This coming Sunday is one of my favorite feasts in the Church year: the Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe. It is also known as the Feast of Christ the King.
On this feast I celebrate something I believe, deeply: from the macro of the cosmos to the micro of our hearts, the love of Christ prevails and has authority.
We ponder the messiness of the Kingdom of God — which is now and not yet — in this blog. God’s reign of peace and justice was established by the birth, life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ; it’s close at hand and not yet fully known. It’s the basis for living the Gospel, for advocating for peace, justice, and mercy being triumphant, and working tirelessly to serve all in God’s creation, and for honoring the dignity of every person. (The Kingdom of God is such an important theme on this blog that you’ll find some party music for this celebration in the archives!) As we experience the messiness of Gospel living, the tension, struggle and conversion offered to us each day, building up the reign of God is what we’re up to.
Needless to say, I have a lot of passion for the Kingdom of God. Naturally then, I was thrilled to be invited to preach for this feast by an organization I appreciate and admire: Catholic Women Preach.
As I prayed and studied the readings for the feast, I noticed that I felt invited to shift my perspective over and over, to look at the Scripture passages from different points of view.
I ended up preaching all about how a change in perspective is needed in order to see that the Kingdom of God nearby.
I’d love to get your perspective: What gets in the way of seeing the Kingdom of God around you?
It was one of those moments every parent dreads: my two-year-old had worked herself into an ugly public tantrum, and I had to abandon our planned activity in order to haul her thrashing body out to the car. Frustrated and embarrassed, I couldn’t help but think to myself: “Seriously, Jesus? The Kingdom of God belongs to such as these?”
Jesus, however, called the children to himself and said, “Let the children come to me and do not prevent them; for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. Amen, I say to you, whoever does not accept the kingdom of God like a child will not enter it.” –Luke 18:16-17
Before I was a mom, I never really pondered the Bible passages in which Jesus encourages His disciples to become like little children. I assumed He was extolling children’s innocence and telling us to return to the purity of our youth.
But now I know better.
Little children are far from innocent. They are impatient, volatile, jealous, and unreasonable. They are, as it turns out, younger versions of the human species, and the human species has only ever produced one perfect human.
So why does Jesus hold these tiny tyrants in such high esteem?
As my daughter approaches her third birthday, I have a few thoughts on the matter (insert requisite disclaimer that I am not a biblical exegete… just a mom who has observed her kids for the past few years): Though they are not innocent, per se, young children are exceptionally transparent; their flaws and failings -be they fits of anger or refusal to share a toy- are out there for the world to see. Even their occasional attempts at deception are laughably obvious (ie: my daughter announcing from another room, “Mama, I didn’t make a mess!”). If they are angry with you, they do not subtly contrive to tear you down –they simply throw a fit.
When children misbehave, they do so with glorious flagrance.
And that, I think, is what Jesus was driving at: whatever children do, they do it wholeheartedly and unabashedly. So, in those wonderful moments in which our kids are not humiliating us, the face of God shines brilliantly through their wide-open eyes. A seemingly insignificant activity, like playing in the sprinklers on a summer day, is a downright awe-inspiring experience for my daughter. She does not guard herself or her emotions, but runs headlong into the adventures of each day.
It’s easy, then, for me to picture the little ones of Jesus’ time as they ran toward Him, laughing and jostling one another in their haste, completely oblivious to the impropriety of their gusto. In those days, children dwelled in the periphery of society, their immaturity excluding them from full membership in the community. Yet despite their lowly station, these children easily recognized and sought out the loving power of Jesus (as did so many of “the least of these”).
Nowadays, we afford children more respect than did the ancient Jews, but the fact remains that our kiddos are wholly dependent upon us to meet their needs. Amazingly, this relative powerlessness does not burden them with feelings of unworthiness or insecurity (as it likely would you or me), but instead frees them to experience life with a passion that knows neither limits nor shame. When my daughter belts out “Jesus Loves Me,” she doesn’t apologize for her untrained voice… And she doesn’t doubt for a second that the words she sings are true. So why do we?
We are all of us imperfect, but perfectly loved anyway.
I sometimes wonder how much deeper my relationship with Christ would be if I ran toward Him with as much unbridled eagerness as my daughter runs toward me: arms outstretched, grinning or sobbing, unself-conscious of anything other than our mutual love. How much more loudly would my life proclaim the love of God if I were unencumbered by an instinct for self-preservation? How much more devout a disciple would I be if I could not hide my own brokenness behind an exterior of apparent self-sufficiency?
