Friday 1 December 2017

Kinds of Kings

This week, the Church’s liturgical year finished with the Feast of Christ the King. Kings don’t have a great appeal and sometimes not a great track record these days. I think we are all slightly uneasy with kings — especially kings who are aloof or claim privilege, who lack the common touch and just ‘lead the good life’.

But when we look to the gospels to find references to Jesus’ kingship, we are immediately confronted by a paradox. At his birth, the Magi, those three Wise Men, seek the “infant King of the Jews” — and where do they find this king? With his parents, obeying the decree of a foreign emperor, on the edge of an empire, sharing a stable with animals and their mess. Among the lowly ones, like those outcast shepherds. When he enters Jerusalem for the last time, the crowds acclaim Jesus with “Blessings on the king who comes” — and he rides, not in state and ceremony, but on a humble donkey. Even as Jesus finally suffers a scandalous and criminal death, abandoned, and in the company of thieves, the title ‘King of the Jews’ is sarcastically nailed to the cross above him. Some king.

Clearly, Jesus is recognised as King, but how differently is his kingship lived out and experienced. It is set not among a court of nobles but in the company of common folk, of ordinary people, of the least ones, to use Matthew’s term. A king who is in solidarity with all of humanity. Leading a kingdom, as Jesus told Pilate, which the world really doesn’t understand.

The last of the king references is Matthew’s story in our Feast Day’s gospel, describing how Jesus as king will judge the world at the end of time. How he will divide us up – the sheep from the goats. We all know that Gospel story so well. “When I was hungry, you fed me. When I was a stranger you welcomed me. When I was sick, you visited me”, and so on.

But Matthew’s story of the king’s judgement is full of surprises. No mention here of obeying the Ten Commandments. It doesn’t even suggest being prayerful. Or attending Temple or synagogue worship. What counts is whether one has acted with loving care of people in need. Did you love the poor in concrete acts of mercy? Did you stand in solidarity with them? Such deeds are not ‘optional extras’, but they constitute the central and decisive criterion of judgement.

I was thinking during the week: how might Jesus speak in this story if he were speaking to the boys, to the staff, to families and friends, and to Old Ignatians today? In this place and time. Well maybe like this:

“You built up my kingdom here on earth, in this little patch of ground here at Riverview,” Jesus might say. “You made it into a place of good relationships, of love and justice, of fair-play and family, of care and compassion. That kingdom is continuous with the fullness of life in the world to come. So welcome in. Why?

“Because when I was a new boarder you made me feel at home. You were appointed as a buddy to me and I never felt like a stranger.

“You were an older member of my mentor group, yet you gave up your time to talk to me, you once taught me to shoot baskets in the gym. You came to watch me in a debate when I was in a grand final.

“You often invited me from the boarding house to your place on a Home Sunday when I had no family visiting me.

“When I was feeling down about issues going on at home, you spent time listening to me. You got me to join in to play some tip to get me out of my sad space. I won’t forget that.

“You were pretty good at Maths and spent time helping with some problems when I couldn’t quite get the hang of calculus at first.

“You stood up for me when some of the fellas were once giving me a bit of a hard time. You were like a big brother looking after me.

“I was the teacher, the librarian, the cook in the ref, your mentor, the referee, the mother in the canteen or Licona, your coach – and you always said “thank you” to me. You were always appreciative and grateful.

“When you finished the specified hours of community service, you just kept coming to the soup kitchen and you had such a good relationship with people like me who live on the street.

“I received a Bursary and came here because you, an Old Boy, organised your year group to make it possible.

“I am a disabled kid who came on the Ignatian Children’s Holiday Camp and you – Old Boy, parent, volunteer – gave up your time 24/7 so that I could have my first holiday ever and give my mum and dad a break.

“I was homeless and unemployed and you came with your dad many times to Teresa House and cooked a meal for me and prepared me a bed for the night.

“I am a student in Colégio de Sto Inácio de Loiola, the Jesuit school in Timor Leste, your near neighbour and the poorest of the world’s nations. You are raising funds for my brand-new school and my education. You’re changing my future.

“I am from many countries in Africa, the Indian sub-continent and in Asia. You stayed with me on one of your immersions, shared my life and understood me. With your mates, you spent days setting up and ensuring the success of the Indian Bazaar for Jesuit Mission. You made a difference. You ensured I wasn’t forgotten.”

Then maybe you would say. “To be honest, I didn’t think God was involved. I did it because that is what a ‘View boy’ or a member of ‘the Riverview family’ does around here. It just seemed the right thing to do.”

And Jesus might reply, “Well, perhaps you forgot about what we call here ‘finding God in all things’. When you go out of yourself, when you serve the least of your brothers and sisters, you save them and you serve me. You are building up the kingdom of God. Keep doing what you’re doing and it’s yours. Forever.”

Fr Ross Jones, SJ