With reflections on the feast of Christ the King, the last Sunday in year B of the three year cycle of readings in the Catholic lectionary, this blog is now complete. What began in November 2015 with reflections for the readings of the First Sunday of Advent in Year C, has progressed to cover the whole of that Year, then the whole of Year A and now has ended with this entry of November 12th 2018 – the Feast of Christ the King of Year B.
The author would like to thank anyone who has read any of the over 150 entries!
He is grateful to have reached the end of a project which began some years before its blog commenced – some time between 2012 and 2014.
But the ‘dialogue’ between Scripture and its readers can now continue – the avid reader can begin reading at the First Sunday of Advent in Year C – where it all began.
“Today we celebrate Christ the universal King. He did not claim to be only the King of the Jews. His kingdom was not to be an exclusive one. He is king of all who are on the side of truth and listen to his voice.”
Such was the insight of Harold Winstone writing the introductory note to each Sunday’s readings in the 1975 edition of the Sunday Missal (Collins). How prophetic and insightful his words now read. The inclusive nature of the dialogue initiated by God in creation and recorded in Scripture, passed on as the raison d’etre of the choosing of Israel – to illustrate God’s design amongst all the nations – now culminates in Christ. Christians are likewise called not to proclaim Jesus as the Christ of an exclusivist Church but as the model of the God-Human dialogue which reverberates in every age, in every nation and in every religion where truth and holiness is to be found. The Holy Spirit of God, of Christ, is proclaimed explicitly in the church when it opens its arms to serve all humanity and implicitly when goodness, holiness and truth are witnessed to by all those of every faith and none. One of the great aspects of the Church’s mission is to witness to the work of the Spirit of God outside its walls. The church is less a watchman on a wall than a humble water-carrier below them bringing life to those who cannot, will not, enter the keep.
This inclusivity, this overwhelming desire of God to embrace all humanity is the exact centre of Daniel’s stupendous “vision of the night.” He sees that “men of all peoples, nations and languages became his servants” in an eternal sovereignty which shall never pass away. Pope Pius XI (Achille Ratti) inaugurated the feast of Christ the King in the 1920s – against the face of the rise of fascism and communism and persecution of the Church in Russia and Mexico. If we ignore the language of royalty – we can come to his vision summed up in his motto: “Christ’s peace in Christ’s kingdom.” The Pope had an instinct that only in the “reign” of Christ / God could human flowering find its perfection. This was a “reign” which included, in its scope and intention every person on earth and dignified them as individuals. This vision he caught also in his social encyclical Quadragesimo Anno – written to curb the rising power of international finance. True justice can be found in the reign of Christ. These lessons apply today as then.
Daniel’s vision of an inclusive all-encompassing Divine-Human dialogue is written on a cosmic scale in the Apocalypse. “Jesus Christ… the Ruler of the kings of the earth. He loves us and has washed away our sins with his blood….everyone will see him…and all the races of the earth will mourn over him.” God is on the side of all men and women in his love for them all. This love is shown in Christ’s sacrifice of his life for all. Hence in language which is soberly the truth and with no attempt at a false sort of magnificence – the author simply states: “This is the truth. Amen. ‘I am the Alpha and the Omega, says the Lord God, who is, who was, and who is to come, the Almighty.” The greatest and last vision is of the end of the great dialogue when there is only silence and a loving eternal gaze – the silent contemplation of the lovers – God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit and of all humanity set against the backdrop of the new heavens and the new earth in galaxies everlasting.
John presents the earthly dialogue (yet reflecting the Divine-Human one) and its paradoxes in the scene of Pilate and Jesus. John weaves his eternal story of dialogue into the common-place age old encounter between one to be condemned to death and the one holding all earthly power over life and death. He brings us and Pilate all unknowingly to the climax: “Yes I am a King…I came into the world to bear witness to the truth.” All dialogue hides resonances of the Great Dialogue which gives it true meaning and weight – truth hides in our human dialogue and must be searched out there.
Best to take a cue from the entry antiphon: “My plans for you are peace and not disaster.” We do need a reminder that whilst God’s plan is for the great dialogue with humanity to be fulfilled in the closest embrace between Himself and humanity – we are free to refuse it. So: “Of those who lie sleeping in the dust of the earth many will awake, some to everlasting life, some to shame and everlasting disgrace.” It is the ultimate paradox and mystery. Simone Veil (among many other mysterious things) said that God diminished himself in the action of creation. (Gateway to God pp 47 – 51 passim) His plan can only be fulfilled by our freedom to choose to reject or accept it. Thus is the nature of love. Love loves and does not count the cost. Be consoled by Daniel: “Those who have instructed many in virtue will shine as bright as the stars for all eternity.” So why do followers of Jesus not celebrate Buddha, Muhammad, Guru Nanak and all the great teachers of virtue, known and unknown, as “stars of eternity”? In the name of Jesus.
