Sunday, November 24, 2013

Jesus, Our "Weird" King

Maybe some of you have seen “The Empire Strikes Back” – the second installment of the original Star Wars trilogy. In this story, Luke Skywalker travels to a strange, swampy planet in search of Jedi Master Yoda, who is supposed to train him to be a valiant Jedi Knight and take his place as the last hope for the salvation of the galaxy.

Luke crash lands in the swamp and sets up camp, ready to search out this legendary warrior/guru who has mastered the lightsaber and the Force. During the night, a little creature surprises Luke and begins to annoy him, stealing flashlights and sampling the young man’s rations. Luke complains and eventually asks the little creature to leave because he has important work of finding the great Master Yoda.

The tiny green fellow perks up and says he will take Luke to him as long as they can share a meal first. In the course of that dinner, he is revealed as the Jedi Master for whom Luke is searching. But Luke would never have known it. Yoda was just too weird for him.

Today, we come to the end of our “Weird” series, and the last Sunday of our liturgical year, for the Solemnity of Christ he King. Here, in this liturgy, Jesus is again revealed as the King of the universe; however, we do not find Him on an elevated throne, or arrayed in fine garments, or acclaimed by adoring courtiers. Rather, we see Him lifted up, nailed to a cross, stripped of everything, between two criminals, one of whom ridicules Him along with the crowds who hate Him. If this is our King, friends, we have a very “weird” King, indeed!

So, what does it mean to have such a weird King? Sure, Jesus shows us God’s power in a strange way – shining through weakness – but how does that have an effect in our lives? In other words, do we have to be weird if Jesus has already been weird for us?

The answer to this question, I think, is seen in the scene that unfolds in the gospel today. Here, on Calvary, Jesus hangs between other condemned men – two criminals – to sinners. We are meant to see ourselves there, since we also deserve something for our sins. The man on Jesus’ left looks at the Lord and joins the rest of the world in mocking Him. Rather than seeing God sharing his suffering, he looks at Jesus and wants to know what He can do for him. “Save yourself,” he jeers, “and us!”

The other criminal, justly condemned as well, is different. He sees in Jesus a man who is embracing his same suffering, and in that very act, He is saving him right there. Turning to the Lord, he prays, “Remember me when you come into your kingdom.”

This “Good Thief,” as we call him, sees in the bloody, broken, dying man next to him a King – the only one who can bring anything good from this terrible situation. His prayer is a prayer of conversion, it is a prayer of hope. And it is “weird.”

Right there, at the end - amid the darkness and the suffering and the pain - the possibility of salvation still exists. Jesus, the weird King, extends the gift of salvation to the Good Thief; and He extends this gift to all who can see in Him the King of the Universe. In the midst of pain, sorrow, and defeat, Jesus reveals the depth of God’s love for us, by becoming “bone of our bone and flesh of our flesh.”

There, on the throne of the cross, Jesus the King brings to us the peace of God’s love, embracing humanity in its fullness. This King, this Jesus, “is the image of the invisible God.” It takes weird vision to see this King, but for those who can see Him, He is the one who reconciles us to the Father and makes “peace through the blood of his cross.”

Today, we praise Jesus Christ the King. In the tiny Host and cup, we encounter God where we might least expect to see Him. Jesus comes to us and reveals the depth of God’s love for us by giving us all of Himself. For those who would claim such a King, we must now strive to live as worthy subjects – letting go of preconceived notions of power and greatness, and recognizing that God’s ways are not ours. To be holy like God is holy means that we will have to be “weird.”

So, friends, as we go forward as weird disciples, in imitation of our King, know that Jesus notices that weirdness too. And for that, we are offered the reward of being with Him in paradise.

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