Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Christ the King

Holy Mass in honor of Christ the King
at the Shrine of the Divine Word
Quezon City

The following is this blogger's homily during the Christ the King Feast Celebration last November 26, 2006 at Christ the King Seminary Quezon City, Philippines. The Gospel Reading is from John 18:33-37.
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By tradition, we conclude our Celebration of the Feast of Christ the King not inside the Church but outside the Church, in this so-called gymnasium. In Ancient Greece, a gymnasium was a place both physical and intellectual education of the youth, but was never a religious place. It was the symbol of the secular world.

By tradition, the homily is preached not in the Church, not during the Liturgy of the Word, but toward the end of the Mass, outside, in this gymnasium.

It is, thus, fitting that the Feast of Christ the King of the Universe is concluded in this place that symbolizes the world.

Here we are reminded of Paul in Acts 17:22-31 debating with Epicurean and Stoic philosophers in the Areopagus of Athens, the center of both education and sports in the Ancient World.

By tradition, for sometime, the chosen priest presider and preacher was an SVD who has recently obtained a doctorate, a newly elected superior, a newly ordained bishop, or at least any SVD who has accomplished something significant or has just received an important task in the Society—that was perhaps to add solemnity to already a solemn celebration.

Tonight, by allowing me to preside and preach in this occasion, I wonder whether a tradition has been broken. I am no bishop nor will ever be; I’m struggling to finish my doctorate.

Thus it reminds of that 1964 Broadway musical, Fiddler on the Roof.

The show begins with a lone fiddler standing on a roof playing a tune, as Tevye, the main character of the play tells the audience about the customs of his people and about how they have lived all their lives in the small Russian town called Anatevka. He equates the hard life in Anatevka with being a "fiddler on a roof": trying to scratch out a simple, pleasant tune without breaking his neck.

"How do we keep our balance?" Tevye asks. "That I can tell you in one word: Tradition!"

Tradition, tradition, Tradition!—goes the opening line of that musical play.

The Feast of Christ the King is a celebration of tradition. Even the idea that Jesus is king is a product of Christian tradition, and as many New Testament scholars assert, this affirmation goes back even to the time of Jesus' Passion in the middle of the first century A.D . Pilate’s interrogation in the trial Jesus: "Are you the King of the Jews?" contains a "historical kernel" as the late Catholic expert on the Gospel of John, Fr. Raymond Brown writes (Death of the Messiah, vol. 1, p. 725).

In other words, our tradition and belief of Jesus as King has got a strong biblical foundation.

This homily hopes to deepen this tradition and belief by sharing what would the title "King of the Jews" imply during that time, in the first century A.D.?

The same Fr. Raymond Brown tells us that the title "King of Jews" was a never applied to Jesus in his ministry in Galilee (except Matt 2:2 but the historicity of this text is questioned, see Death of the Messiah, vol 1, p. 725).

The title "King of the Jews" was applied, however, to none other than Herod the Great!

The Jews never liked Herod the Great. He was not a real Jew. He is remembered as a notorious leader, and according to the Gospel of Matthew, he ordered the massacre of innocent children. The brutal deeds of Herod the Great, the "king of the Jews" are recorded in history which includes putting to death his wife, his mother-in-law, and his son. Because of this , Emperor Augustus has allegedly remarked: "It is better to be Herod's pig [hus] than his son [huios]" (R. Brown, Birth of the Messiah, p. 226). We wonder why this person is called “Great”.

So the title “King of the Jews” was actually a title of insult, of mockery. It was not an honorable title. The Jews themselves never used that title. It was the Roman Senate that gave that title to Herod the Great. The real "King of the Jews" must not be someone like the evil Herod.

For the Jewish people, as reflected in the Old Testament, the ideal king was not an absolute monarch (see 2 Sam 24:24; 1 Kings 16:24; 21:4). He is the one who establishes justice, protect the rights of widows and orphan, rules with wisdom, and one who sustains and protects life.

