Sunday, November 24, 2013

A Merciful King

“Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”  (Luke 23:42)

When we were baptized, we were consecrated into Christ’s ministry as priest, prophet and king.  Priest so that we can offer up prayers as we are doing now in this Eucharist, prophet so that can always proclaim the truth, and king so that can serve others.  Christ was not a king that lorded over people.  He was a servant-king and a merciful king.  We celebrate his kingship today and are reminded that we are called to serve our brothers and sisters as Christ our King did.

Last week, we had a wonderful family festival here at the parish.  Everyone had a great time, and it allowed us the opportunity to get to know each other through our shared work.  It allowed me as a priest to get to know people in a different way in that joyous atmosphere.  People that I would not normally have a chance to talk to after Mass would come up to me and share their hopes and dreams for our parish, and I had some wonderful conversations.  Yet, and I say this as a full confession, for every wonderful encounter I had with a parishioner or a visitor, there were two or three moments where I was pulled aside in the middle of the work of the festival by someone because they saw a priest and decided that the joyful chaos of a festival was as good a place as any to just unload on the priest.  And that’s fine.  That’s why I’m a priest, but there’s been one individual that’s been on my mind all week.  He was one of those two or three that pulled me aside from work outside to talk to me about something.  He did so on Friday for an extended period of time and when we were done I said, “why don’t we table this until next week because this really isn’t the place?”  It wasn’t an urgent problem.  It wasn’t even a problem at all.  It was just a person that wanted to chat, at length, with a priest.  Fair enough.  On Saturday, this gentleman tried to stop me again to continue our conversation even though I was bustling from one end of the fair to the other.  Then came Sunday…I was behind one of our food booths where we had just finished roasting an entire pig.  It looked delicious, and there was a line of people waiting to be served.  One lady, bless her heart, waited all 7 hours for it to finish roasting.  So I was there with the volunteers slicing the meat with the biggest knife you can possibly imagine in my right hand.  I was chopping up the meat with urgency to feed the waiting patrons when the gentleman crossed the rope line and tapped me on the shoulder and said, “Father, I know you’re hungry, but….”  I turned around and faced this poor soul with that big old knife in my right hand and quickly cut him off with a stern and deep, “Not now!”  I went back to work, but briefly peered over my shoulder to see the gentleman leaving the same way he got in.  Never saw him or heard from him again.
This is what has been on my mind this entire week especially in light of today’s gospel.  Sure I can excuse this by saying that there is a time and a place for everything, but that just doesn’t cut it with me when it comes to the possibility of losing a soul.  I could not be bothered, whether I was genuinely busy or not was no excuse.  Christ was quite literally dying on the cross, painfully gasping for every breath when the good thief asked for forgiveness and to simply be remembered by the Lord when he came into his kingdom.  Our dying Lord did one better by promising the blessed thief nothing less than paradise that very day.  What is striking about Christ on the cross is that when he seems so very vulnerable is when he is in fact at his most powerful.  There on the cross he is destroying sin and death.  There on the cross he is making Satan tremble.  There on the cross he is redeeming you and me.  There on the cross is where he received his crown.  Not a crown bedecked by jewels and gold, but a crown of thorns.  Unlike the authorities and soldiers below him, the good thief recognizes that Jesus is King, recognizes the love emanating from that cross.  This is what people must see in us if we are indeed followers of Christ the King to say nothing of what people must and should see in their priests. 

So that is what has been on my mind.  We share in Christ’s kingship which means that at all times we should serve one another with love, with mercy, with compassion and, yes, with a tremendous amount of patience.  Imagine the patience our Lord had with the disciples who couldn’t grasp the simple concepts of the Kingdom of God, and yet our Lord entrusted the Church to them.  On this solemnity of Christ the King, we ask the Lord to help us be true sharers in his kingship because we fall short so many times.  We long to hear the same words that the good thief heard.  Those blessed words that brought him paradise.  That is why this day and every day our prayer must be the same as his:  “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”