“So, Pilate said to him, ‘Then you are a king?’ Jesus answered, ‘You say I am a king. For this I was born and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.’” Words from our Gospel today from the 18th chapter of the Gospel according to John – sisters and brothers, may the Lord give to you his peace and his joy.
Today’s celebration of Christ the King is the realization of all our theology, the culmination towards which all our Sunday meditations have been taking us and towards which history has been moving, when Christ finally reigns over all of creation. But to understand this feast, we have to think about what kingship entails. It might be good to start with, “what is your idea of a king?” Maybe you are thinking right now of a particular political leader as a king, whatever their actual title may be, or whether they are currently in the capacity of governing or did so in the History of the World, and not just Mel Brooks here declaring “It’s good to be the king,” but other such figures at some point or another ruling over ancient Egypt, Rome, China, the Middle East, or Europe. Let’s acknowledge that some of these historical leaders have been good and benevolent rulers, while others are more deplorable or forgettable. When you think of the dignity of a king, do you picture something more refined like the portrayal of Queen Elizabeth from the Crown on Netflix or do you think of King George III, the monarch who ruled England during the American Revolution who was depicted as somewhat of a buffoon in the recent Broadway musical Hamilton? Or perhaps, kingship is something more imaginative, like our Disney royalty, princes and princesses, or even the fascination we have with the idea of having control over our own world, like Burger King which asserts you can, “have it your way.”
The idea of kingship has different connotations, some good, some bad. Even for people in Jesus’ Day, there were different ideas of kingship which we hear playing out in the readings today. Indeed, Jesus stands on trial before Pilate, who asks him directly, “Are you the King of the Jews?” In the political sense, this title suggests a king set up in opposition to Caesar. As the governor of this backwater Roman province, Pontius Pilate would be concerned if there was opposition to Rome, and would be responsible for putting down revolts. Even though we see this as a ploy of the chief priests, scribes, and Pharisees against Jesus, we should not be conceited, for even Jesus’ own followers misunderstood what kingship meant. Throughout his ministry, they were looking to make him king, indeed thinking he would lead his people to freedom from the Romans. The apostles even ask Jesus after his resurrection, right before he ascends into heaven, “are you now going to restore the Kingdom to Israel?” It is precisely for this reason that Jesus continuously warned people not to make him known, and why he says very definitively today that his Kingdom is not of this world. Given the notions of kingship that were actually out there, all circulating around this Jesus character, Pilate was right to be disturbed. Indeed, Jesus is condemned and crucified officially as an enemy of the state.
What is ironic is that Pilate is actually the one on trial here, on trial before God himself. Jesus declares today: “Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.” It is the voice of the one true king. Pilate is guilty of not acknowledging this truth, for he cannot imagine a kingdom not of this world, a kingdom that did not originate on earth, is not humanly conceived, and does not operate like other political entities, which at times requires fighting and violence to maintain over and against other kingdoms. Whereas earthly kingdoms vie for power and territory, influence, economic well-being, and prestige in this world, God’s Kingdom as described by Daniel and Revelation is above all and over all. Whereas the kingships of the world come and go, whereas kingdoms rise and fall, God’s is an everlasting reign, established in peace and freedom, love and truth. All other Kingdoms of this world, fall short of this mark. As alpha and omega, the beginning and end, the reality is: everything that is, was, and is to come falls under God’s domain, and we will only find our ultimate fulfillment by joining ourselves to God’s reign. Indeed, a personal relationship with Jesus and acknowledgement of Jesus as the Truth is the entrance into this Kingdom: ‘Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.’ As it is, Pilate acknowledges that he has no relationship with Jesus: “How should I know you? I’m not a Jew, am I?” What Pilate knows of Jesus is what he has heard from others. In the end, Pilate reveals he doesn’t belong to the truth because he doesn’t listen to the voice of Jesus, but instead listens to the wrong voices as he condemns Jesus.
Pilate’s struggle is a struggle for us today as well. Many of us go about our lives, building up our own kingdoms in this world, live by our own terms, and forget about the true and eternal kingdom. We set ourselves up as Kings and Queens of our own worlds, and at times we don’t listen to what God asks of us, justifying ourselves with the thought and belief: “A loving God wouldn’t condemn me for that, would he? How could God be so insensitive to who I am and what I want? Does God really say he is present in the Eucharist? Does God really say he who divorces one and marries another commits adultery. Did God really say, don’t eat from the fruit of that tree? Yes, yes and yes – it’s all right there in the Bible, along with other such teachings carried on through the Church. We forget that God came to free us from this world, giving us these teachings out of love for our wellbeing and happiness; but before we know it, we end up in opposition to God’s reign as we question and ignore his voice. We abandon the truth for our own. And in doing so, we become Pontius Pilate, along with the chief priests and scribes, all playing defense of our own kingdoms, all the while still mired in the mess of this world, still stuck with the consequences of our poor choices and sinfulness. Sooner or later, that reality will hit us, as Revelation tells us: ‘Behold, he is coming amid the clouds, and every eye will see him, even those who pierced him.’ We cannot acknowledge Jesus as Lord and King unless we let him rule over our lives. “Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.” Let us listen to the voice of love, and give our lives over to him, King of the Universe forever.
The Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe
As the visions during the night continued, I saw
one like a Son of man coming,
on the clouds of heaven;
when he reached the Ancient One
and was presented before him,
the one like a Son of man received dominion, glory, and kingship;
all peoples, nations, and languages serve him.
His dominion is an everlasting dominion
that shall not be taken away,
his kingship shall not be destroyed.
- (1a) The Lord is king; he is robed in majesty.
The LORD is king, in splendor robed;
robed is the LORD and girt about with strength.
R. The Lord is king; he is robed in majesty.
And he has made the world firm,
not to be moved.
Your throne stands firm from of old;
from everlasting you are, O LORD.
R. The Lord is king; he is robed in majesty.
Your decrees are worthy of trust indeed;
holiness befits your house,
O LORD, for length of days.
R. The Lord is king; he is robed in majesty.
Jesus Christ is the faithful witness,
the firstborn of the dead and ruler of the kings of the earth.
To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood,
who has made us into a kingdom, priests for his God and Father,
to him be glory and power forever and ever. Amen.
Behold, he is coming amid the clouds,
and every eye will see him,
even those who pierced him.
All the peoples of the earth will lament him.
“I am the Alpha and the Omega, ” says the Lord God,
“the one who is and who was and who is to come, the almighty.”
- Alleluia, alleluia.
Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!
Blessed is the kingdom of our father David that is to come!
Pilate said to Jesus,
“Are you the King of the Jews?”
Jesus answered, “Do you say this on your own
or have others told you about me?”
Pilate answered, “I am not a Jew, am I?
Your own nation and the chief priests handed you over to me.
What have you done?”
Jesus answered, “My kingdom does not belong to this world.
If my kingdom did belong to this world,
my attendants would be fighting
to keep me from being handed over to the Jews.
But as it is, my kingdom is not here.”
So Pilate said to him, “Then you are a king?”
Jesus answered, “You say I am a king.
For this I was born and for this I came into the world,
to testify to the truth.
Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.”