Several years ago, I was doing a chaplain training program in a small town in Iowa. It was a hot summer night, and a couple of my classmates and I went down the local theater to see a movie. It wasn’t a movie that I would have gone to see, but it was air-conditioned and the dorm I was living in wasn’t and there was nothing better to do than see Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me. It was a lot funnier than I thought it would be, and the villain of the movie kept saying to people he didn’t like “Talk to the hand” when he didn’t want to listen to what they were saying to him. Talk to the hand: the ears aren’t open for business. Talk to the hand: your lips are moving but I’m not hearing anything. Dr. Evil was making his teenage son, Scott, talk to the hand a lot, which is a pity because Scott was saying things that Dr. Evil should have been listening to.
Who we listen to is always important. A lot of our most disastrous mistakes are those we make when we’ve just refused to listen. That’s not only true of Dr. Evil in the Austin Powers movie, but many of the tragic figures of history: they didn’t listen, particularly when they needed to hear something they didn’t want to. When American governments don’t listen to news they don’t want to hear, they get into trouble rather quickly, and they tend to pay the price for that at the polls. Not like that hasn’t happened recently. Listen to the hand is a recipe for disaster.
This is nothing new in the world of Scripture. Kings that did not walk in the way of the Lord did not listen, and paid the price for not listening. The king of Israel in Elijah’s time, Ahaz, did not listen to advice not to engage in battle, and was killed. The last righteous king of Judah, Josiah the reformer, did not listen either to his advisors or his adversary the pharoah of Egypt, and sought battle at Megiddo and paid for that with his life. In the world of Scripture, listening meant more than just hearing what was said. It meant acting on what you heard.
The just king is the one who listens. This is raised to another level when we talk about God: when God hears the prayers of his people, it means that God is ready to do something based on what people are saying to him. From the time of slavery in Egypt, God hearing the cry of those oppressed was the sign of action was just about to take place. God hearing the cry of people in exile or people oppressed is the sign that God is going to work to rescue and restore them.
It’s difficult for us to talk about Christ our King with a lot of practical experience. We kicked our kings out of this country over 235 years ago, and we have no person that has the kind of status or dignity that has been associated with kings historically. Today, kings and queens are primarily symbolic figures with no power to rule; they are not heads of government who make policy or who can always act in order to enforce their will. Even if we can get a handle on what a king was about, as they were understood in biblical times, from today’s conversation Jesus has with Pilate, Jesus is a king unlike any human king. Even if we knew the model of kingship as it was, Jesus has already put Himself beyond our experience.
Let me suggest to you that the key is the last sentence of today’s gospel: “Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.” What is the truth that we belong to? The truth of “. . . him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood. . .” The truth of the one who claims us as part of his body until the end of time. The truth of the one who has always acted on behalf of the poor, the outcast, those on the margins. The truth that the kingdom of God is already breaking out into the world today.
It is the truth that encompasses everything we believe. This is the last Sunday in the Church year; next Sunday we being a new year when we celebrate the First Sunday in Advent and being the cycle again. Today we summarize everything we’ve gone through since the beginning of Advent last year. We pull together the expectation of Advent, the celebration of Christmas, the reformation of Lent, the resurrection of Easter, the fire of Pentecost, and the rest of the feasts of the Blessed Mother, the Saints and all the days that make up our journey of faith. And what is it that ties all of this together? Listening. Our membership in this kingdom is about listening.
Our challenge is to be people who belong to the truth. Our challenge is to listen to the voice of Jesus, and act on it. Our challenge is act on what we hear, to be people of the kingdom not only by what we do but how we respond to the voice of our King.
Christ the King calls us to be part of the kingdom by listening to his voice. He calls us to hear him and follow the example for living that He showed us through His life, death, ascension, and resurrection, powered by the Spirit that He sent us. Christ the King calls us into His banquet hall, wants us to drag people in from the highways and the byways to fill it, to share the feast He has prepared for us. Christ the King calls us to eat with him so we can listen. When we come forward we’re not saying: “talk to the hand”, but we’re using our hands to listen, both as we receive the body of Christ, and as we go from here to respond to the truth.
There are many ways to belong to the truth; there are many ways to listen and respond to the voice of Christ the King. How we do this, both together and individually, is one of the great challenges of our faith.