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33-37 (Revised English Bible, 1996) Please stand for the reading of the Gospel:
Pilate then went back into his headquarters and summoned Jesus. “So you are the king of the Jews?” he said. Jesus replied, “ Is that your own question, or have others suggested it for you?” “Am I a Jew?” said Pilate. “Your own nation and their chief priests have brought you before me. What have you done?” Jesus replied, “My kingdom does not belong to this world. If it did, my followers would be fighting to save me from the clutches of the Jews. My kingdom belongs elsewhere.” “You are a king, then?” said Pilate. Jesus answered, “‘King is your word. My task is to bear witness to the truth.”
Today is the Feast of Christ the King, a new liturgical feast for the Church not yet a century old. It is a day set aside to proclaim – to celebrate Christ as King, although we do little to suggest what that really means...
...after all, as your mind drifts off to the word king, what do you picture? More than likely it is not the biblical image of a king, but to that we shall return.
But this day does more than just proclaim the mystery of Christ the King — it draws our attention to the reality of The Kingdom of Christ.
In this, it is a prophetic day, in this, let us listen to what God has to say.
It is right to ask ourselves and the more so as Christians who will shortly begin another liturgical year by celebrating the birth of a poor man who died a criminal, why is it necessary for such a day.
Perhaps, if you are introspective — or if you are a student of history — you already know the answer.
Pope Pius XI stood at the cross roads of history.
He surveyed the carnage left by what we know as World War I, a war our leaders promised would be the very last such war, while peering under the covering to watch as a new and terrible evil seeped into Europe driven by a small Austrian.
His goal was to remind those who would listen that the peace promised at Versailles — like every other peace promised at Versailles — was not a real peace...
...that no peace could last until Christ was recognized as king doing so in words not easily mistaken...
...to remind us of the perils of drawing too neatly a line between secular and sacred.
In the Great War, Christian Governments had warred against other Christian Governments; great rifts had appeared in Christianity — rifts blown wide with each artillery blast, with each spray of mustard gas, with every soldier killed in the pretension of the name of God but in the reality of greed.
Perhaps our pious brother from Rome had equally foreseen a return to the worst state of Christianity — when we would seek out to destroy those who did not worship our God. We know the tragic history of this religious envy — a strife set in motion when we take center stage.
Pius would labor against such a view that only the baptized Catholics could be saved, foreshadowing later theologians and their view of salvation. Perhaps he recognized fully that if Christ is King, it is not the Pope’s place to set aside some to hell and some to heaven because they are not Catholic. Thusly he addressed his letter not only to all baptized persons, Catholic or not, but so too to those outside the Christian faith.
Indeed, as Vatican II rightly declares, “many shall be saved” — to which Pope John Paul II reminds us of just how far this hope of salvation extends, even to what we would dare
care the universal. Christ is the hope of the world, the Evangelist declares (Matthew 12.21), although there are times we forget this, we forget where our real hope lies, and worst of all we forget just what this hope really is.
In many ways, Pope Pius’s institution of the Feast of Christ the King was a prophetic move.
When we ignore the reign of Christ, instead pretending to wear his royal robes, our hope turns to the great weakness of humanity. Yes, our species has done great things, but the one thing it cannot do — cannot rightly do nor maintain is the Righteousness of God.
This is the day, then, to remember our weaknesses not just during this past liturgical year, but so too in our history and to remind ourselves of the role of Christ as King and equally so, what this role truly means.
Ponder for a moment what this year as wrought in your world — the pain, the tragedy, the grief.
I confess to you that I have not survived this year without questioning God. I question God, but as I have come to understand, if I did not recognize God as Lord I would not question him so forcefully. We do not face the same plight Pope Pius faced in 1925, yet we face deep challenges that threaten to at the very least rattle our foundation.
Perhaps, today, we can take this day to mediate upon the unchanging King in this ever changing world.
We boast with no small amount of pride of the time we slaughtered our kings and of the great Republic in which we stand. We are Americans and as such control our own fate through elections. Because of this, our lexicon has suffered greatly. We no longer truly know what a king is.
I would remind you that a king is not merely the figure head of a nation as we see in Europe today. A king is not subject to the people, nor indeed can be. A King is one who has absolute control over the destiny of his people. His people are not free of him, but an extension of him — they every bit, in every way, his.
The ancient king was the all-powerful monarch — priest, judge, and lawmaker. More than this, however, are the most ancient of kings who were the vicar of their god on earth.
And still yet, a king could save his people.
Perhaps, if we had a king of all people, he could save us all.
Have we lost too much of a meaning of the word king, or perhaps...
...become too enamored with our very American view of royalty that we find it difficult to reconcile our Savior to such a role as a king?
Have we democratized Heaven and the King of Glory?
Scripture teaches us that Christ is indeed king, but this is a title Jesus avoided for himself. Matthew and Luke tell us Jesus descended from the greatest King of Israel — that ignoble fool David.
