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November 25, 2018
[Co-Cathedral of St. Theresa (Vietnamese Martyrs), Honolulu;
Our Lady of Good Counsel Church, Pearl City]
Which king would you want to rule over you? The one who tries to make everything comfortable for you, who tries to alleviate whatever sufferings you may have in life? Or the one who helps you suffer through difficult times so that you can grow and become a stronger person? It is clear that many in our culture – including ourselves sometimes – would choose the former king, who will hear nothing of suffering. Yet we who celebrate Christ as our King, know that often suffering is redemptive and purifying. Moreover, we have a King who does not just stand by idly while we suffer, but who suffers immensely himself to ultimately free us from suffering.
When a young woman becomes pregnant without intending to have a baby, she is subject to some suffering and anxiety. At best, she may worry how she will be able to properly care for the baby with all her current responsibilities. At worst, she may decide simply to do away with the baby, thinking that she can just go on with her life as if nothing happened. There are many who think no one should be subjected to the kind of anguish and suffering an unplanned pregnancy involves.
When a person is terminally ill, there can be great suffering, both physical and emotional. The person may think that none of this suffering is necessary and decide to commit assisted suicide, contravening the commandment of God “You shall not kill.” That person may be comforted that it will soon be legal to do so in the State of Hawaii and that there will be “cheerleaders” who will encourage this action, thinking it an act of compassion.
Our Church is suffering at the moment because years ago many of its leaders decided that when a clergyman sinned gravely against a minor, that clergyman should not suffer too much but should be given another chance, even when the welfare and spiritual health of children was in grave danger. There was the thought that a slap on the hand would make the problem disappear. Yet we now know how much suffering and injustice that attitude has brought to many.
Today we celebrate Christ as our King in the hope that we will submit ourselves more and more to him and to his wise and loving ways. But this King does not turn us away from all suffering, because he knows that often through suffering we can grow and ultimately be filled with happiness. And the beauty of Christ the King is that he does not sit upon his pristine throne, wearing a golden and bejeweled crown, but he offers himself to human suffering so that we can learn, not just from his words, but from his example.
And so here we are celebrating Jesus as King of the Universe, and our Gospel reading is about our King being judged by a deputy of a now defunct emperor. The One who is, who was, and who is to come, the Almighty, allows himself to be crowned with a crown of thorns, and for some of his subjects to mock and spit at him. He whose “dominion is an everlasting dominion that shall not be taken away” and a “kingship that shall not be destroyed” is put to death in the most horrific and humiliating ways known to humankind, by crucifixion.
One’s natural instinct would be to run far away from such a king, to seek asylum in the kingdom of this world that tries to soothe over every suffering and take away every pain. But we come together today to praise and honor this seeming failure of a king, whose kingdom definitely does not follow the ways of the kingdom of this world. We do so because we know he was ultimately victorious over his sufferings and lives and reigns forever and ever. As we honor him, we learn that while he may not wish us to suffer, he does not want us to turn away from the suffering that will inevitably come if we follow the truth – not the truth we ourselves create, but the truth of God revealed to us in Jesus, who came to testify to the truth.
It may not be natural to embrace such a king as Jesus, but it is a supernatural gift we are given. By making this Suffering Servant King the center of our lives and of all our decisions, we can learn how to suffer well, how to take up the crosses that life inevitably deals us, and how to bear them with love and joy. We will then no longer seek to microwave away all our sufferings, but to let them burn in our hearts, so that they will be on fire with the same love that first burned in the heart of Christ our King.