“Hired teachers every day cast their treasured pearls away – what a fate like yours and mine – we cannot even choose our swine.” (Ronald Knox) The author of Hebrews is not as cruel (or as witty). He simply says, with patient understanding: “All the priests stand every day, offering the same sacrifices – which are quite incapable of taking sins away.” Then to his constant and world-on-axis tilting theme: “Christ has offered one sacrifice and then taken his place for ever, at the right hand of God.” The great culminating chapter in the dialogue between God and humanity has been written in which all sins have been forgiven. He has achieved the eternal perfection of all whom he is sanctifying. We must one day sit and read all this and cry with joy. All of us. Not just Christians but all humanity.
Jesus in Mark witnesses to the fact that there will be an end to the playing out of the dialogue. In imagery we have grown too used to he says: “Then they will see the Son of Man coming with great power and glory.” And then a mind stopping image. What will the Son of Man do – the great final Word of God in Man? He will send his angels “to gather his chosen from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven.” Do we now need to note that the chosen are co-terminus with the spread of earth and heaven – the chosen are not confined to any exclusive club or group or church or faith – they come from the four winds. The Golden Temple of the Sikhs at Amritzar has four doors open to the four points of the earth’s compass to remind us all that God calls us all to his perfection – there is an inclusion of all humanity in God’s Golden Temple forever. Mark then presents the truth of the great dialogue – it alone will survive when heaven and earth will pass away – only the Words will not pass away. Jesus says this. He knew!
Here the author asks the poor widow of Sidon through Elijah to relax into the universal care God wants to take for the whole earth. “Jar of meal shall not be spent…before the day when the Lord sends rain on the face of the earth.” Divine bounty has to be shadowed by human generosity and hospitality. Divine dialogue with humanity calls forth the best in humanity – in Sidon long before Christianity – but everywhere now amongst those for whom Christianity is unknown but where God’s bounty is reflected in human goodness.
In Hebrews we find the outrageous and culminating end result of the Divine – Human dialogue. The dialogue of God and Man meets in Christ and his sacrifice and the division between earth and heaven is shattered once and for all. It is remarkable that such an epoch-making event – the only really true and totally mind-blowing epoch- making event in the whole history of creation, since time began – sufficient to be described as a new creation – can be framed in the simple phrases of the author. Yet the epoch-making reality is so simply described: “Christ entered heaven itself, so that he could appear in the actual presence of God.” What for? What for? “On our behalf.” “On our behalf!” This is so monumental a teaching or description that it stops the heart and mind in their tracks, or ought to! Christ is the culmination all that needs to be said in the dialogue between Man and God. Christ has said it all and our task is simply now to play our part in the dialogue so that when Christ appears “a second time, it will not be to deal with sin but to reward with salvation those who are waiting for him”. And yet the waiting is also a time marked by the continuation of the dialogue which was completed when Christ ‘entered heaven’. We take up the echoes of the final Word between God and Man – we repeat the words of the completed dialogue so that all humanity can feel themselves caught up into it. This is the waiting time task –the glorious living out and completion in our lives of the great proclamation – that God has spoken His last word in Christ. Now the purely physicality of Jesus of Nazareth is transformed into the Word of God seen to illuminate and shine forth in every human goodness, The Cosmic Christ in every culture, time, nation, creed and person. The Holy Spirit of that final dialogue between God and Man in Christ now finally and forever vaunts forth without any check or hindrance able to vanquish it. If time and space began with the original Big Bang – then the new creation began with the sudden super-nova explosion of the meeting of God and Man in Christ as he entered the heavenly sanctuary through the sacrifice of the Cross. No additional word can or need now be spoken. In a great all-enveloping silence, the dialogue arches out like solar flares from a brilliant sun to the ends of the universe. “It is finished”. Christ speaks the last word from the Cross. All now we do and say is either to ratify and connect or not to this final word. We exist to manifest that final word of dialogue – to bring it to completion with all humanity. This is or can be our service of love to all that exists. God is completed in our witness to this final word of dialogue. We find our destiny in repeating the word by our living and being.
