Saturday, January 31, 2015

Christ the Ruler of All - A Homily for the Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time

The Reverend Kyle L. Doustou
The Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time – Year B

Christ the Pantocrator
February 1, 2015

In many churches throughout Christendom, especially in those of Eastern persuasion or heritage, there can be found in the main apse the very ancient iconographical depiction of Christ the Pantocrator, which is Greek for “Almighty” or “Ruler of All.” These paintings or mosaics portray Christ in His Majesty and are meant to convey His supreme glory, might, and power. If you’ve ever been to the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C. you’ll find a magnificent representation of Christ the Pantocrator in the upper church immediately behind the main altar – His arms are outstretched in a tremendous display of sovereignty; His face is strong and focused; and He is enrobed in the mighty garments of a king.
Christ in Majesty - main apse of the Basilica of the
National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, Washington DC
The purpose of the Pantocrator icon is clear: it is meant to convey the truth that all power, all dominion, and all authority rest solely in Jesus Christ. But when you look at the oldest known image of the Pantocrator, which can be found at the 6th century Monastery of St. Catherine at the foot of Mt. Sinai in Egypt, there is another element to the icon that is worthy of note. Christ is shown holding the New Testament in His left hand and His right hand is extended in a gesture of both blessing and teaching. The great and mighty God, who is the ruler and governor of all that exists, is at the same time the great sanctifier and teacher of the whole world. Christ is the Great High Priest, who offers Himself and His people as a sanctified offering to God the Father. Christ is the True Prophet, who teaches His people by His word and His example. And Christ is the Great and Everlasting King, in Whom rests absolute authority to rule and to govern over all. The Pantocrator icon has, for centuries, placed this three-fold Mystery before the eyes of believers, beckoning them to submit their hearts, minds, and souls to Christ the Almighty.

In modern times, however, efforts have been made to divide Christ against Himself. He has been stripped, by both believers and unbelievers, of His Divine right to rule, and has been reduced to one Who blesses and one Who teaches. He’s the Jesus of the Sermon on the Mount, who teaches a new and radical way to live…He’s the Jesus of the multiplication of the loaves and fish, who blesses and feeds and nourishes the hungry…He’s the kindly sage Who offers words of wisdom to a selfish world and He’s the ultimate advocate of the poor, and the sick, and the marginalized. He becomes like a mentor, one Who shows the way and Who helps us to live a better life. But a Jesus who merely blesses and teaches and does not rule, a Christ who is Priest and Prophet but not a King, has absolutely nothing to offer anyone.

In our Gospel this morning, St. Mark is very clear to show us the inviolable and absolute link between Christ’s sanctifying and teaching power and Christ’s authority. The Pharisees are astonished at His teaching…not because He was persuasive or clever or insightful, but because He taught as one having authority. And when the possessed man is presented to Him, the crowd is astonished…not because He offered a beautiful prayer over the man or simply made him feel better, but because He drove out the unclean spirit as one having authority. Christ sanctifies and Christ teaches only because He is Power Itself. As the Word through Whom all things were made, Christ has the power to make the unholy holy…He has the authority to dispel falsehood with truth. He has dominion over all and can change all. He is not a magician and He is not a wise sage…He is Priest, Prophet, and King, and everything is subject to Him.

This frightened the Pharisees and it frightens many of us in today’s day and age. We’re okay with being blessed, and we’re grateful with being taught, but we have an aversion to being ruled. We want to be the rulers of our own lives…happy to use Christ for His good gifts, happy to learn from His words, and unwilling to give Him our hearts. But there is no blessing and no teaching that can come from Christ that is divorced from His sovereignty and His lasting power. To be blessed by Him and to be taught by Him is to become subject to Him…and to become subject to Him is to be utterly changed by Him.

Christ the Pantocrator - St. Catherine's
Monastery, Mt. Sinai
Unfortunately, Christianity today is both seen and lived as an ethical system…a way to make our lives better and to leave the world a better place. Jesus is seen as the great Teacher Who shows us how to do this, and He is the great Sanctifier Who blesses our efforts. He's the One Who paved the way in Galilee 2,000 years ago and He smiles on us now as we strive to be peaceful and loving. But Christ the Pantocrator shows us the He did not come to establish an ethical system; He did not come to bring about world peace; He did not come to affirm us and to make us feel wonderful. Christ, Priest, Prophet, and King, came to save us and to change us. Bearing our human nature and taking it to Himself, Jesus Christ actually and truly shed His blood for us. Through the Sacraments, Christ the Priest covers and enrobes us in this blood, making us truly grace-filled and holy. Through His teachings, Christ the Prophet shows us and directs us how to better open ourselves to this out-pouring of grace. And through His absolute power and governance, Christ the King calls and commands us to deep and daily conversion so that we might enter His Heavenly Kingdom. If we do not change, if we do not subject ourselves to our King so that He may make us like Himself, then all is for naught. Without Christ’s call to conversion, His blessings and teachings are formless and useless.

Today, at this Holy Mass, the Lord offers to each one of us the infinitude of His blessings and the entirety of His teachings, which He offers to us for the salvation of our souls. He gives Himself to us today, not only as our Priest and our Teacher, but as our King, so that we might be thoroughly changed and readied for the Kingdom of God. Christ isn’t interested in where we’ve been or even where we are. He’s not going to meet us “where we’re at;” He’s going to pull us where we need to be. He’s going to rip open our hearts and fill them with Himself. Let’s ask ourselves if this is truly the Christ we serve. If we serve a Christ Who doesn’t do this…if we serve a Christ Who doesn’t change us and rule over our hearts…then He is a fiction and not Christ the Pantocrator. But if this is the Christ we serve…the One Who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life…then we have great reason to rejoice, because the Kingdom of God is at hand and we are not far from it.

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