More than that, the Adversary recognized Jesus as king while the angels announced Jesus as king. Yet, a birth and recognition as such does not a king make.
What makes Christ a king is not his human descent but that heavenly begotten role.
In the great creeds of the Christian Church we recognize Christ as the only begotten son of God, taking our language here from the Fourth Gospel but we also recognize more than this — that Christ is of one substance with the Father so that the Son is likewise “God of God, Light of Light” and as such, King from very King. Indeed, he is king of kings.
It is only in the doctrine of the Trinity we can know the full depth of Christ as King.
Time and attention does not permit us to fully expound upon every kingly duty of Christ.
Yes, Christ governs us.
Yes, Christ fights for us.
And each of these things can be expressed in ancient theological tomes, but what concerns us today is the unique duty and benefit of our eternal king.
The ancient King, as I have said, was also one who was the vicar of God to his people and likewise, the image of his people to their God. When Israel sought a king, this was equal to denying to God the unique relationship he had given Israel, to walk and to talk with God individually, to have direct access to God. Israel, instead, wanted a king to be their god on earth, a desire fulfilled with disastrous results.
The Jesus who is of one substance with the Father provides for something David and Solomon could not. He is not the vicar of God...
...Jesus is God.
As King, Jesus is to us more than a temporary vessel for God, but is God to us. Jesus is not the temporary King, but the eternal King. His message, then, is eternal.
The Roman idea of a king is not one of this magnificence.
In the history of Rome, a republic had replaced the ancient Latin kings and Caesar had replaced the Republic. The Roman idea of a king had become one of a laughable stooge, who sat upon a throne Rome had given him.
Of course, in the Empire even the gods bowed to Caesar.
Imagine then, Pilate who represented Caesar and all of Rome standing above Jesus who by this time was wounded, exhausted, and nothing more than a petty bandit.
Pilate thunders with the voice of a legion, “Are you the king of the Jews?!” Pilate was no friend of the Jews and no doubt will easily kill Jesus regardless of his answer.
Our would-be king spoke, his voice shaky. Maybe it was fear, or maybe because of the sorrow of having his closest friends abandon him. Perhaps it was simply because he was famished, his last meal some bread and wine.
Jesus was covered in horse dung, blood, and the bodily waste of a Roman garrison. His hair matted with things not worth speaking of. His only answer was a question, to see who had told Pilate this lie.
A thunderous laugh echoes on the stone walls. Pilate rises out of his seat to beckon Jesus closer. Here was a king who not only stank but in his false bravido openly challenged Rome. Pilate, enjoying himself now, played the same game he believed Jesus to play and asked the Jew a question, “Am I a Jew!?” as if to say that he would not stoop so low as to declare Jesus a king. “Your chief priests have accused you of treason! Are they lying?”
Jesus stands before Pilate not just as a treasonous usurper to the Davidic throne, but as one rejected by his own people. In this, Pilate gloated.
Quietness again fills the spring air. Pilate is boastful, his praetorians stand ready to hack Jesus to death at the given word. I believe Jesus raises his head here but does not look
Pilate in the eye. The rejected Jew, the would-be king, the image of God, speaks, saying, “My kingdom is not of this earth; it if was, I would not have been betrayed by my friend and given to you by my people, but instead, as I stand here today, my army would be marching against the city gates and Jerusalem would be ours.” Jesus is silent for a moment, perhaps regretting something.
“My kingdom is elsewhere,” he whispers, too loudly for Pilate, and for us, to ignore.
Pilate is somewhat startled. Jesus wasn’t just talking to a Roman citizen, but in speaking to Pilate Jesus was talking to Caesar, to the Roman Empire, even to the Roman gods. Pilate represented them all. Jesus did not just make a veiled threat. Instead, Jesus seemed to have confirmed something.
Pilate again, timidly this time, asks him, “You — are you a king. Tell me!?”
Our Savior, the one who’s birth we will begin to celebrate soon simply responds, “A king?”
I imagine Jesus here pausing for effect, drawing Pilate in. Maybe Pilate steps just a little closer, on the edge of his seat, holding his breath.
Jesus calmly and simply says, “This is your word for it, Pilate, not mine. No, my task is to bear witness to the truth.”
Jesus did not refuse the title of king, to be sure, so much as he recognized that the word for it was only a human word. The word king is a limitation, just as any word truly is. Indeed, how many of our own words are that of our culture and tradition — so limiting when we encounter something new, so fragile when we realize how the times have changed. We are learning now just how impactful genderizing language can be; how persuasive political language is; how much one little word will transform someone either for the good or the for the bad. And yet, we still presume to use the same words for God as if all that we know of God can be summed up in one little word...
A king — yes, that is our word for it, but is not the final word.
Let us consider the truth Jesus testifies too. It is a truth we must not separate from who Jesus is. Keep in mind that the duty of the ancient king was also to bring to his people their god. Jesus is not merely testifying to some grand philosophical or theological truth, but he is testifying to the message of the only true God, the God of Truth, the El-ow-hay ah-mane as my Hebrew friend says, has given him (Isaiah 65.16).