Jesus speaks the final word using the example of the poor widow. She seeks to witness to what Jesus will sum up soon in his body and his death. She gives her all – the pennyweight of two small coins – to the worship of God. She is a fore-runner of all those who give their all as witness to the Divine invitation to enter a dialogue which demands humanity’s full presence and giving – as reflections and imitations of the total giving of Christ.
The lessons here are not of our making but have come to us only because of the living dialogue which takes place between God and humanity. We might not have come to any realisation of such a dialogue and its nature as inclusive of all humanity – unless a man one day watched a poor widow in Jerusalem outside the Temple and his followers recorded what he said. He was able to say what he said because the dialogue had gone on for hundreds of years prior to that day and he was the inheritor of its transmitted and culminating wisdom. The dialogue was becoming wrapped up into its perfect personification and activity – Christ and his death. The dialogue’s final act was gathering force.
The task of Christians is to retrieve the original universality and inclusiveness of the wisdom which culminated in Christ (The Dialoguer) and somehow strip it of the accumulated and cloying debris of two thousand years of obfuscation. (See Cardinal Montini’s dying statement made in 2012) Christians should so present the final dialogical words of the drama that they affirm. They need not negate but affirm the experiences and insights of all those human beings who seek the truth, holiness and goodness through whatever creed or philosophy. So often the Christian Churches seem to encourage the growth of tendencies which repel the good man and women of our age who are not Christian. If only all Christians ‘spoke’ to all a message of ‘good news’ and avoided shrill declamations. An insecure grasp of their own ‘salvation’ may lead them to condemn all outside the fold! As an awareness of the need for a non-dual mind grows, so may Christians ‘put on the mind of Christ.’ and prefer the stance of ‘both…and’ and leave ‘ether…or’ behind.
In Deuteronomy we get a glimpse of the great love story which God wants to be involved in all humanity, indeed with all that exists. “Listen, Israel. Love the Lord your God with all your heart. Let these words I urge on you today be written on your heart.” In the mystery of the great particularisation and historisation of the universal infinite will of God to be in a transformative dialogue with the whole of humanity – we have the stage here where the author captures a revealed insight into the nature of that dialogue. God wants it “written” on human hearts. The great dialogue is exemplified as being with Israel – one people amongst many. But if God is to illustrate the nature of this dialogue, it cannot be other than best played out than with a specific people – always aiming at the fulfilment of God’s wish to have his dialogue written on all hearts. God has to start, as we do in any dialogue, with a particular ‘other’. This is if God is to show the nature of dialogue – something which can only be played out against the meandering history of the relationship between God and Israel with its highs and lows. Love is best defined by its features being delineated in a story. Why do we talk still of “love stories”? This ‘love- story’ begins here in Deuteronomy’s account of a Mosaic dialogue between God and Israel – best set against an awareness of the universal story of humanity’s call to love God.
In Hebrews the author again directs our eyes upwards to see the big picture. Beyond priesthood in the ways of Israel is Christ who in the experience of the author is for ever and so has a priesthood which for ever has the certain power to save. Christ perfects the age-old dialogue begun in the times of Moses, since God and Man meet in him, become one in Him. Pivotal to dialogue is the person of Christ. It is as if the particularity of the universal dialogue now reaches its twin nature. One man ‘becomes dialogue’ but since this one perfect man is also somehow Divine, the dialogue attains a new universality precisely through this ‘particularity’. The particular individual is Jesus who as the cosmic Christ unleashes a dialogue which is universal. What God has indeed brought together let no man put asunder! To mis-direct a phrase. Obstructing anyone from dialogue with the Divine, done sometimes in the name of Christ – is the worst heresy.
Jesus must have rejoiced to have met this scribe! Here was someone who understood the relationship between the law and the worship of the temple. He had it right. Jesus then says (as we must wherever we too meet someone who has it right i.e. that the only first commandment is to love God and neighbour) that “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” Too often we may be tempted to say: “You are a Jew, a Hindu a Muslim, an atheist or whatever and you are not a Catholic or a Christian and so you must be far from the Kingdom of God. You cannot be saved unless you join us Catholics.” But Jesus did not say anything like that. His qualification for entry into the kingdom of God (the completion of the dialogue!) is not Church membership but obedience to the commandment of love.
