Life on the Chrism Trail

Homily for the Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe

November 20, 2022
St. Martin de Porres Catholic Church
Prosper, Texas

2 Samuel 5:1-3
Psalm 122:1-5
Colossians 1:12-20
Luke 23:35-43

To reveal the exact nature of the Kingship and sovereignty of Jesus, Saint Luke presents the last moments of Jesus life as He is dying on the cross. The religious leaders, most of whom rejected Jesus during His earthly ministry, were mocking Him as He is dying. They believe that they have overcome Him by their political maneuvering and will be rid of Him as a nuisance. Jesus always spoke with them directly and honestly about God and their need for conversion, and now they were publicly degrading Him, rejecting Him as the Messiah sent by the Father to save them.

“He saved others, let Him save Himself, if He is the chosen One of God.” This mockery and rejection on the part of the religious leadership against Jesus is because they have come to understand religion only as ritualistic and not requiring the radical contrition for their sins and the conversion required to receive the salvation offered by Jesus as the promised Christ of God.

Saint Luke presents the words and actions of the Roman soldiers that also reviled Jesus, as He was dying, “If you are the king of the Jews, save yourself.” The inscription that was affixed to the top of Jesus’ Cross was both a mockery and a declaration of Jesus’ crime as judged by Pilate, “INRI-Iesus Nazarenus, Rex Iudaeorum Jesus the Nazarene, King of the Jews.” The Romans against Jesus deliver this declaration and mockery because they see Him as a threat to the political power of Caesar and their sense of entitlement to enslave the weak.

But the Gospel of Saint Luke reveals even more than the political and religious reasons for the crucifixion — he presents the details of our redemption and the freedom of decision that Jesus extends to each of us through the conversion won through a share in the suffering of His cross. This invitation by Jesus and the corresponding and decisive response on the part of believers is at the heart of our liturgical celebration today of the Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe.

It is the tale of two sinful thieves. Tradition tells us that their names are Gestas and Dismas, respectively the unrepentant thief and the contrite thief. Each one of them is in the exact same set of circumstances in the presence of Jesus on the cross. They are each guilty of their respective crimes. Gestas remains in the clutches of rebellious autonomy and narcissism even as he is faced with death as the bitter fruit of his unrestrained passions. The response of Gestas is the cynical and self-justifying grandiosity that has brought him to this conclusion of his life. He is not only unrepentant, but also not even remorseful. “Are you not the Christ?” he asked with scorn. “Save yourself and us.” In this taunt, Gestas joined those who ridiculed Jesus from the foot of the cross: “If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself.”

By God’s grace, Dismas saw that Jesus was also truly the Son of God and the King of all creation, and so he said “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” Please notice that Dismas did not ask for a reprieve of his death sentence or for worldly freedom; or to be excused and validated in his sinful behavior. His hope, rather, was in the kingdom to come, and by grace through faith, he saw in the Lord Jesus the divine power that creates and sustains all things rather than simply the human failure of a man being put to death by the systemic power of earthly authority. The second thief, Dismas, calls out for forgiveness and belonging. He is heartily sorrowful and repentant for his sins. He addresses “Jesus” by name — not by title.

This is the only time in the Scriptures where Jesus is addressed by His first name and not by His title. Dismas calls Him “Jesus.” Dismas invokes the intimacy of the Holy Name. Dismas seeks to belong to Jesus. His accountability at the end of his life is not measured by compliance to a set of rules but rather is the accountability to the person of Jesus Christ, the King who calls us friends. Years later, Saint Ambrose would remark on this scene from the Gospel, “This is a beautiful example of conversion to which one should aspire; forgiveness is very quickly offered to the thief and grace is more abundant than the request; the Lord in fact always gives more than is asked for…. Life is being with Christ because where Christ is there is the Kingdom.”

Jesus Christ is King and His sovereignty is directed towards the will of the Father through His obedience and His attentive love for each of us; He seeks out the lost, binds up the injured, heals the sick, gives us tranquility, and finally vanquishes sin and death. In the words of the prophet Ezekiel, “the lost I will seek out, the strayed I will bring back, the injured I will bind up, the sick I will heal, but the sleek and the strong I will destroy, shepherding them rightly.”  The sleek and the strong are those who live life as if God is unnecessary or does not exist even in the desperation of imminent death.

Our work is to accept our share in His sovereignty by first acknowledging that He is our Lord and King and not simply a figurehead. This means that we can no longer attempt to run our lives by our own will power and earthly desires but instead by His right order, governance, and love. It also means that we cannot relate and interact with each other and with society as if God neither matters nor exists let alone that He loves us and offered His Son as a ransom for our salvation.

It means that you must measure yourselves by His rule in the way you love each other as husbands and wives; it means that you must measure yourselves by His rule in what and how you teach and educate your children; it means that you must measure yourselves by His rule in how you obey and honor your fathers and mothers. It means that the purpose of our lives is not to become rich in this world and to live a selfish and narcissistic existence. It also means that we must measure ourselves by His rule by how we treat our neighbor in society; how we care for the poor and the sick, the elderly and the unborn; how we approach issues of gender and sexuality in accord with our God-given human nature and purpose of our bodies; how we approach matters of employment, race and law enforcement. All of these are to be considered and addressed on our part by obedience to the Sovereignty of Jesus Christ our King.

Yet, every time Christians attempt to build the Kingdom of God on earth by seeking to translate the Gospel into a program of government, or a blueprint for a better political order, or a scheme for redesigning human nature in our own fallen image, we ignore Jesus Christ and we capitulate to the same delusion which made Gestas hateful of the accountability of conversion required of a subject of Jesus Christ the King. Yes, Christians should always seek to establish justice, and promote peace, and secure the dignity of all persons in the public life of every nation, but that cannot be done by confusing the kingdoms of human beings with the Kingdom of God. This applies equally across the political spectrum. Here on this earth, we are but strangers and sojourners, and as Saint Paul reminds us, our true citizenship is in the kingdom to come.

The source of so much chaos and disorder in the world today is that in the hearts of too many — even among some of the baptized — Christ remains uncrowned and dishonestly misrepresented as a rival to our freedom or as a mascot for our own scheming. Today’s Gospel and this Solemnity teaches us that it is not enough for us to be in physical proximity of the cross like Gestas. We must, like Dismas, accept the sovereignty of Jesus Christ by reverencing Him at the throne of His cross and as the source of our freedom who reclaims our lives as rightfully belonging to God.

Autonomy leads to narcissism. Narcissism leads to sin. Sin leads to isolation and lack of belonging. And lack of belonging and accountability lead ultimately to self-destruction in this life and hell in the next life. Repentance and conversion compose the currency of the realm of the Kingdom of Jesus Christ. When we acknowledge ourselves honestly and with contrition as sinners, we then share closely in the cross of Jesus in our suffering. Jesus Christ our King does not leave us confused in the narcissism of the original sin of Adam and Eve, who rationalized their sin and hid in their nakedness from God, from each other, and from themselves.

We proclaimed the psalm, “Let us go rejoicing to the House of the Lord.” The path to His House is unveiled at this altar of sacrifice and this Eucharistic banquet table — one and the same. It is here, when we receive the Body of Christ, broken for us, and the Blood of Christ, shed for us, that we can humbly speak with Dismas, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”

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