Sunday, November 25, 2012

"Not everything that glitters is gold." (A Brief Reflection on the Solemnity of Christ the King, John 18:33-37)

As usual, it was the news story of the day (Black Friday)—the official start of the Holiday Shopping season. News story after news story showed it all, people lining up for hours to be the first to get their hands on a bargain. One news feature showed a growing number of people who now decide to forsake Thanksgiving at home and instead camp outside stores from 7 am on Thanksgiving day and bring their Thanksgiving turkey and pumpkin pie with them while waiting in line for hours. (By the way, they just coined a new phrase to describe the fact that shopping now begins, not on Friday, but on Thanksgiving Day itself; they're calling it "Gray Thursday".)
Another video on Youtube showed a number of people pushing each other and screaming at each other, just to get their hands on some cheap prepaid cellular phones. In one mall, a shopper pulled a gun on someone who cut the line.

Yet another interesting item that was played over and over again the last two days was the increasing number of people who prefer to shop over the internet. It’s quick, hassle-free, with no long lines, and you can even do a bit of research and read product reviews by others who have bought them.

I myself was looking at these product reviews, not because I was going to buy something, but because some of them might prove useful as examples in Social Ethics class. Some of the reviews were particularly hilarious.

One of the funniest I saw said: “It looked good, it felt good, the price seemed like a really great bargain… item didn’t work… totally lousy, worthless piece of …..” I’m not going to finish the last word, but you can pretty much fill in the blanks.

It seems that one of the many great lessons of every shopping season is that “looks can be deceiving”. “Not everything that glitters is gold”. Perhaps we can even say: “Not everything that seems like a bargain, is really a bargain”. There’s a “good deal”; and then there’s the “real deal”. Looks can deceive, and not everything that glitters is gold.

Today’s gospel places before us, two men who stand in stark contrast to one another.  On the one hand, you have Pilate, the earthly ruler, dressed in royal finery, with all the trappings of wealth and power.

On the other hand, you have Jesus, garbed in a dirty and bloody robe, all beaten and bruised, with a crown of thorns placed on him by Pilates’ soldiers who mocked and beat him.

Two men, one looking like a ruler, the other looking pretty much like trash. The contrast and irony is striking. For when we consider these two men, we find ourselves asking: “Which of the two is the real ruler? Who has the real power? Which one is the real deal, and which one simply looks like it?”

Pilate certainly looked like a ruler. But we know had the real power in the story. And it wasn’t him.

Jesus certainly looked defeated. But we know who’s the real winner in the end. And it wasn’t Pilate.

The contrast between them shows us the meaning of today’s feast. Jesus puts it in these words: “My kingdom is not of this world”.

Pilate and Jesus are put before us by the gospel to show us the stark difference between “the way of the world” and “the way of Christ”.

Pilate, the earthly ruler, stands for everything “worldly”. It’s all a big “show”, it’s about “being seen”. It’s all about externals. It’s about everything that glitters, that looks good, seems good, sounds good, and feels good.

But the question is: “Is it really good?” The answer, sadly, is “no”.

As that internet review said: “It looked good, it felt good, the price seemed like a really great bargain… but the item didn’t work… it was a totally lousy, worthless, piece of junk.”

Pilate, just like the world, is all about show, with very little soul. It may look good on the outside; inside it’s usually empty. “What does it profit a man to gain the whole world, but in the process lose his soul?” Jesus asks in another part of the gospel.

Today’s Feast of Christ the King is a reminder to us to not allow ourselves to be deceived and misled by the ways of the world. It invites us to look for what is valuable, not in fancy and showy externals, but in what is true, meaningful, and lasting.

Our values, our principles, our relationships with one another and finally, our faith in God: these things that last. It is these things that remain, long after we’re gone.

Two thousand years after the encounter between Pilate and Jesus, Jesus is the one who is celebrated as king and ruler, not Pilate.

We wouldn’t even be talking about Pilate, if it weren’t for Jesus. Pilate is largely forgotten, Jesus is not.

“My kingdom is not of this world”. Jesus’ words place a stark choice before us today, and it’s a choice that will determine whether we will live forever, like Christ; or be largely forgotten, like Pilate.

And the choice is simple: Shall we pattern our lives after this showy, unreal, and ultimately fading world? Or are we going to be like Christ? Are we going to be “the real deal?”

"The Kingdom of Heaven is a condition of the heart." (Friedrich Nietzsche)