Jeremiah, with great poetic passion describes the relationship between God and Israel as that of a loving father and his son. Dialogue may be too dispassionate a word to describe this – better to call it a family love story – a dialogue of love. But underlying this love story of compassion and the fatherly embracing of the exiled men, women and children – the blind and the lame, the sorrowful of Israel – is the notion that they are beloved of God in order that they may demonstrate that love to all the nations. Israel is the token of God’s love for all the broken ones, the poor of the whole of humanity. The first line has it: “Shout for joy for Jacob! Hail the chief of nations! Proclaim! Praise! Shout!.(Why?) The Lord has saved his people.” God wants his actions with Israel to be proclaimed and to be recognised by the nations as the way God wishes to be with them also. Actions with Israel (the dialogue of compassion and love with that nation) are meant to be an illustration of the way God wants to be with all nations – with all humanity. God acts towards one people to show how he wants to act with all people. The “choice” of Israel is to show how God is, how God wants a dialogue with all. That choice also demonstrates the nature of that dialogue which God wants with all – it is a dialogue of love and saving and compassion.
“Every high priest has been taken out of mankind and is appointed to act for man in their relations with God.” Thus the author sets a universal backdrop (mankind) against which to say God has a father – son relationship with Christ as the basis for his high-priestly role. Dialogue now is no less compassionate than in Jeremiah’s vision – but it is fuller and more intimate yet. Christ is priest but also Son and so we are invited into a relationship with God which is closer than that of priest but which maintains the effectiveness of the old high priests. All this talk of priests and sons – means only one thing. God so desires our active partnership in dialogue that he wants us to see it as intimate as the one between a Father and his Son. This dialogue is transformative – through it we become sons and daughters of God. It makes us part of God.
Jesus cures Bartimaeus the blind beggar in Mark’s account. Bartimaeus has quite a dialogue with Jesus despite the opposition of many who want him to shut up. He shouts all the louder. Jesus asks him what he wants. He replies: “Rabbuni, Master, let me see again.” He stands for all of humanity asking to see again. We want to return to our primeval sight when we “saw” the truth of our humanity in dialogue with God. Here, Mark says, is the one who can open our eyes to the fact that God wants us as partners in a dialogue which will transform us – as one transformed ‘Bartimaeus’. We are like those who sit in a darkened room oblivious to the fact that that we can get up and pull aside the curtains which would reveal the ‘blinding’ sunshine outside.
Forget too sudden or quick an application of this reading from Isaiah to the person of Christ as the Suffering Servant – that application takes on a richer validity if we attempt to read this passage first in its primitive context. It is the genius of the writer to have understood and expressed in poetry the conviction of a mystery. If anyone commits himself to the divine – human dialogue it will involve an emptying of self in a service of others. This will demand life itself but out of that ‘sacrifice’ of the impoverished victim will come redemption for them and for himself. If this truth or insight of the author is not assimilated and unless we strive to make it part of our way of being humanly alive – we come ill-prepared to the dialogue presented in the life and death of Christ. Only if we comprehend the author’s insight into this human – divine mystery of the redemptive nature of all suffering, can we come to a true appreciation of what is being enacted in and by Christ. God dialogues with humanity (all humanity) through the solidarity of suffering. If we leap straight into the Israel – Church interpretation, take up a hegemonic reading of this passage we risk denuding it of its rich origin in the seam of the rock of humanity. If we chip too lustily and without this insight into the rock of human experience – we are akin to the cack-handed geologist chipping lumps from a limestone outcrop in ignorance of its place in geology. We gather loose fragments and they do not reveal to us the full beautiful picture of the development of the divine call to dialogue.
Hebrews has a vision of what Christ means in terms of humanity’s attempts to dialogue with God. At last here is one who has “gone to the highest heaven”. Christ is the man, expressed in terms of the cult of priesthood in Israel, who is the “supreme high priest”. Dialogue culminates not in some more words however magnificent, but in a man. God speaks to humanity in and through a man. And by his death we can find grace when in need. Amazingly understated! Son of God indeed! All this glows with sense because it is set against the background of our own humanity as it has emerged over time. Without this perspective – it is cold and rather weird religious chittle-chatter! Oh how perverse has Christianity been – in the name of an unreformed religiosity and in the blind search for power (“can we sit at your left and right hand?”) it has too often clothed the story of the Divine quest for the love of humanity in its own stifling clothes. Religion can be the worst enemy of God.
In Mark, Jesus identifies himself with the one who so serves humanity in the name of the Divine wish for dialogue and intimacy that he must “give his life as a ransom for many.” The cost of the one who takes on himself to demonstrate this Divine dialogue is life itself. The apostles do not understand this reversal of human values. The cup that they must drink if they too are to be forecasters or embodiments of dialogue is the one of service and hence of suffering. Bringing God to humanity usually means incurring the wrath of humanity. The Church knows this at its best. Oscar Romero knew it at the end and, at the end, the Church came to the same conclusion and declared him a saint.