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Sunday Readings for Nov. 21, 2010 (34C)
By Fr. James Gilhooley
There sits on my office wall at Mount Saint Mary College in New York a valuable antique. It is the beautifully handwoven figure of Christ the King - standing circa eighteen inches with gold thread et al. It was woven in Belgium at least a century ago. It was removed from the back of a Roman "fiddleback" chasuble about to be discarded. It was framed and given to me as a gift by a dear friend.
The clothing of this King are manifestly regal. Obviously one must address Him as "Your Royal Majesty." His beard is handsomely barbered. His face unlined. His fingers manicured. His waist is not a shade over thirty inches. It is the Christ straight out of the mind of a most romantic monarchist artist. No King ever looked this good.
College students coming into my office do not relate well to this King Christ. A knowledgeable sophomore did some research for one of her theology classes on the question. She shared her paper with me for which she received an A. She called attention to John 6,15. "Jesus, aware that they meant to come and seize Him to proclaim Him king, withdrew again to the hills by Himself." Then she said that even in today's Gospel, it is the soldiers who say in vs 37, "If you are the king of the Jews...". Smugly she pointed out the Nazarene remains silent.
Then of course, as I suspected, the sophomore triumphantly turned to the most famous of the passages about kingship in John 18,37. "`You are a king, then?' said Pilate. Jesus answered, `King is your word. My task is to bear witness to the truth.'"
The majority of college students relate better to Gary Seibert's picture of the Teacher in the Jesuit weekly America. The writer Seibert suggests that Jesus Himself has very generously given us "a verbal self-portrait." "Indeed, as Jesus walked this earth, the Kingdom of God was His; He sorrowed; He was lowly; He hungered and thirsted for justice; His heart burst with compassion; He was singlehearted; He brought peace and was persecuted for holiness' sake; He was insulted and persecuted because of who He was." This Christ was the embodiment of "His program for personal and corporate freedom - which is what the Beatitudes are..." This Saviour clearly is no royal person. Rather, in the jargon of college students, He is clearly a Man who walks the talk.
The clever William O'Malley in The People's Catechism: Catholic Faith for Adults has written: "It might seem an unnecessary diversion to speak of Jesus' appearance, and yet what we think Jesus looked like has a strong negative effect on our willingness even to sit down and listen to what Jesus says, much less giving it an honest hearing. Even in our best moments, no matter what our resolutions, we cannot help in fact `judging a book by its cover.'"
Virginia Ann Froehle in St Anthony Messenger shares the insights of the Master from other cultures. Their visions may hopefully enrich our own images of Him. The American Indians have labeled Him "the little buffalo calf of God." They have called Him such because, like the buffalo of the plains, He sustained and nourished their bodies and spirit. The Eskimos speak of Jesus as "the little seal of God" for the same reasons.
Froehle points then to the colorful language of Africa about the Teacher. He is "the serpent who moves through the forest without fear, the ax unafraid of the tree, the hoe that doesn't fear the thorns." He is likewise the vine that confidently climbs into the heavens.
In the country sections of the Andes, she says the people like to picture Him as a weeping child removing a thorn out of the sole of His foot. The tears helps them better to understand how He shares the human condition with them. The thorn reminds them of His passion and suffering for their own selves. This is a Christ whom they feel very comfortable with. He is one of their own. This is a Christ my college students can identify with.
When we meet this Christ in Heaven, hopefully we will make the words of the negro spiritual our own: "Sit down, brother." "Can't sit down." "Sit down, brother." "Can't sit down." "Sit down, brother." "Can't sit down. I just got to Heaven and I got to look around."