The Feast of Christ the King, celebrated last month, draws to itself an ever growing cluster of associations.
Drawing from the rich ore of kingship and kingdoms as these have risen and fallen in, primarily in Western history, Jesus Christ has long been elevated, crowned, enthroned, adored. He has been raised high above all the kings that ever lived. His kingdom is eternal, thereby trumping all other worldly and finite domains.
Jesus had a lot to say about the kingdom. It is, He told his followers, in our midst. It has strange parameters, being not here, or there. He encouraged some people, telling them that by their behavior that they were not far from the kingdom of God.
Yet there is no road that leads to it. No castle within sight on any horizon. By way of a route, Jesus said that knowing the kingdom had a lot to do with human behavior, of seeing more deeply into people and events.
He offered parables as teachable moments about the intersection of divine and human behavior. In seeing ourselves in a different light, we see God as well. How we see and treat each other has something to do with opening the door to the kingdom of God.
A theology of Christ and His kingdom has, over the centuries, evolved over two routes.
One route moves toward the heavens, toward heavenly things, so that the kingship of Jesus is perceived as a future event, with all the trumpets, angels, majestic appellations and pomp that will usher in a new world.
The other route is the low road, one that reveals the world and especially its outcasts and poor as being harbingers of God. Jesus said that they would be the first to enter the kingdom.
Dorothy Day went so far to say that anyone, even a self-professed Christian, who did not see God in the faces of the poor was an atheist. Strong words. But necessary in their severity so as to crack the crust on our eyes, to awaken our senses to what we are and what we do to each other when we do not love each other as Jesus asked us to do.
To follow Christ is serious business. There is no looking back, or even ahead. There is only looking at each other, learning about God and ourselves from each other.
I once knew a man whose name was Leroy. He was an old black man and was very poor. He was a caddy at a golf club where I worked in the summers. We both caddied, but our lives were very different.
Leroy had one friend, whose nickname was Trotter. He, too, was a caddy. Trotter suffered from what was called shell shock in those days. His feet were shattered in World War II and he walked by raising one foot after another. His feet made a slapping sound as they hit the ground and he had a kind of trot to his gait. He was a man of few words, and when he did speak, words were hard for him to find.
He and Leroy spent the summers caddying in New Jersey and then come colder weather, they would hitch rides to Florida and caddy through the winter. I would see them walking around town in their old, worn clothes, wearing shoes that did not fit and long coats, even in July and August.
We were sitting in the caddy shack one day and Sammy, who was the caddy master, came out of his office and looked at Leroy. He reached into his pocket and took out some pennies and tossed them onto the floor. They rolled to a stop in front of Leroy and Leroy dove for the copper coins and put them in his pocket.
Sammy was a cruel man. Trotter looked and said, "No, no, no, not right, not right," but Sammy sneered at him and threw more pennies. And Leroy jumped again for the pennies. And Trotter cried. And Sammy laughed.
It is one thing to study parables. It is quite another thing to see them played out in life, over and over again. A world of tragedy, loss and redemption played out in that shack, when pennies were tossed and a man cried for his friend.
I sat there silently, afraid of Sammy. And I stand here today, still aware of fear in my heart to say who I am, what I feel, what I see and love. For I know it is easy to praise the King of Kings, the Lord of Lords, the Christ on High.
But He came to tell us that there is only one way to find Him, to find out heart's desire. That is to be passionate about this life, to love as best we can, from our weaknesses, from our strengths.
It can be a long and lonely road to loving. For God is to be found in everyone, in Trotter and Leroy, and even in Sammy. But how we so maim the greatest gift we have which is each other.
I lost track of Leroy and Trotter. I am sure they are long gone.
Leroy's name means "the king." I know now he lives with his namesake. Trotter can now speak his heart out, and walk and walk the roads in the kingdom. And perhaps Sammy learned on this side of the grave that he once tossed pennies to the God who made him, who forgave him, who loved him.
Father James Stephen (Jeff) Behrens, O.C.S.O., serves at the Monastery of the Holy Spirit, 2625 Ga. Highway 212 S.W., Conyers. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.