  Looking into his eyes, we must ask sincerely, “If  you have done this for me, what have I done for you?  What am I doing for you? What ought I do for you?”  This may mean that we listen to his reply, because he does reply, and beg to be able to obey his will with promptness and diligence.  This may mean that we respond not only with our reason and logic as rational people do, but that we distinguish ourselves in this response by entering more deeply into the heart of this unlikely King on the Cross with the twinkle in his eye.

On this feast of Christ the King, our Gospel gives us two options:  Be like the thief who jeered and could not believe this worm of a man on a Cross could have any meaning for him.  Or be like the thief who admitted his injustice, and found in the eyes of the man on the Cross the compassion and love of God.  That was a thief’s faith.  But before this unlikely King, it was redemption.





About Joel Tabora, S.J.

Jesuit. Educator
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