Bishop Anthony B. Taylor delivered this homily Nov. 22.
Today is the feast of Christ the King. When we think of a king, we think of a man who lives in a palace, has lots of servants, dines lavishly on the very finest foods and issues decrees that have the force of law -- when we think of a king, we think of wealth and power.
In “Camelot,” the Broadway musical from the 1960s, there is a song that asks the question, “I wonder what the king is doing tonight.” Let’s borrow that thought and ask what our King is doing today. The answer is found in today’s Gospel, where we are given a description of a very strange kind of king. Our King describes himself in terms of great need, not great wealth.
Most kings dine lavishly on the finest foods, but our King is hungry today. Seated upon his throne, he looked back to this very day and said, “I was hungry…and you gave me no food.” We have all seen him on TV. He is starving in war-ravaged regions of Yemen and South Sudan and among the malnourished poor in COVID-19 impacted countries throughout the world.
Another strange thing is that our King has no home. He says, “I was away from home and you gave me no welcome.” Most kings have a kingdom and a castle, but our King is a homeless wanderer. If you wanted to see him today, you could find him in a refugee camp in Jordan or waiting just across the border in Mexico for his application for asylum in the United States to be heard. Wherever you find people cut adrift, wandering homeless, he is there.
But in your search, don’t look for a man in purple robes. Our King does not have any; not because he is a nudist, but rather because he is poor. Or more likely, he will be wearing worn out shoes and an inadequate coat. He says, “I was naked, and you gave me no clothing.”
And if you don’t find him among the refugees, check the hospitals. In our Gospel he tells us that he was sick, so maybe that’s where he is. On second thought, he probably doesn’t have health insurance. Ours is a strange kind of King. Most Kings have their own personal physicians; our King is both poor and sick and languishes for want of someone who even cares.
And then there is one other place where we might find our King, the strangest place of all — behind bars. “I was in prison…and you did not come to comfort me.” What is this? Kings don’t go to prison; they put other people there. But not our King, he is different. 70 years ago, he was in death camps with Jews, gypsies and homosexuals. Today he is with political prisoners all over the world. He is with the innocent and even with the guilty. The man who died with two thieves on Calvary is not too polite and delicate to sit with them in a jail cell.
A strange kind of King: hungry, thirsty, naked, homeless, sick and in prison. Most kings are known for their wealth; ours is known for his need. And there is another thing about him, and that is the way he works. When I think of a king, I think of power, authority, someone who issues orders and demands obedience. A king is a powerful man who can get what he wants by pushing people around. But this strange King works exclusively through volunteers. In a world that relies on coercion, he depends on persuasion. That’s the only way he works.
The man who died with two thieves on Calvary is not too polite and delicate to sit with them in a jail cell.
Wherever there is a needy person our King is not only with that person, he is that person, waiting to be helped. But we don’t have to help him, not unless we choose to -- Jesus relies exclusively on volunteers. He’s not going to force us. That choice is ours but make it carefully.
One day we will stand before him and answer to him. Surely we want to stand with those to whom he says, “Come, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the creation of the world, I was hungry and you gave me food, thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me, naked and you clothed me. As often as you did it for one of the least of your brothers, you did it for me.”
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