Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe
Thirty-Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Saint Boniface Parish
November 25, 2018
Have you ever known someone who just loves to give people they encounter a nickname? Perhaps, maybe you are that person, who knows? There are individuals out there who kind of have a knack for giving nicknames, for one reason or another. This includes a gentleman I went to school with who is now a priest of the Diocese of Little Rock. He just loved to give everyone in seminary a nickname, including the priests and the faculty - I'm not entirely certain that they ever knew that. It seemed he had a nickname for just about everyone. I forget now what mine was; I never liked it. I never liked the idea of him coming up with a name for me. It seemed to me that he, by some need of his own, felt compelled to claim power over others, and to do that he gave them a new name. He had his own special name for each of us and so he exerted some level of authority, some level of influence over everyone he met. I don't like this claiming of authority so much, I have my own name and it works just fine as far as I was, and am, concerned.
There is a tension that exists between who we are, and the name that we have. Our parents have given us good names, we didn’t choose them, but they are good names all the same. My parents gave me the name Adam Bradford Carrico to make sure that my initials are ABC. It is a wonderful little quirk I was given strait away. They're very funny people, I love them. Our name matters, while we don't necessarily choose it, our name matters. We may, as we go through life decide to go by this, or go buy that name, but we always have our given name. Our name has power over us and yet our name doesn't quite fully define who we are. Nonetheless, it has power over us.
I saw a movie recently, and I'm still unpacking what it says about who we are. The movie goes by the name Lady Bird. It is a movie about a young woman who is growing up and discovering who she is. She is often in somewhat of a conflict with others around her, especially her mom. Her given name is Christine, but she doesn't like that name; we’re never really told why, other than it was given to her and not by her choice. So, she gave herself the name Ladybird. Near the end of the movie there is this interesting dialogue that takes place when she's at a party and meets a random guy. Probably just making conversation she asks, “do you believe in God?” And the guy says “no, I'm an atheist… do you?” She replies under her breath, "People go by the names their parents give them, but they don't believe in God." I am still trying to figure out exactly what she may have meant by that, but I think I've concluded, at least for now, that it has a lot to do with how our relationship with God has so much to do with who we are; it defines us in so many ways. Do we believe in God? Do we not believe in God? Who is God to us? All these questions are so important to answering the question who are we? I think Lady Bird is stuck in the tension between names and authority, especially given her need for her own name, and that tension between her given name and who she truly is.
|Ecce Homo, Antonio Ciseri, 1871|
We see this tension play out in similar ways in our Gospel. Pontius Pilate is the Roman authority over Judea and he is questioning Jesus asking him that question that is prevalent throughout the Gospels: “Who are you?” Who are you, what are you doing, what is your name, what are you here for? It returns time and again to “Who are you?” We know the person that is on trial standing before Pilate is God, God-made-man, a being of infinite power, even greater than the Roman Empire could ever hope to be. Standing right there in front of Pilate and this Roman authority is demanding to know who he is. He doesn’t see. They never seem to want to see. He pressures him, “people say that you are a king, are you a king?” They enter this odd back and forth but what Jesus is basically saying is that he is a king, just not the kind of king that Pilate would recognize. Pilate has his own ideas of what a king is and that understanding of a king is informed by the history of the Roman Empire. The Romans have an emperor at this point, but they have a long tradition casting kings aside. Kings had a dictator quality for the Romans, and so Pilate, as would any Roman citizen, looks with suspicion upon kings, he doesn't quite trust them. Even though Pilate has a difficult time seeing Jesus for who is truly is - the God-mad-man and King of the Universe, that does not change the fact that Jesus is a king. He is the kind of king that would make a cross is throne, would make a cross his altar of sacrifice. This king has come to give his life for his people. He is not the kind of king that Pilate expects, I dare say not the kind of king that any of us would really expect.
|Tapestry of Christ the King,|
Saint James the Greater Church, Saint Louis
Christ, he is a king. We may, as residents of the United States, balk at the idea of Jesus as king. We don't need a king, in fact we went out of our way to get rid of the King. We fought a war, and many died so that we would not have a king to follow. What do we need a king for? It's a good question. All that, however, has a lot to do with our idea of what a king is. Is that fully who God is? God goes by many names: Alpha and Omega, the Almighty, two names we heard in our second reading. As we move into Advent, we will hear the names: Wonder Councilor, God Hero, Prince of Peace. Each of us probably has a name for God - a name that we prefer. I wonder if the name of God that we don't like tells us something about God that we need to know? A name that reveals to us something that is missing in our understanding. What assumptions do we make about God? How do we put God in a box? What kind of nicknames do you, or I, give God? A name that takes God, who is the king of the universe, so immense that we need a name for God to even begin to understand God; how do we take that God and put Him in a little box? God does not belong in our box. God cannot really exist there and remain God. So, perhaps, this great Solemnity of our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe begs the question: Who do you think God is? And what are you missing by that definition?