Why did Christ have to die this way?
In this beautiful homily for Christ the King, Year C, Father Hanly looks at the Crucifixion and asks why Christ had to die this way.
Readings for Christ the King, Year C
- First Reading: Second Samuel 5:1-3
- Responsorial Psalm: Psalms 122:1-2, 3-4, 4-5
- Second Reading: Colossians 1:12-20
- Gospel: Luke 23:35-43
Today’s gospel is about coronations. I think I mentioned to you, last week or so, that when Queen Elizabeth was crowned queen of England, it was one of the first transcontinental things that was put on television, so you could see them even in Brooklyn.
And I think you have to kind of understand, because we don’t see too many coronations, but the crowning of a king or the crowning of a queen was an incredible, incredible event.
And the people came out with beautiful clothes on. And the people were kind of caught up in, not only the liturgy, but the beautiful music and the feeling that we were all seeing something terribly important and something that will touch all our lives for at least a few years.
And it was true. And they crowned her and they anointed her with sacred oil, declaring her that she was the queen. And they also venerated her by bowing low so that you came away feeling that you had really watched something very important.
Now there’s an old story. During the Middle Ages, two men were watching the king get out of his golden chariot to go in to the church for some service. And one says to his friend, he says (he’s kind of angry because the royalty was cruel), he says, “I live to see the day when royalty are treated as common people.” And his friend turns to him and he says, “I live to see the day when common people are treated like royalty.”
Jesus represents the second half, because, to God, there’s no such thing as being treated like royalty unless you treat everyone like royalty, because it is God’s will that He makes, when He creates He does not make garbage, He makes wonderful things that will last forever.
Today’s coronation that we read about on Christ the King is meant by the four gospel writers to be a description of Jesus our Lord’s coronation. Everything is there.
The soldiers after they get done scourging him and beating him, they sit him down and they find a crown of thorns for him and they kneel before him. And they put a purple cloak around him, because it’s the sign of royalty. And they put a sceptre, a reed, in his hand, because he is the King of the Jews. And they even have a sign written by Pilate himself saying, “INRI, Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews.”
And then they prepare his throne and he has to carry it up a hill. But when he gets there, his throne is laid out before him and they nail him to it and they put him up and they all start jeering and making fun of the King of the Jews saying, “You saved others. How come you can’t save yourself?” And such words.
I’ve often wondered, when I’ve looked at it in pictures and other ways, why didn’t he save himself? I mean why would he subject himself to all of this pain and anger and terror in such a terrible way, and then to put it on like it was the coronation of a king and a new world was going to be reborn on the blood of the cross.
And then I said to myself, “Well, I suppose we should ask his Father.”
His Father…If you asked Jesus, he’d say, “I didn’t want to, but my Father asked me to and that’s why I’m here.” And if you asked his Father, you’d have to remember the saying also in scripture, “God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son that he might save us all and bring us into eternal life.”
My best feeling about looking at the crucifix which is Christ the King, my best feeling comes from the Jewish philosopher Simone Weil who died very young at the end of the Second World War. She was Jewish but she never became a Christian, but she loved Christ with a great heart.
And one of the priests watched her as she was looking on the crucifix in a church and he said, “Simone, what do you see when you look at the cross?”
And she said, “I see God’s apology for all the pain.”
What a wonderful understanding: “God’s apology for all the pain.” He could not take away our pain without taking away our freedom, and He created us for freedom not for slavery. And while He couldn’t take it away, He could do only one thing that was left and that was to share our pain.
And that is why His Son comes down, takes on human flesh, becomes terribly vulnerable and, in the end, suffers perhaps as no man in the history from the beginning of time to the end of time ever suffered.
And He suffered and we say, “How could God allow this to happen? How could He look down and watch His Son destroyed, abandoned, hated, people out of their minds and out of their way to show that not only are they going to destroy him by killing him, but they were going to despise him. His own friends ran away.
And then we say to ourselves, “For what purpose? Why?”
And we know the answer: God so loved the world that He gave His Son. And it was the gift of His Son. And even through everything, why the great pain? Why did He have to… Why had it to be so painful?
And Simone Weil, she says, “Because on the high hill of Calvary, nobody from the beginning of time to the end of time can say anything but, looking into the eyes of the crucified Messiah we would say, ‘He understands.’”
There’s another way of looking at the crucified Saviour and that is in a book by Graham Greene which is called “Monsignor Quixote.” It was about a Monsignor, a very nice, sweet little simple priest who, by some mistake, was made a Monsignor.
So, he and his friend, who was the local communist in this village, went off for an adventure to buy clothes for him, and they had to go to another part of Spain to buy them. And so the story is all about their adventures together. And now the simple priest, of course, and the communist mayor disagreed on just about everything, but they loved each other and they were great friends.
Anyhow, one night, poor Monsignor Quixote, as he’s called by Graham Greene, which is Don Quixote really, the great Spanish (inaudible).
Anyhow, he woke up in a stark terror and he was sweating and he didn’t know what to do. And his friend woke up and he ran over to him and he held him in his arms and he says, “What’s wrong? What’s wrong?”
He said, “I had this terrible dream. It was just an awful dream. I never had a dream like this in my whole life and thank you for being here.” And he said, “Well, tell me about it. Maybe it will help if you tell me about it.”
He said, “There I was…” Monsignor says, “there I was at the foot of the cross and everybody was screaming and everybody was yelling, ‘Come down from the cross, come down from the cross!’ And, all of a sudden, an angel appeared with a whole group of angels and they took Jesus and they lifted him up from the cross in great triumph and all the angels came and sang beautiful hymns. And everyone said, ‘Yes, we were wrong. He is the Messiah, the Son of God.’”
And his friend said to him, “I don’t see anything wrong with this dream. It sounds like a great dream.”
And then poor Monsignor Quixote looked at him and he said, “It’s the end of faith. No faith is necessary. And if no faith is necessary, there’s little to hope for. And if there’s little to hope for, why bother with love?”
Do you understand?
It’s out of the crucifixion that we learn how to love. It is out of the pain and the great generosity of God that we learn how important His Son is, but how we are.
Because His Son said again and again, “If you’re looking for me, if you care for me, if you love me, you will find me in each other, you will learn how to love each other.
“I dream of a kingdom. I came to establish a kingdom of peace. You are the ones that I am sending out into this world to bring a kingdom of peace. And it’s not going to be founded on wonderful coronations and strong armies and people who know everything and feel that they can do everything.
“The only way it’s going to be founded is by bringing the cross into your own life and knowing that this is the way you will learn to love. And if you do not learn to love then I have come for nothing.”
But he didn’t come for nothing, for down from that time, all of us now make the one sign, millions of people all over the world in every generation, every race, every colour, they all know how to make the sign of the cross. Because the sign of degradation, the sign that the Bible said, “Cursed be the man who hangs upon a tree,” has become Christ the King’s throne.
And it has become for us the great sign of self-sacrificing love. And it is with self-sacrificing love that God changes the world. For God sacrifices His Son and Jesus sacrifices himself for us. And when we have self-sacrificing love for each other, the world is already changed.
And then, as Monsignor Quixote would be glad to tell you, then the world is full of faith and trust, and the world is full of new hope and, finally, the world is full of love.
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Father Hanly's sermon for Christ the King, Year C, "Why did Christ have to die this way?" was delivered on 21st November 2010. It is sometimes hard to accurately transcribe Father Hanly's reflections, so please let us know if you think we have made a mistake in any of our transcripts, and let us have your suggestions.
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