25 November. 34th Sunday. Feast of Jesus Christ, Universal King
Dan 7:13-14. The coming “Son of Man” who will have dominion over all peoples.
Rev. 1:5-8. The risen Christ will take possession of his kingdom, in the end.
Jn 18:33-37. Jesus is indeed a King, but of no earthly kingdom.
Royal Witness to the Truth
Has kingship gone out of fashion? Nowadays, democracy, with all its complexities, is the generally accepted form of regulating society. Except in a figurative sense, like “king of the road,” words like royalty and kingship smack too much of authority and an absolute demand for our respect and obedience and evoke a bygone age, marked with the trappings of privilege and power. The old notion of “The divine right of kings” often served to justify radical inequality and the suppression of individual rights. Therefore, many regard kingship as an unsuitable image for our modern world. In light of all this, what do we mean when we say today, that Christ is our king?
Does it mean that he rules over us with authority? That he demands our loyal service and submission? That he would suppress our right to self-expression and the free exercise of personal rights? Today’s Gospel puts us on the right track to understand what kind of king he really is. Jesus told the Roman Governor that his kingship was like no other: “My kingdom is not of this world.” His kingship is far removed from our usual notion of kings.
Standing as a prisoner, robed and crowned with thorns as a mock king before this ruthless military governor, Jesus claims a spiritual authority that has nothing to do with external trappings or the power to compel by force. His authority is the authority of truth. He is king by the fact that he lives the truth and has the power to lead others to the truth – the truth that can save them to eternal life: “for this I was born and came into the world, to bear witness to the truth. All who are on the side of truth listen to my voice” (John 18:37.)
Christ lived by the truth and he died for it. Through the centuries his followers have continued to commit their lives and even risk their all for loyalty to him. In him the Son of the Eternal God, the one who reveals the Father of all truth, millions have found the source and the inspiration for their own deepest truth, the truth which makes them free. His word, contained in the Scriptures, gives us the clearest kind of truth.
The truth of Christ is one of word and action, perfectly in harmony. Truth was vitally important to him, who hated all sham and pretense. Perhaps we tend to think of the truth in terms of the spoken word mostly. And we could be economical with it.. All those questions we posed, to see how to conceal the truth without actually lying. The old ironic remark “whatever you say, say nothing!” is still to be heard. But truth is something to be loved and lived, something to be acted upon, as St Paul says, “doing the truth in love” (Eph. 4:15.) It is by doing the truth in love that we honour his kingship. We spread his kingdom, his saving rule on earth. Doing the truth wherever we are, in business, in politics, at work or at home, should be our ideal, our guiding value, the hallmark of our lives.
To get deeper in touch with the truth demands our attention and maybe some change in our lifestyle. It needs periods of quiet, even spending some time with him in personal prayer. Truth cannot really mark our lives without the inspiration which comes from Christ its source. It has to flow from prayer to life, and back into prayer again. A new commitment to the truth can give us a new vision of life. And far from oppressing us, Christ the King of truth will be the one to set us free.
- “King” has an odd sound for people of republican belief, who have no desire to return to old-fashioned ideas of absolute monarchy or dictatorship.
- The utterly unique and non-political kingship of Jesus still has validity as a spiritual ideal: our Shepherd-King, utterly devoted to the good of his people, his “flock” for whom he gives his life.
- He is the one sent by the Eternal Father (the “Ancient One,” Dan 7:13) to establish an everlasting kingship in the minds and hearts of his followers.
- He declares to Pilate that his power – in contrast with all punitive, worldly authority – depends on his utter truthfulness. Whoever loves and seeks the real truth belongs to his kingdom (Jn 18:37.)
- Where do we seek for truth in our own lives? We must go deeper than the news, to find the truth that will set us free.