One of the oldest images or symbols of a king as old as two thousand years before Christianity was born is that of a shepherd. The king was shepherd. No wonder that when Jesus was born whom Herod the Great named as "the child who has been born king of the Jews" (Mat 2:2), the first hearers of that good news, the first visitors of Christmas were shepherds.

The ideal king was a good shepherd. And Jesus once said: "I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep."(John 10:11).

The story of the death of Bishop Wilhelm Finnemann, SVD would exemplify this ideal. He was the first SVD auxiliary bishop of Manila and probably the first German to become a naturalized Filipino citizen. The latest one is Fr. Ulrich Schlecht, SVD who was featured recently in the Philippine Star.

In 1936, Bishop Finnemann was appointed the first bishop of Mindoro. It was World War II. The war took its toll in Mindoro especially on women and children. Some Catholic schools and convents were being transformed into brothels for children. Women especially young girls were being abused raped and turned into “comfort women".

Bishop Finnemann strongly stood against these abuses and a number of times interceded and denounced the soldiers to free young girls who were forced to become sex slaves. The bishop was thus imprisoned and on October 26, 1942, he was thrown alive into the sea between Calapan and Batangas. One account describes that he died, "Along the way in the waters between Verde Island and Batangas, the soldiers bound his hands and feet, tied his body on a huge rock and dropped him overboard into the depths of the sea" (cited in fabc.org).

Years ago, bishops were used to be called "princes of the church", and the places where they lived were used be called “bishops’ palaces”. Today that term is softened to "bishops' houses" or "bishops’ convents".

I would think that royal title that the bishops had as "prince", was less a title of honor than a title of service. Bishops are our shepherds, in that sense, they are "princes", "kings" in the best sense of the term, one who is ready to lay down his life for others to live. This was embodied by the SVD bishop, William Finnemann.


The king must be ready to give his life like a shepherd to his sheep.

That is why when Pilate asked Jesus: "Are you the King of the Jews?" Jesus’ response was ambivalent-- it could be "yes" or it could also be "no".

Yes, he is a king in the sense of being shepherd, one who would lay down his life.

No, he is not a king in the sense that Herod the Great was "king of the Jews".

So Jesus’ reply is: "My kingdom is not of this world" (John 18:36, NIV).

This answer of Jesus has often been misunderstood as: Jesus' kingdom is not in this world, something out of this world, that it has nothing to do with the world. In Tagalog Biblia it says: "Ang Kaharian ko’y hindi sa sanlibutang ito" [which if translated means, "My kingdom is not in this world".

But this is not what it means when Jesus says that his kingdom is not OF this world. The Greek preposition "ek" can mean "of" but also "from". The expression may mean that Jesus' kingdom "is not from this world" (NRSV). The origin of Jesus' kingdom is not of this world, it did not come from this world. Its origin is from the Father of Jesus (Luke 22:29) (see also F. Moloney, The Gospel of John, p. 498).

Although Jesus' kingdom is not of this world, it is very much IN this world.

So Jesus said to Pilate, "For this I have come to world, to testify to the truth" (John 18:37).

Earlier, in John 12:47, Jesus explains this truth when he says "I have come not to judge the world, but to save the world'. The truth is the revelation of God and his plan to save the world (see I. de la Potterie, La Vérité dans Saint Jean).

The best Filipino image that Jesus’ kingdom is in the world is the image of Sto. Nino who, still a child, holds with ease the world in this hand, as if the burden of world is very light. Its contrast: the Greek god Atlas, portrayed as a muscular man, carrying the world, but as if the world is a burden to him.

Once Jesus said, in Matthew 11:28-30, "Come to me all you who are weary and carrying heaven burdens, I will give you rest. Take my yoke…for my yoke is easy and my burden is light."

Jesus cannot be taken away from the world, nor the world taken away from Jesus.

The Feast of Christ King then is an invitation, perhaps even a challenge to look at the world where Jesus is King. What kind of world is this?