In other words: how much worthier of the Kingdom of God would I be if, rather than pretending at nonchalance or stoking the fires of silent resentment, I followed my daughter’s example and just threw an undignified tantrum once in awhile?
Nicole Steele Wooldridge is a friend of Sister Julia who lives near Seattle. She is the mother of an almost-three-year-old and a 1-year-old, and she considers herself lucky to have only had to abandon a public place due to a tantrum once (so far…).
Scripture Reflection for the Third Sunday of Advent (December 11, 2011)
Isaiah 61:1-2a, 10-11
Luke 1:46-48, 49-50, 53-54
1 Thessalonians 5:16-24
John 1:6-8, 19-28
When truth is spoken it illuminates more than just the person. The light stretches its filamented fingers, lacing them through history and pointing toward what is to be. Mary, a young unwed woman, accepts the impossible announcement that she will carry not only a child, but the Christ-child. Affirmed by her cousin, Elizabeth, that this strange pregnancy is an act of God, Mary goes beyond the exultation of trusting that her own reputation will be restored and indicates another restoration: the “mighty are brought down from their thrones…the hungry filled with good things…the rich sent empty away.” She joyously reveals God’s plan for a transformed social order.
Was Mary aware of how closely her words echoed those of the prophet Isaiah? Or was this spontaneous outpouring of the spirit, of joy, simply an irrepressible desire to magnify the God who desires good for all even, perhaps especially, the oppressed. How often the prophets speak of “glad tidings to the poor,” and “release to the prisoner,” of freedom from captivity and healing. I cannot believe that they were only announcing metaphors. These words reveal the vision of God, the image of a Kingdom in which we are called to be co-creators.
A consciousness of this Kingdom is shaped in Mary, as Jesus, the one who would embody it, takes shape in her womb. As Mary, Joseph and Jesus faced the hardships of poverty, heard the news of innocents slaughtered, met the continual challenges of daily life, the joy present when Mary proclaimed the Magnificat was likely not so readily felt. The promise that this little boy was the messiah even as he had to be fed and changed, that the hungry would be filled even as stomachs rumbled, that the mighty would be brought down from their thrones even as they abused their power with as much might as ever, are promises that could not have been easy to believe. Mary no doubt had to draw on the prophecies and experiences that she had treasured up; carrying within her the truths of the Kingdom just as she had carried within her the one who would reveal them.
If advent is a time of preparation, how do we, like John, “prepare the way” in keeping with God’s revealed intention for a world of justice, peace and joy, more a Kin-dom, than a Kingdom, where the disparity between the powerful and the oppressed is leveled? How do we, like Mary, say “let it be with me as you have said” and trust that by the power of the Holy Spirit we are being filled, made whole and holy – spirit, soul and body? As Christians we are called not only to carry, but to become the Body of Christ. What an incredible mystery! Recognition of this compels us toward Paul’s seemingly impossible directives to “rejoice always,” “pray without ceasing,” and “in all circumstance give thanks.” (This from a man who was jailed and persecuted continually; – how keenly he must have felt the hope of liberation!) Such mystery awakes the need to “test everything,” using the tools of prayer, action, honest communication – continually “experimenting with truth,” as Gandhi called it. Taking care to refrain from making assumptions as to what is good and to always be surprised, to always resist evil, even when it seems to seep into everything around us – including us. Rabbi and philosopher Abraham Joshua Heschel writes, “An individual dies when they cease to be surprised. I am surprised every morning when I see the sunshine again. When I see an act of evil I don’t accommodate, I don’t accommodate myself to the violence that goes on everywhere. I am still so surprised! That is why I am against it. We must learn to be surprised.”
In a world that seems so fixed in cycles of violence, it can be difficult to believe that the promised Kin-dom is coming, let alone that it already is. When we see that drone bombs are dropped on children, that dumpsters overflow with food while millions go hungry, and houses stand empty while millions are homeless; when we cut each other apart with our words, and pollute the earth with careless or even intentional consumption – how difficult indeed to hope for healing, for liberation, for full stomachs and joyful hearts! It is difficult to face all this and believe that we can live in a way that challenges the corruption and mends the brokenness that surrounds us; that we can embody a transforming way that sets not only the oppressed but the oppressors free. It seems very difficult, impossible even to enter into Kin-dom living. Yet, we wait for Christ to be revealed. As we wait we create communities of faith where we can challenge one another to affirm God’s vision, spoken by the prophets, incarnate in Jesus, and just possibly, in us. As we live amidst the tension of the Everlasting Not Yet we are offered this hope: God has already accomplished things beyond belief, God is with us; with God, nothing is impossible.