Bearing witness to the truth
(courtesy of the Bat Kol website)
The full title of today’s feast captures an emphasis missing in abbreviated titles like the feast of ‘Christ the King’. The full title places emphasis on the Risen Jesus as the Cosmic Christ, and recognizes the interconnectedness of all creation. We are one with the universe. In today’s world in which democracy is held up as a political ideal there is some feeling that the notions of king and kingship are inappropriate as metaphors for God, Jesus, and our relationship with the Divine. However the terms are deeply embedded in our Scripture – the two words occur a total of 239 times in the New Testament (NRSV) alone. They are not going to go away, so what are we to do?
Today’s Gospel reading holds a clue. This reading in which Pilate questions Jesus for the first time is one scene of John’s elaborately constructed passion story. He has written the account in chiastic, or sandwich-like fashion, with 20 matching layers symmetrically arranged around a central layer that describes the mock crowning of Jesus. Within the story the crowning with thorns is a barbarous act of torture and humiliation, but for the reader who knows who Jesus really is, it becomes a statement of his universal kingship. The kingship of Jesus is a major focus for John.
This is borne out by examining the use of the word ‘king’ in the four Gospels. John uses it for Jesus far more often than any of the others: 16 times as against five or six in each of Matthew, Mark and Luke. Of these 16 occurrences, 12 are found in his passion story. In today’s short passage the two words ‘king’ and ‘kingdom’ occur a total of six times. So the kingship of Jesus is an important theological theme for John. But how to interpret it?
The clue John offers us is in Jesus’ answer to Pilate’s question “Are you the king of the Jews?”. The answer begins and ends with Jesus insisting that “My kingship is not of this world…my kingship is not from the world”. In drawing a sharp contrast between what he means by being king and what the world means, Jesus is drawing on the best insights of his Hebrew scripture and the traditions of his people. So, what does Jesus understand by ‘king’ and ‘kingshhip’?
One story that makes it clear is the story of the coronation of Solomon in 1 Kings 1:5-40. On the death of David his ambitious son Adonijah surrounds himself with the worldly trappings of kingship including horses and chariots, but Zadok the priest and Nathan the prophet take Solomon to the spring of Gihon to be anointed, mounted on King David’s mule, the ordinary person’s beast of burden. The ideal king is one with his people and he shares their lot.
Picking up the cosmic theme of today’s liturgy, consider also the command given to the first humans in Genesis 1:28 to have dominion over all other creatures. The Hebrew verb radah means to ‘rule over’ but the kind of rule can be inferred from the kind that Israel’s kings were to exercise, and it is well expressed in 1 Kings 12:7 when the elders advise the new King Rehoboam: If you will be a servant to this people today and serve them…then they will be your servants forever. The servant kingship modeled by Jesus during his lifetime (e.g. Mk 10:45) is true biblical kingship and it has a lot to say about our relationships with him, with one another, and with our earth and all its creatures.
Kevin L McDonnell,
Winbourne Retreat Centre, Mulgoa NSW, Australia. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
First Reading: Book of Daniel 7:13-14
As I watched in the night visions, I saw one like a human being coming with the clouds of heaven. And he came to the Ancient One and was presented before him. To him was given dominion and glory and kingship, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that shall not pass away, and his kingship is one that shall never be destroyed.
Second Reading: Book of Revelation 1:5-8
Jesus Christ, the faithful witness, is the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth. To him who loves us and freed us from our sins by his blood, and made us to be a kingdom, priests serving his God and Father, to him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen. 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 wail. So it is to be. Amen. “I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.
Gospel: John 18:33-37
Then Pilate entered the headquarters again, summoned Jesus, and asked him, “Are you the King of the Jews?” Jesus answered, “Do you ask this on your own, or did others tell you about me?” Pilate replied, “I am not a Jew, am I? Your own nation and the chief priests have handed you over to me. What have you done?” Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not from this world. If my kingdom were from this world, my followers would be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Jews. But as it is, my kingdom is not from here.” Pilate asked him, “So you are a king?” Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Whoever belongs to the truth listens to my voice.”