HOMILY : 34th Christ the King
Today I am going to talk about politics, and about power, because whether we like it or not, we Christians cannot ignore such things. On the whole, Jesus simply ignores those in power in his country, but in the end face to face with Pontius Pilate, the man who will condemn him to death, he says a remarkable thing “You would have no power unless it were given you from above.” John 19:11. For us Christians therefore, all those who have power are ultimately answerable to God. That is the point of today’s Feast of Christ the King. This means that we therefore have a duty, the Church has a duty, to tell such people how they should exercise that power.
It is easy to make the mistake here of assuming that the Kingship of Christ simply challenges the atheistic Dictatorships of Communism or Nazism and has nothing to say about other forms of power. Pope John Paul II is famous for confronting Communism in his own country, Poland, and perhaps thus contributing to its destruction. But what is less well known, is that he also very firmly confronted the equally evil power of extreme capitalism. He did this in an Encyclical he wrote called Centesimus Annus summed up in the Catechism http://www.usccb.org/catechism/text/ of the Catholic Church (Para 2425) which says that the Church does not just “reject totalitarian and atheistic ideologies” but also “capitalism…. and the absolute primacy of the law of the market place over human labour.”
Today our readings at first seem to contradict one another on this business of power. First we heard the people of Israel happily choosing David as their absolute ruler (2 Sam 5:1-3) and then we heard about Jesus, that all power, indeed all things, were “created through him and for him.” (Col 1:12-20) But then, just when we are thinking of Jesus as all powerful, we are given the story of him dying on the cross.(Luke 23:35-43) The first two readings remind us that God could have come to us as a powerful political leader. Indeed it was one of the temptations of Jesus wasn’t it? The Devil shows him all the kingdoms of the world that he, Jesus could rule, but Jesus rejects this final temptation and begins a different journey where, as St Paul says, God’s power is “made perfect in human weakness.” (2 Cor. 12:9)
God therefore calls us in Jesus to challenge all forms of power, but how to do this is our problem.
Some Christians believe that the best way is to opt out of the power game altogether, even to refuse to vote, but we Catholic Christians have always played the more difficult game of trying to influence those in power without getting sucked into the power game itself. Now the Church has not always been too successful at this. Ever since Christianity became the official religion under the Roman Emperor Constantine in the 4thC, some Popes and Bishops and ordinary Christians have found themselves allied with forces that did many un-Christian things. They began with good intentions to influence things for good, but then power and its money led them down a path that could sometimes be very evil.
The Church has always struggled with this. Sometimes great bishops and saints have challenged such power and often been killed for their courage. But in other places, such as Spain in the 1930’s, most of the Church allied itself with the people in power, and thus found itself supporting horrific violence. Faced with failures like this, you can see how some argue that it is best to keep out of politics altogether, and indeed nowadays, because of this, Bishops and Priests are forbidden to take an active part in Party Politics.
But this does not mean that we, priests or laity, should be silent on political issues. Indeed the Church encourages us all to get involved in politics, to vote, to sign petitions to go on peaceful demonstrations. It also encourages you the laity to join political parties and to stand for election where it is appropriate for you. None of us are allowed to opt out of all this, and that is because such things affect our fellow human beings for good or ill, and since we know God cares for them, we must care too. Equally we must bring our faith to bear in the world of business, for this too is an area where power can be exercised for evil as well as good. So, however we get involved in all this, we always have to remember that the ultimate power that we must obey is Jesus Christ our King, and that all our actions must try to be in accordance with God’s, will and not for our own private profit or gain.
In the end it was the penitent and powerless thief on the cross who definitely went with Jesus into Paradise. As for Pontius Pilate, whether he went to heaven or hell after death is not known!