The question before was: "Are you the King of the Jews?"

Today, the question can be: "Are you the King of the world?"

This feast is a celebration where are we are asked not to look our own personal needs, not at our own private concerns, not our families' or seminary's concerns, but at the concerns of the world. Not at what I need now, not at what my family needs now, not at my seminary needs now—but at "what the world needs now," as an old song goes.

This is an invitation as well as a challenge of Jesus as he had invited and challenged Pilate to join Jesus' company when he said: "Everyone who belongs to the truth, listens to my voice" (John 18:37). Listening to the voice is the proper response of the sheep to the Good Shepherd (John 10:3-4,8).

But Pilate said: "What is the Truth" (John 18:38)? This is not some kind of searching and cogitation in philosophy as what Socrates or Aristotle did in their quest for the Truth.

Pilate’s question is simply apathetic rejection of Jesus' invitation (F. Moloney, The Gospel of John, p. 498).

This invitation and challenge is also placed before us today: Everyone who belongs to the truth is ready to listen to Jesus’ voice.

Last Friday, the Diocese of Imus in Cavite where Divine Word Seminary in Tagaytay belongs had celebrated the Feast of Christ the King with an overnight vigil led by our Bishop, Chito Tagle.

In this vigil, more than 5,000 participants came over to the Girls' Town Complex in Silang to identify together the concerns of the world of Cavite and to bring these concerns to the feet of Jesus our king.

The concerns were overwhelming. It's a matter of just looking beyond those walls and malls.

That’s why it is still meaningful to consecrate the world to Christ the King as what we are about to do today. For it is not we, not our own effort, not even our good intentions will heal and save this world. It is Christ the King.

I would like to end this with one of the ancient prayers for a king found in the bible in Psalms 72. It was probably a prayer at the enthronement of a king inspired by Solomon’s accession to the throne. It is a prayer that would still be applicable today in our world. In the Early Church, the king in this Psalm was often identified to be Jesus:

1 Give the king your justice, O God, and your righteousness to a king's son.

2 May he judge your people with righteousness, and your poor with justice.

3 May the mountains yield prosperity for the people, and the hills, in righteousness.

4 May he defend the cause of the poor of the people, give deliverance to the needy, and crush the oppressor.

5 May he live while the sun endures, and as long as the moon, throughout all generations. 6 May he be like rain that falls on the mown grass, like showers that water the earth.

7 In his days may righteousness flourish and peace abound, until the moon is no more.

8 May he have dominion from sea to sea, and from the River to the ends of the earth.

9 May his foes bow down before him, and his enemies lick the dust.

10 May the kings of Tarshish and of the isles render him tribute, may the kings of Sheba and Seba bring gifts.

11 May all kings fall down before him, all nations give him service.

12 For he delivers the needy when they call, the poor and those who have no helper.

13 He has pity on the weak and the needy, and saves the lives of the needy.

14 From oppression and violence he redeems their life; and precious is their blood in his sight.

15 Long may he live! May gold of Sheba be given to him. May prayer be made for him continually, and blessings invoked for him all day long.

16 May there be abundance of grain in the land; may it wave on the tops of the mountains; may its fruit be like Lebanon; and may people blossom in the cities like the grass of the field.

17 May his name endure forever, his fame continue as long as the sun. May all nations be blessed in him; may they pronounce him happy.

18 Blessed be the LORD, the God of Israel, who alone does wondrous things.

19 Blessed be his glorious name forever; may his glory fill the whole earth.

Amen and Amen.

20 The prayers of David son of Jesse are ended.

[Translation from NRSV]



1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Hi Fr. Randolf,
I am Rudy V. Orense, a former seminarian of your congregation way back late 1990's.
I just want to reestablish a contact with Fr. Charlton Plateros. The last time I heard of him was before his ordination in Hong Kong.
I am now working in China. I travel around so I want to visit Charlton in Hong Kong.
If you can give me even his email address, that would be a great help.
Thank you.