HOMILY – NOVEMBER 22
Let’s zero in for a moment on one verse in today’s Gospel, verse 36: “If my kingdom DID belong to this world, my attendants would be fighting.” Stop there. You might say, “No, wait. Read on. It only makes sense if you finish Jesus’ sentence: ‘My attendants would be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Jews.’ Isn’t that a good motive for fighting? Wouldn’t that have been a worthy cause, to save Jesus from his impending doom? But the Apostles had already chickened out and run away.”
And that’s Jesus point exactly. “If my kingdom DID belong to this world, my attendants would be fighting.” But they aren’t. They’re not around. This makes no EARTHLY sense to them, either, because “my kingdom is not of this world.” Is this kingdom of Christ worth fighting for, then? Oh yes, it’s infinitely and eternally worthy. But FIGHTING rather pales in comparison to infinity and eternity, doesn’t it? Because this kingdom, not of this world, cannot be won, conquered, or held by fighting. It’s accomplished by FAITH. Fighting is of THIS world. If you don’t believe that, turn on the radio, turn on the TV, read the paper, plunge into the Internet. We humans are a quarrelsome lot. We pick fights over EVERYTHING! So catch the full impact of Jesus’ statement: “If my kingdom DID belong to this world, my attendants would be fighting.”
Now, let’s admit it. His attendants, his disciples, DO fight. Catholics and Protestants fight. Romans and Orthodox fight. In Rwanda, 20 years, ago, Catholic Hutu and Catholic Tutsi fought each other to the death. Protestant churches fight among themselves and, presto!, that produces more Protestant churches. But you’ll notice that when we fight, it’s so often done in the spirit of the world: name-calling, exaggeration, inaccuracies, self-serving and self-righteous accusations, personal attacks. If we persist in imitating the world and its ways in attempting to serve Christ and his kingdom, we are only holding ourselves up to judgment in the eyes of the world itself. And all the world will say is, “See, even THEY fight. And they’re not even very good at it!!”
How different this is from Jesus’ definition of those who belong to HIS kingdom! “By THIS will all know that you are my disciples, by the LOVE you have for one another.” And of course, by “one another,” he doesn’t just mean we should love those who are like us or close to us. He means EVERYBODY. Those we love and those we don’t, those who are friends and those who are enemies, those we’re close to and those we’re not, those who are like us and those who are, oh, so different. And he made this quite clear, over and over again.
What a strange and unusual kingdom this is! “Put your sword back in its place,” Jesus tells Peter, when in the garden the Apostle shows a last flicker of evaporating bravery in defense of his master, “for all who live by the sword will die by the sword.” “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, pray for those who persecute you.”
“But Lord,” we protest, “they’ll wipe us out!!”
And Christ the King replies with a smile, “You’re talking about a kingdom that started with eleven fishermen and a tax collector, and in 300 years had become the religion of the Roman Empire. Now what’s that you were saying?”
Take careful note that when Jesus spoke with soldiers, he didn’t talk DOWN to them with an air of moral superiority. He never told one of them to abandon their post, even with the reputation they had for brutal suppression of those they ruled. That, too, is because his kingdom is not of this world. Many early Christian converts were serving in the military. Some laid down their arms, others did not. Self-defense and defense of one’s nation is an affair of the world. The kingdom of Christ does not involve itself in it, but strives to be of service to all. Fighting is a method employed by the world to resolve its affairs. The kingdom of Christ holds all of us to a different standard, even while we recognize that there are times when limited violence must be used in defending against aggression and in resolving some of the affairs of this world. That’s BECAUSE they are affairs of this world. Christ our King is always calling us to do better.
Fighting is part of our fallen human nature. Hurt those who hurt you. Do unto others before they have a chance to do unto you. Eye for eye, tooth for tooth. ((Shake fist in the air.)) “I’LL GET YOU FOR THIS!!” None of these ingrained reactions which seem so “natural” to us can ever lead us to the infinity and eternity of Christ’s kingdom. Even as he is tortured to death because of the treachery and conniving of those who are threatened by his message, Christ our King calls them and us to conversion, to the better way of his kingdom, to genuine mercy and justice, and to life with him forever. Baptism makes you royalty in this kingdom. The Holy Spirit anoints you for greatness. The Eucharist enables you to dine each day at the King’s banquet. You don’t have to wait. Your mission as his ambassador in this world continues — today and every day.