[EDITOR’S NOTE: As 2017 is coming to a close, I’ve re-organized and updated the archive for Year A. All of Fr. Brian’s Year A homilies from both 2014 and 2017 can be found here. On social media? Follow us and say hello on Twitter (@leavenITW) and Facebook: Leaven in the World. – JD]
Fr. Brian Zumbrum’s homilies and reflections are posted regularly at Leaven in the World. To see the archive of all his posts, just click here: Salesian Sermons
PROTIP: You can take a look at the readings here. This homily focuses on the Gospel reading.
The Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe | November 26, 2017
So last Spring, I had the opportunity to travel to Ecuador with several students from Salesianum.
About halfway through the trip, we were invited into the home of a neighbor who lived a few blocks from the retreat center.
As we approached the house, I realized that I was witnessing a level of poverty that was beyond anything I had ever worked with.
Her home was a one room shanty on stilts, with an aluminum roof and plastic tarps serving as walls. There was no running water. No bathroom. And any attempt to access her house involved climbing up a ladder missing half of the rungs to avoid the snakes and rodents that roamed around her property.
As we entered the room, I was gently guided into a plain wooden chair that had been borrowed just for the occasion from one of the neighbors. Our host sat on the bed with our guide and asked each of us to introduce ourselves.
When she got to me, she stopped as I explained that I was a priest.
Repite, por favor. Could you repeat that please.
I did. And for a few minutes she just quietly stared at me.
The conversation moved on as she asked about our lives and shared about her own. We listened to tales of children that she had managed to send to school. Of theft and drug addiction that continued to plague her family and community. Of hope and fear and pain and joy.
And then suddenly she began to cry.
We were all startled. Immediately, we asked what was wrong. But she wouldn’t answer.
Finally, she looked at me and said. A priest is in my house. In my house. Why would you come into this place? Look around you, why would the Church come here into this poverty?
I didn’t know what to say.
So I simply got up and embraced her. For a few moments, we sat there silently. And then I said, it is an honor to be with you.
She looked up and smiled. And then said, you never know who you welcome when you welcome the stranger.
And in her response, I could not help but think of this Gospel for this morning.
For in his parable, Christ was making it abundantly clear to his disciples and to us who exactly we welcome each time we welcome the stranger or feed the hungry or visit the prisoner.
We welcome and feed and visit Christ himself.
Christ the king. Christ who reigns in power and glory.
It is this Christ who aligns himself with the outcast and the forgotten. The poor and the lonely. The abused, and rejected and despised.
This, my friends, is Christ at his most straightforward.
There is no mystery to this parable. It is not a riddle that must be figured out.
And yet, this parable seems to be one that makes us tremendously uncomfortable.
For I have noticed how many hoops we jump through to try and explain what Christ REALLY meant when he proclaimed this parable.
You hear well-intentioned pastors and preachers explaining how this parable doesn’t actually require us to change. We do not need to alter our current lifestyles or our political views, we do not need to leave our comfort zones or expand our vision.
We create all of these exceptions.
We don’t need to feed the hungry if they can work themselves.
We don’t need to shelter the homeless if they are struggling with an addiction.
We don’t need to welcome the stranger if they came here illegally or if they are Muslim or if they come from Syria.
We don’t need to have compassion on the prisoner if they are guilty of a capital crime.
We don’t need to visit the sick if we already have a lot on our plate that day.
But what if we actually took Christ at his word.
What if we actually took seriously the call to encounter him in each person, especially those on the margins?
What if we stopped and invited the homeless man to lunch?
What if we stopped and listened to the individual thirsting for justice. Thirsting for the chance to be heard. Thirsting for someone to believe them when they share their story of sexual harassment or racial profiling?
What if we asked our local elementary school if there were students who could use a winter coat as we approach the holidays?
What if we walked down our street and invited the neighbor over for dessert, especially the neighbor who posted the Trump sign in their front lawn or the neighbor who wears a hijab or the neighbor who blares salsa or hip hop through the block on a warm summer night?
What if we dared to walk into the new castle county courthouse and sit with young people as they nervously await their fate?
What if we took an evening and headed to the hospital to sit with a fellow parishioner as they recover from surgery?
What if we did not wait for Christ to come to us? What if we went out and sought Christ outside these walls in the very people who comprise this neighborhood, who comprise this city?
The Kingdom of God is at hand. It is already breaking through.
Maybe Christ’s reign will be made manifest this day, this hour, right here in Wilmington.
Thy kingdom come O Lord, thy will be done.
May God be Praised.