King of love on Calvary
(Readings: 2 Samuel 5:1-3, Colossians 1:11-20; Luke 23: 35-43)
Introduction to Mass
Today is the feast of Christ the King, the last Sunday in the Churchís year. The readings present Jesus not as a figure of worldly power or majesty, but as the embodiment of Godís love, willing to suffer a wretched death to undo the effects of human sinfulness and reconcile us with God.
So for all the times that weíve failed to register the significance of Christís paschal mystery, we ask God to forgive us and to strengthen our Christian faith and dedication.
In the Jewish tradition the King of Israel was never a figure of absolute power, someone who could demand absolute obedience from his subjects and behave as selfishly or as cruelly as he liked. The King was someone with a duty to protect his people, to practice Godís care and compassion especially towards the weakest and neediest members of the community. He was meant to be a shepherd rather than a tyrant, as todayís first reading says.
All during the years of his public ministry Jesus embodied the quality attributed most often to God in the Old Testament period: his "loving-kindness". With self-righteous and self-important people Jesus was liable to be sharp, but towards those who were weighed-down and overburdened, Jesus showed the tenderness and the love that are the core of God's nature.
At the end of his ministry Jesus remained faithful to that divine love even to the point of giving up his life, so that the "Good News" of the Christian message is that God didn't respond to the sinfulness of humanity by meting out punishment. The Good News is that in the person of his Son God took the punishment for human sin on himself and "made peace by his death on the Cross" as St. Paul puts it in todayís second reading.
In the history of Christianity there have been many holy men and women whose imaginations have been dominated by a sense of God's loving-kindness and by a sense of God's humility in coming down from his divine state to submit to the humiliation and the agony of the Cross. They've felt overwhelmed by gratitude towards God for his saving work.
But their contemplation of Jesus' great suffering also drew them towards the sufferings of their fellow human beings. They saw in every instance of human misery a reflection of Jesus' Passion, and when they were confronted with suffering, whatever form it took, they felt impelled to react with the same tenderness, the same patient care towards even self-inflicted wounds, and with the same self-sacrifice that Jesus showed all the time during his journey to Calvary.
Their example illustrates a fundamental aspect of our vocation as Jesus' followers and a fundamental aspect of our imitation of Christ: that we also need to be prepared to say what he said to those who are weighed-down in life: come to me - or come to us - and we will give you rest, we'll help to lighten your burden, whatever it consists of.
We know that it's easy to be stirred into helping others by feelings of pity or compassion. But emotions, however intense, can be shallow and short-lived, and they can easily fade away, especially when the recipients of our help are ungrateful, or when their problems appear intractable and start to demand more effort than we find convenient or rewarding.
Whereas a genuinely Christ-like love is a love that doesn't look for reward, is prepared to be taken advantage of without resentment, is prepared to suffer. There's always a role for shrewdness, of course, and for firmness: when people are overburdened in some way they themselves don't always have the best insight as to what would help to remove their burden. But at the level of our own motives, the more we're free from any self-interest in our care for people the closer we come to that loving-kindness which is at the heart of God's character.
Behind all the images of material wealth and happiness in the world we live in now and in our own society, there's still no shortage of suffering. So, as Pope Benedict said in his first encyclical letter - about Godís loving-kindness - that means there's no shortage of opportunities for us to put our commitment to Christian love into practice and, wherever cruelty and selfishness have darkened people's lives, it's up to us to shine the light of God's tenderness and pity.
That would be my reflection on the readings for todayís feast, which show Jesus not in any triumphalistic image, but suffering and dying in faithfulness to his own vocation as shepherd and king.