I was not a happy person when I was a teenager. The school I went to made no attempt to encourage boys to be anything more than thugs and it took me a long time to discover a few, a very few people, hidden away like me, who disliked this oppressive regime as much as I did. In one sense I was lucky. Because I was so different, I had to learn to stand against the accepted way of doing things; and one of the main things that helped me then was my discovery of a man who I could look up to, who also stood up against the rest of the world. His name was and is Jesus Christ.
The rest of the world sees leadership and kingship in terms of power and influence just as we see in our 1st reading (2 Samuel 5:1-3). King David and his son King Solomon were very successful leaders, indeed King David could be described as a thug as well as a King; but they were both lucky in the political situation they faced at the time. And because they were successful in worldly terms, people afterwards looked back on them with nostalgia as they longed for a promised new King – a Messiah – who would give them back the power they had lost and get rid of all their oppressors.
Many of the followers of Jesus thought this is what he would be like. They discovered that his parents were of the line of David, and that he had been born in Royal David’s City, Bethlehem. But Jesus from the first, with the help of Our Lady, challenged this view of what the Messiah would be like. Instead, as I have been describing in the last few weeks, Jesus chose a kingship which who would bring his people a different kind of freedom, by suffering and dying for them on the cross.
Actually, his stand against the ways of the world had already started, before he called his disciples and appeared in public, because he clearly chose not to get married. This was very unusual indeed for a young Jewish man, but as Jesus says in one passage “there are those who have chosen to be eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven.” (Matt 19:12) Young people today don’t have the pressure on them to get married, but they do have the pressure to get into a relationship. “Go on” says the boy friend “Everyone else does”, and thus what might seem like freedom is just a way of persuading someone to conform, rather than a really free choice.
Again and again in the Bible we see Jesus challenging the world’s way of thinking about things. The thief hanging on the cross in today’s Gospel (Luke 23:35-43) only asks for Jesus to “Remember him” when he comes into his kingdom. But Jesus breaks through this conventional way of thinking, and says, “Today” (not at the end of the world or when the kingdom comes) but “Today, you will be with me in paradise.” In St John’s Gospel, just before he was crucified, we hear Jesus explicitly contradicting the worldly view of power expressed by the Roman governor. He says “My kingdom is not of this world.” (John 18:36) This does not mean, of course, that God’s kingdom does not affect this world, for it certainly does, but it is not a kingdom of power in the way the world thinks about such things.
Pressure from others, exertion of power and persuasion to make people conform, especially young people, is the way of the world. Sometimes the Church has been guilty of behaving like this, as if Christianity was an ideology to be imposed on people. Happily most people in England would laugh at the Church if we tried to do that here nowadays. Young people are more likely to be attracted by those who make fun of religion, because that’s the trendy thing to do. But it can be, as I have shown in the case of relationships, just another way of getting people to conform, just because that’s the fashion at the moment. To be a Christian, as one young man said to me, is to buck the trend, to be prepared to ignore the so-called freedom that mocks religion and the church. Such mockery is anyway almost always totally ignorant about what the church really teaches and believes.
Of course one can join the mockers. They are there in the Gospel as Jesus hung on the cross. “They jeered at him.. He saved others,, let him save himself… if he is the Christ of God..” It’s always easier to mock than to actually face the challenges Jesus brings to our life. It’s always easier to sit on the fence than to actually say “I believe in God. I am a Christian. I am a Catholic.” God is powerful, of course, but it is a different kind of power which, in the long run when they die, will bring everyone, even those who mock most, face to face with themselves and the ultimate questions of life. Jesus calls us to choose him now, and to gain real freedom rather than a so-called freedom that is just another form of oppression.