Daniel 7:13-14; Revelation 1:5-8; John 18:33-37
Today on the Last Sunday of the liturgical year we celebrate the feast of Christ the King. This feast expresses the all-embracing authority of Christ as King and Lord of the Universe. Officially called the Feast of Our Lord Jesus Christ the King, it is celebrated on the final Sunday of Ordinary Time, the Sunday before Advent. Pope Pius XI instituted The Feast of Christ the King in 1925 in his encyclical Quas Primas. Pope Pius connected the denial of Christ as king to the rise of secularism. At the time of Quas Primas, secularism was on the rise, and many Christians, even Catholics, were doubting Christ’s authority, as well as the Church’s, and even doubting Christ’s existence. Pius XI, and the rest of the Christian world, witnessed the rise of dictatorships in Europe, and saw Catholics being taken in by these earthly leaders. Just as the Feast of Corpus Christi was instituted when devotion to the Eucharist was at a low point, the Feast of Christ the King was instituted during a time when respect for Christ and the Church was waning, when the feast was most needed. In fact, it is still needed today, as these problems have not vanished, but instead have worsened.
In the world of democracy the titles of “lord” and “king” for Christ may not be realistic because such titles are borrowed from oppressive systems of government. The kings are often identified with pride, undue use of authority, wars and sometimes even immoral lives. However true these statements might be these individuals miss the point: Christ’s kingship is one of humility and service. Jesus said: You know that those who are recognized as rulers over the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones make their authority over them felt. But it shall not be so among you. Rather, whoever wishes to become great among you will be your servant; whoever wishes to be first among you will be the slave of all. For the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many. To Pilate he says that his kingdom is one of Truth and for this he was born and for this he came into the world to testify for the truth. Today’s Mass establishes the titles for Christ’s royalty over men: First of all, Christ is God, the Creator of the universe and hence extends his supreme power over all things; “All things were created by Him”. Secondly, Christ is our Redeemer; He purchased us by His precious Blood, and made us His property and possession. Thirdly, Christ is Head of the Church, “holding in all things the primacy”. Finally, God bestowed upon Christ the nations of the world as his special possession and dominion. Today’s Mass also describes the qualities of Christ’s kingdom. This kingdom is primarily supreme, extending not only to all peoples but also to their princes and kings. Secondly, it is universal, extending to all nations and to all places. Thirdly, it is eternal, for “The Lord shall remain a King forever”. Finally, it is spiritual, Christ’s “kingdom is not of this world”.
In today’s First Reading, Prophet Daniel announces the coming of the Son of man, who has been given “dominion and glory and kingdom”. He comes served by “peoples, nations and languages” and his “dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom one that shall not be destroyed”. The reading tells us that the new king is given power, authority, glory and kingship over all people, and his kingship is one that shall never be destroyed.” The present Kingdom of God on earth, spiritual in nature, invisible to the naked eye, is one that shall remain forever. This is in contrast to the vision that begins with the vivid description of the four beasts with such disturbing appearance. These four creatures represent the empires that ruled over God’s faithful people. Now the human figure that comes will pass judgment over the beasts is filled with heavenly brilliance. He arrives from heaven giving them the hope and his kingdom will last forever. This kingdom is eternal land lasting. This passage indeed refers to the God who is dwelling among His people as the rightful King. His Kingdom has arrived on earth as promised.
Another proof that the aforementioned passage is found in today’s Second Reading. It says, “Look! He is coming with the clouds; every eye will see him, even those who pierced him; and on his account all the tribes of the earth will lament. So it is to be. Amen.” He is the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. He is God Almighty, who was, who is and who is to come. Surely, this is the reference to an all pervading God who existed and will exist all the time. And this cannot just be a reference to the future as some allege regarding the Second Coming and the future Kingdom of God. His kingship will remain forever. Jesus is above all a king of love. He deserves submission of all creation. Secondly, Jesus manifests his kingship in a special way by forming a kingdom of priests for his God and father. We must remember that the Book of Revelation was written for the Christian community when it was under persecution during the Roman rule. At a time when it was easy to lose hope, to forget the saving presence of God, John reminded people of the Risen Savior in their midst to give them new hope.
We need to look to Jesus to explain for us what being king is all about. We need to look to the one who never claimed the title of King, the one whose crown is made of thorns, the one whose throne is a cross, the one whose royal garment is a towel which he uses to wash the feet of his subjects. Jesus gives us a whole new way of understanding kingship and royalty. On the cross he’s tempted three times, by the rulers, the soldiers and one of the criminals, not unlike those three temptations in the desert earlier in his career. Jesus is tempted to use his power to save himself, rather than his people. But unlike most other kings throughout history, Jesus remains calm and composed in the face of these temptations. He remains calm because he knows who he is, and he knows who he loves. Jesus is a man in love with his people. Jesus is a king who puts his people first because he loves them. Truly, madly, deeply, Christ the King loves his people.
The Gospel of today speaks of a strange confrontation between Pilate, the Roman Governor, and Jesus. An encounter between a man who feels, as the chief authority of a colonial regime, that he has unlimited power and Jesus, a travelling preacher who seems to have none. Pilate asks Jesus whether he is the king of the Jews. Jesus who is bound as a prisoner and scourged for no wrong he had done, stands before the governor courageously and asks him whether it is an honest question or a question that arises out of all rumours he had heard. Jesus converses with him as if they are equal which does not please Pilate. Jesus shows that real power and real authority are not in positions or titles but in the inner strength of the person. Yet he explains to Pilate that his kingdom is spiritual. Although Jesus does not explicitly respond by saying “I am a king”, he does speak very clearly about his “Kingdom” and his “Kingship” and we heard Jesus say, “My kingdom is not from this world.” This kingdom Jesus explains is based on justice and truth which Pilate fails to understand. At the same time he makes it clear to Pilate that he is a king but the kingdom he rules is not what Pilate talks about.
Ultimately Pilate and Jesus agree that Jesus indeed is a king. However, they are not at all talking about the same thing. Jesus, his kingship, his kingdom are not part of the world. Jesus as king is quite different from the conventional image. His presence did not fit into the Messiah-King image portrayed by people. Jesus has no army, no power and no political influence. In front of Pilate at this moment he looks anything but a king. Again when he is brought before Pilate he says Behold the man. This becomes a sign of mockery and rejection and even a gangster is chosen in his stead. His kingship of truth and justice is totally rejected. Yet it is very important for us to understand that the cross was the sign of his victory and is the throne of the king. It was a victory for life, for truth and for love. Jesus conquered death because he accepted it and passed through it. He gained life because he was so ready to let go of life. Jesus is saving this world through a process of total self giving. Jesus rules not by power but by truth and his truth is full revelation of the Father. The kingdom of God over which Jesus presides consists of the presence of God manifested fully in the reality of Jesus. Whoever listens to the voice of Jesus and believes in him is a member of the Kingdom of God.
We express our faith by calling Jesus our King. As the Preface of today’s Mass says, “As King he claims dominion over all creation that he may present to you, his almighty Father, an eternal and universal Kingdom. Jesus our King points all people to their God”. Jesus is really our King when we consciously become his subjects, when we listen to him, love him, serve him, and follow him. We belong to his kingship when, like him, we have reached that level of freedom which can really let go of everything, even of life itself in the struggle to make our world a world of truth, justice and love. That is the struggle to help make real the prayer we constantly say, “Your Kingdom come!” Paradoxically, one of the best ways to know Jesus is to go about helping others to know him. In order to share the knowledge, understanding and love of Jesus with others, we have to discover that knowledge, understanding and love for ourselves.
Fr Eugene Lobo SJ, Rome