The last time we heard this Gospel was 7 months ago.  As we entered into Holy Week on Palm Sunday, we heard the Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ from St. Luke.  Those lengthy chapters and verses intentionally disorient us out of our ordinary experience of Sunday Mass.  The scriptures overwhelm us recounting the full range of human emotions and reactions in the face of the great mystery of our faith the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  Today, the Catholic Church celebrates this feast of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe – which is an incredibly bold declaration.  There’s nothing ambiguous about that. You can imagine that politicians, empires, and monarchs would immediately be suspicious or worse, threatened by that claim.  Yet we propose as our proof this brief excerpt from the lengthy passion narrative.  A scene of our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe being reviled, mocked, and dying on the Cross.

Adding to the insult this one phrase keeps recurring –

Let him save himself…

            If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself

            Are you not the Christ?  Save yourself…

Thanks so much for stopping by to read my homily for the SOLEMNITY OF OUR LORD JESUS CHRIST, KING OF THE UNIVERSE – November 20, 2022, for sharing it on your social media posts and your feedback and comments…  I’m also grateful for all those who’ve asked for the audio version and share them as well at SOUNDCLOUD click HERE or from ITUNES as a podcast HERE.  May the Lord be glorified in your reading and sharing Sincerely in Christ – Father Jim

It’s kind of jarring to realize that in this somewhat short Gospel passage of only 8 verses, three times Jesus is ridiculed with those same words… a cold and detached sentiment – “save yourself.”   Those two little words reveal a level of hatred that might go unnoticed when we are numbed by the full weight of the Passion on Palm Sunday.

We know that Jesus has been nailed to the cross, dying, not as a punishment for being a criminal that on some level you could argue “the guy is getting what he deserved” (not that anyone deserves that type of cruel punishment)   With this repeating of the phrase “Save yourself”, we see the depths of evil.  Because if Jesus isn’t God, as so many of them argued He wasn’t – then he was just some crazy guy, a blasphemer who was starting trouble.    If that’s the case, then the leaders, the guards, and the passers-by wouldn’t need to stand there and witness this spectacle.   They didn’t do that for other criminals, nor certainly for mentally unstable individuals that the empire wanted to be rid of.    Yet they make a point to be there, to witness it all.   So this first possibility is that they thought Jesus was just a crazy troublemaker, who they taunt over and over with a heartless “save yourself” to this poor man who was powerless and clearly dying… it seems beyond cruel.

The other possibility seems even more frightening.  Did they recognize Jesus was who He said he was?  That’s why it wasn’t enough just to have him sentenced to death… they wanted to be there.  And they all have fingers to point as they try to dismiss any responsibility they have for this – the Jewish leaders can point to the Romans who were the actual executioners.  The Romans can point to the Jews saying they didn’t care about Jesus until they made a big deal about Him.     At best, they’re putting God to the test – well Jesus supposedly you did all those miracles and stuff, let’s see you get out of this one Jesus.   At its worst, well, they decided to kill God.

Both sound so shocking that can’t be it, right?  Which is why I think it bothered me so much.  Yet, let’s think about it.  Let’s not look back at this scene as just some historic event; Good Friday 2,000 years ago.  Isn’t the scene played over and over?  Don’t we continue to put God, put Jesus to the test?

God if I get that promotion,

            Lord if I ace that test,

            Jesus if you cure me of this. . . then. . . then – Then what?  Then God is God?  Then Jesus deserves my praise, my worship?  Then I’ll know He loves me?  If not, then… well, the alternative means what?  That this has all been some colossal hoax, a 2,000-year conspiracy?…. That Jesus is not really who he said he was?. .  That there’s no hope, nothing to believe in? Sitting in Church on a Sunday hearing those two extremes laid out like that, we can realize how irrational they sound.

Yet when we didn’t get that promotion, ace that test, get that miracle cure, those lies told by the father of Lies enter into our hearts, the doubts and fears take root…  We start to think that God doesn’t care.  That Jesus doesn’t love us because he’s not operating the way we think he should be.  We start to believe that there’s nothing left to do but to “save myself.”  We start to go it alone, becoming stuck in a world of isolation, around many, many other people who are stuck in that same world of isolation as well (you can be around people and still be incredibly lonely).   Thinking that because God hasn’t responded in the way I thought He should,  I’m not interested in what Jesus has to say, how he wants to speak to my wounds, my pain, my fears… I’ve shut him out.  I’ve convinced myself that I have to save myself.    If that’s our reality, it’s easy to hear people look at  Jesus on the cross and say, yeah Jesus you can go save yourself…

The other possibility – still plays out too…  That same desire to kill God and replace Him with a new one that seems more fashionable (the height of ego – we’d rather choose something that we ourselves have made).    Some will twist science from something that helps us unlock and explore the secrets to this complex and beautiful creation of His – or twist philosophy from reflecting on what it means to be a community, a just society, and how we should see and treat each other as made in His own divine image – and distort them to proclaim there is no God. .     At least with the first lie that “because God didn’t answer my prayers the way I wanted them – then he doesn’t love me” – we can say people fall for that because they are upset over some pain, some hurt, some disappointment in their lives.   This second lie is worse because it’s so arrogant.  We tell ourselves that we are masters of our own destinies.  We have convinced ourselves that we can save ourselves…  In that realm, people can look at Jesus on the cross and want him dead, want God gone because they see him as a threat to even more scientific advances, or be able to have more power and control over each other.  We decide we can save ourselves… Good Luck Jesus in doing the same.

Our King calls humanity to His throne – the wooden, blood-soaked cross of His.  The reality is that He could save himself – He could end the insults.  Take out his enemies.  And quickly get things under control once and for all.  Make us subject to him demanding our loyal obedience.

But he doesn’t.

He listens to the taunts being uttered at Him. Questioning His motives, Doubting He is who He says he is, as humanity sits as judge, jury and executioner.  Instead of dealing with us on our own terms, he submits to the torturous death.  He allows the madness of sin, the Father of lies to believe for a second he’s victorious as the chorus repeats over and over in its demeaning, condescending way “Save yourself.”  Jesus Christ our King, reigning from that cross reveals the depth, sincerity, and ultimate victorious authority of his Law of Love as he responds to all of humanity, I’d rather save you.