John opens up his gospel with a declaration that Jesus has come to give the true light to everyone. In another place, Jesus declares that the truth he has come to tell is just how much love the Father has for the world, so much so that the Son is given for the world.
In yet another place, Jesus declares that truly all people will come to worship the Father. Over there, Jesus promises a Spirit that will guide all into truth. Here, Jesus has promised that all who are dead will live again. What then is this truth but that, “salvation is given to all?”
In Revelation, our fifth Gospel, Jesus is the one on the white horse who brings the Saints with him from Heaven to free the peoples of the earth from the forces of evil. In
other Gospel, Jesus says that he will announce the Good News to the poor, release the captives, give sight to the blind, and let the broken victims go free (Luke 4.18-19).
Only an all-mighty and victorious king may render such a verdict, give such a pardon, demand such a freedom for the captives.
The promises of God through Christ are not like the promises of our earthly leaders. We were promised no more wars and a world safe for democracy. At times, we are promised no new taxes, hope and yes, we are promised change — we are promised faithfulness, love, and happiness.
To many of us, the failure of these promises have produced a cancer known as cynicism. Doubt means you still have faith — no, this is something worse. Our earthly kings are apt at making promises, but find it difficult to keep them. Yet, Christ is a King who has made a promise that cannot fail. The Apostle reminds us that the reason we say “Amen” to him is because in Jesus are all of the promises God (2 Co. 1.20). Amen, the Hebrew word for Truth, is who Jesus Christ is.
Let me now declare, without any fear and with a heart strangely warmed, more forcefully this message which Jesus and the early Church dared to proclaim in windowless buildings, in dark alleys, against religionists even of their own persuasion, even against the might of Rome itself.
The truth and the salvation of God is no longer limited to just a select group of people, controlled by those who hold it back, but now Jesus testifies that salvation is given to all. As by one man sin had entered the world, now by one man salvation is given to all. God’s grace has far exceeded the sin of Adam. Adam was given dominion over the earth, but he failed as governor and in his sin, came death and disobedience.
God’s gift then must out pace the sin, God’s justice must dwarf the crime (Rom. 5.1213). It would not be a governor nor prophet this time but a King. No religion, no priest, not even Rome — not even you or I — can decide who will be saved.
All earthly empires, the fifth Gospel declares, yield their sovereignty to Jesus Christ (Rev. 11.15). Yes, even the empire of sin.
The old order has passed away and behold, Christ reigns in this new order and in this new order is something we struggle with today.
It seems that in our world, even in our most wondrous corner of it, the Feast of Christ the King has again become a needful prophetic day. It calls us to remember Christ as King, but more than this, it requires us to focus on who Christ is as King, what he does, and to whom his kingdom reaches. When we are so ready to cast aside our neighbor, to derive someone of their humanity because of their own faith, because of this or that — because of our excuse; when we are so ready to assume so easily that we speak through God — it is all together necessary and proper that we begin this day anew to proclaim that Christ is King.
It reminds us, then, that words fail us as often as our traditions. We are reminded by this feast that yes, Christ is King, but he is King by his position with the Father.
Christ brings a truth vastly different than other truths.
This truth is that because Christ is king, the salvation he has brought has encompassed all.
As the liturgical year draws to close and the Church begins to reexamine the life of Jesus from the manger to the cross, I would implore you to examine the continued reign of Christ as king.
Make use of these prophetic feast days, of the holidays, even of the ordinary days in which God is still speaking. I would not be so grass as to ask you to make Jesus king of your life — see, that is the point. Jesus does not need to be made king of anything. He is already your king.
No, instead of clichés, let me ask you to consider this.
If Christ is truly king — if he is truly one with the Father —
If Christ has promised all...
...then is there any person, place, or thing, Jesus does not reign over? Can Jesus ever lose anyone?
When you see the stranger under the cold bridge, beckon him to warmth as a child of the king. When you see the unclothed, clothe her as royalty. When you see the one who seeks a different path to God, of if it is the case that the person seeks a path away from God, listen to him as you would your brother for this one too is a child of the great king of Jerusalem. See the Muslim. See the Jew. The Buddhist, the Hindu, the atheist. See the different Christian.
See them all as the children of the King we celebrate this day.
In this type of community, you will find the kingdom of God that eluded Pilate and threatens to elude us this very day.
Let me leave you with the greatest promise Christ has given — He told his disciples that when he is lifted up on the cross, he would draw all to him (John 12.32).
And listen, my friends, “it is not that the Lord is slow in keeping his promise but that he is patient with us because it is not his will that any should be lost, but that all will come to repentance (2 Peter 3.9).”
Consider the hidden depth of the word all and go, pray more forcefully, “thy kingdom come...”
BEHOLD, JESUS THE CHRIST,
BEHOLD, CHRIST THE KING, WHO IS IN HIS KINGDOM. Amen.
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