The Question in the Gospel…, Proper 19 (B) – 2000
September 17, 2000
The question in the Gospel we just heard is aimed not just at Peter, but all of us. Let me offer my own answer, my answer to the question asked by Jesus, “Who do you say I am?”
I declare that Jesus is king. He is king of all, but in particular he is my King. I acknowledge him as such. I celebrate that fact. But what sort of king?
He is not a king in the usual sense. He is a different sort of king. After all, a king is supposed to be distant, wealthy, and powerful. But Jesus as king overturns these expectations.
The story is told of a man living in London during the Second World War. Every night German planes appeared overhead dropping countless bombs on the city below. Buildings burst into flames, sirens wailed incessantly, entire blocks were reduced to rubble. One day this Londoner was sitting in the wreckage of his home. The walls remained, but the roof was gone.
The man himself was near despair. His home ruined, his city devastated, his country under attack. These thoughts were interrupted by a knock at the door.
The man opened the door, and was shocked to see a small regal figure. It was the King! King George VI! He was touring the war-damaged neighborhood, and had stopped at that particular house. The startled man
welcomed the King of England into what was left of his home.
Jesus is a king like that. He comes, of his own accord, to the ruin that I am, and knocks firmly on the door of my heart. He comes not once, but often, always knocking on that door. This king comes to me in time of crisis, across the devastated landscape. This king comes to me Sunday by Sunday on the paten and in the chalice.
We say that a king must be wealthy, having for his own gold and jewels, castles and palaces, fine horses and elegant clothing. But this King Jesus I know to be the prince who has become the pauper. His birthplace is a stable. His palace is the hillside. If I am to catch a glimpse of him today, then I must look in the right place: among the poor, the disinherited, the powerless. It is there that the king will be found. He is there today as he was 2,000 years ago.
Perhaps my greatest temptation is not that I will insult him, reject him, blaspheme him to his face, but that I will simply overlook him. For no longer is his uniform a robe, sandals, long hair. Now he appears as a weary woman raising her kids alone on a back street not far from here. He appears as an old man dying slowly and alone down at the city hospital. He even appears as somebody who commutes daily to work, suffocated by success, numbness to inner emptiness. In each of these disguises King Jesus appears to me. He’s a prince who’s become a pauper. Pray that I may recognize him and kiss his hand.
A king must be powerful, we say. He must sit secure upon his throne, and wield his scepter well, and remain confident in who he is. But Jesus is a king of a different kind. He lays aside the stunning mantle of his omnipotence, and drains the cup of human experience, human limitation, even down to the dregs of our suffering, sorrow, and death. There’s no calamity I have known or can ever experience which remains unknown to him. All my dark rooms are places he has walked before.
Strange to say, it is by letting go of all power that all power comes to him. The king dies a disgraceful death. He’s an outcast, a failure, abandoned and forsaken. No royal sepulcher awaits where his body can
rest in peace. Instead, there is begging for the corpse by a friend, a borrowed tomb, hasty burial. But it is through this death and this one alone that the world is reborn. Through his new and unconquerable life the gates of eternity are thrown open.
Is this Jesus a king? Yes, a king like no other. His relinquishment of control tells me that I do more good when I give than when I grasp, when I allow myself to be a deep river of peace rather than a blowtorch of misbegotten anger. His relinquishment of control tells me that the only game that matters is won already, and when the results are tallied, the winning team will be The Holy Fools and not The Wise of This World. One after another rulers die and are replaced. The crown is handed down from each one to the next. Royal houses are proficient at filling graves. Today a king, tomorrow a corpse!
But Jesus reverses this saying. Once a corpse, now he is a king forever! And his resurrection holds for me the hope that the absurdities of my life will not have the final say, but that his unconquerable life may be mine forever, and that the city where he rules unquestioned may become my permanent address.
Who do I say that Jesus is? Jesus is king. He is my king. Not distant or wealthy or powerful in the way that ordinary kings are. But still, like other kings, Jesus asks for obedience. He looks for me to be loyal. He proposes that I do my duty. That duty finds expression in phrases from the Catechism. I am to work, pray, and give for the spread of his kingdom. Work, pray, and give.
How bright and plain it all seems! Jesus is my king. The duty I owe him is to work, pray, and give for the spread of his kingdom. A five-year-old child can begin to fulfill this obligation, but none of us can ever complete. It remains a challenge to inspire us.
Jesus asks each of us: “Who do you say that I am?” Is Jesus your king also?
Then look at your life? Where are the ways you already fulfill your duty? How is it that you now work and pray and give for the spread of his kingdom?
Your work is important. No task is too small if behind it there is a loyal intention.
Your prayer is important. No matter how frail it seems, God responds to it.
Your generosity is important. What you give makes a difference for the world and for you.
What are the ways for each of us to fulfill our duty in days to come? How can we respond with our lives to the question Jesus asks: “Who do you say that I am?” May we find ourselves blessed in the answering of these questions.
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