Fr Kevin Hegarty
Last Sunday was the Feast of Christ the King. I am rather uncomfortable with the designation. Isn’t it a strange title: Jesus Christ – a King? Surely not!
Kings, when they had political power, were often oppressors and usually coldly remote from the everyday needs of their subjects; Marie Antoinette and ‘let them eat cake’ and that kind of stuff. Now, in the western world, where kings and princes have little power, the tabloids bring us a daily diet of the trappings of their wealth encrusted lives.
In his recent book, ‘Royalty’, Jeremy Paxman tells an extraordinary story. It seems that Prince Charles likes to have a boiled egg after hunting. As his staff are never sure whether the egg would be to the satisfactory hardness, a number of eggs are cooked in the hope that at least one will please him.
What a contrast with Jesus Christ. He was born in humble circumstances. His native place was Nazareth; people wondered could anything good come out of that place. An Irish person can hear the familiar tribal echoes in that taunt. His close friends were ordinary, some not really respectable, even a little dodgy. He associated with the poor, the vulnerable and the fragile rather than the wealthy and powerful. When he entered Jerusalem in the lead-up to his trial and crucifixion, he rode, not in a royal carriage, but on a donkey, that humble and much-maligned animal. He was crucified between two thieves. No wonder a bemused Pilate asked him was he a king.
The contrast is the point. An old Irish prayer poem describes Jesus as ‘King of the Friday’. Deriving from the events of Good Friday, the title is a synonym for pain, suffering and oppression. It provides a way of understanding the kind of king Jesus is. He is king of the world evoked in Somhairle Mac Gill-Eain’s poem, ‘Calvary’:
“My eye is not on Calvary
nor on Bethlehem the Blessed,
but on a foul smelling backland in Glasgow,
where life rots at it grows;
and on a room in Edinburgh, a room of poverty and pain
where the diseased infant,
writhes and wallows till death.”
Jesus Christ identified himself with the outcasts and sinners in society; he ate and drank with prostitutes and sinners. He preached an ‘upside down’ kingdom where the mighty would be put down from their thrones, where the first would be last and the last first, where the lame would walk, where the blind might see and where the prisoners are set free. These images of human liberation, chosen from the scriptures, are as real and as necessary today as when first aired.
As Christians we are citizens of this ‘upside down’ kingdom. Not only citizens but co-creators of the Kingdom well described in the preface of the Eucharist on the feast of Christ the King.
A kingdom of truth and life,
A kingdom of holiness and grace,
A kingdom of love, justice and peace.
How are we measuring up to the challenge outlined above? One way of approaching the question is by asking a number of other questions about Celtic Tiger Ireland. Are we a community where poverty is seen as an injustice? There is a dark hinterland of deprivation in Ireland casting long shadows over our comfortable world. Have we a generous welcome for asylum seekers and economic migrants? Do we see the desire of people of other races to live and work here as an opportunity to celebrate diversity or as a threat? We give generously to third world charities but are we anxious to investigate the root causes of inequality? Is Ireland an international leader in questioning why the resources of the world are so unequally shared? The range of questions is a measure of the challenge facing us in creating a community worthy of Jesus Christ, the ‘upside down’ King.