There is a story told about the temple mount in Jerusalem. Before there was a temple. Before there was even a city, there were two brothers that lived on either side of the hill. One brother was wealthy yet he had no family. The other brother had very limited resources but he had a large family. One evening the wealthy brother was thinking of his brother on the other side of the hill. “My brother,” he thought “does not have much and he has many mouths to feed and here I am with all my wealth. I know what I shall do, every night under the cover of darkness I will take one sack of grain from my granary and carry it over to my brother’s and place it in his granary.” Now, that very same evening the other brother was thinking of his wealthy sibling. “My brother,” he thought “does not have the blessing of a family but he does have riches, I might as well help him grow even more in his riches. I will take a sack of grain from my granary every night and carry it to my brother’s granary and place it with his grain.” The brothers began to do this every night, all the time not saying a word to the other about what they were doing. They were both amazed to see every morning that the number of sacks in their granaries remained the same although they had taken away a sack the previous evening. This all continued for a while until one night they met one another at the crest of the hill carrying their sacks of grain. Upon seeing one another they immediately realized what had been transpiring and they embraced one another in love. And upon their embrace the voice of God sounded from heaven, “This is where I will build my house upon earth!”
The moral of the tale, I believe, is this: when we make the choice to love and to give then we open our hearts that God might come in and make a dwelling place within us. When we choose to love, God makes his home within and with us.
The latest Harry Potter movie is out and it is quite good but here I would like to share a quote from a previous movie (I cannot remember which one). At one point in the whole story Dumbledore, the wise wizard, shares this insight with the young Harry, “Harry, it is neither our abilities nor our skills that define our character, rather it is the choices we make that truly define who we are.” It is when we make a choice, when we exercise our will, that we truly define and determine who we are.
One of the beautiful aspects of our Christian faith tradition is the assertion and belief that every human person is made in the very image and likeness of God – the “imago Dei”. As we proclaim this, it is understandable to then ask how we are made in God’s image. Is it in our bodies, our physical makeup, that we image God? No, because God is pure spirit and does not have a body. Is it in our abilities or our skills that we image God? Well, not really, our skills and abilities (no matter how impressive they might be) are not really all that much compared to the truth of God. How are we made in God’s image? Many of the greatest thinkers and saints of our faith tradition have answered this question by saying that it is in our will where we find most fully the image of God. It is by our choosing the good that we show forth God’s image in which we are made. When we, aided by God’s grace, make the choice to love, the choice to give, the choice to let go of self, the choice to forgive, to show mercy then we truly reveal the image of God in which we are made. Our character is defined and determined by the choices that we make.
On this feast of Christ the King we proclaim that Christ is indeed Lord and King of all creation. He is master. Christ is the one who was dead but who is now risen and alive. He is the firstborn. As we proclaim Christ as King it is fair to ask what type of king do we have? What is our king’s character?
The Gospel reading for this feast (Lk. 23: 35-43) tells us something truly important about the king we have and proclaim and it is revealed in the choice he made. It is important to note that in the space of just eight verses, as our Lord is being crucified, he is presented with the same temptation three times; three times from different groups: the rulers, the Roman soldiers and the criminal hanging next to him. The temptation is simple, “Save yourself!” Rulers: “He saved others, let him save himself if he is the chosen one, the Christ of God.” Soldiers: “If you are King of the Jews, save yourself.” Criminal: “Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us.” Three times this temptation is presented before our Lord and he could have chosen to save himself … but he did not. Rather, he made a different choice. He choose to obey the Father’s will; he choose to love both God and us, he choose to give of himself even unto death.
This is the king we have, the king that we proclaim and that we glorify! Our character is defined by our choices and our king’s character is revealed in his choice here at the end of Luke’s gospel. In the face of all the world’s temptation, Christ made a different choice – he made the choice of love. Today we glorify Christ as king and as we do the same gospel truth is now put before us. We all have the same temptation that our Lord faced and we know this. In so many varied ways the world continues to put the same temptation before every disciple of Christ – sometimes subtly sometimes very blatantly. “Save yourself! Do not care about others. Do not think of others. Who cares about them? Think only of yourself. Save yourself!”
But Christ our King shows us that there is a different way, a different choice can always be made.
When the world says, “Save yourself!” we, with God’s grace, can make a different choice. We can make the choice to love. We can choose to serve and to give of self. We can forgive and offer mercy. “Save yourself,” is not the only option we have. Like Christ, our king, we can make the choice to love and to give. We can always make the choice for the good regardless of the situation or the context in which we find ourselves.
And the gospel truth is this: it is when we choose to love and to give (even when it seemingly leads to more hardship, more pain, difficulties and even death) that new and more abundant life is found and known. More abundant than we could ever possibly imagine! This is the truth of the cross and the resurrection – the seed of the glory of the resurrection is always found in the loss of the cross!
Today we celebrate Christ as King of Creation and we recognize the gospel truth that he puts before us. As the world loudly proclaims, “Save yourself” to be the only option we know this not to be true. Our king has shown us a different way. There is always another choice that can be made – the choice to love – and it is in this choice that we find new and more abundant life.