Not a threat: Christ enables us to share in his kingship

Listen to mp3 file (13:17)
Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe, Year B:
Nov. 22, 2015

Dan 7:13-14; Ps 93; Rev 1:5-8; John 18:33-37

In our Gospel reading, Pontius Pilate had a question for Jesus: “Are you the King of the Jews?”

It is the morning of Good Friday, and the Jewish leaders in Jerusalem have brought Jesus to Pilate, the Roman governor, with the accusation that Jesus has claimed this title of king for himself. To Pilate, anyone who calls himself a king is fighting against the Roman government: declaring that he has rightful authority and not them, that others need to follow him and not them. In Pilate’s ears, the word “king” means a subversive rebel leader who must be stopped immediately. And Pilate asks: “Is that what you are? A king?”

Now, to our ears, as Americans living in the 21st century, a “king” sounds different. It could sound like a ceremonial figurehead who lives in palaces and dresses in nice clothes at ceremonies to symbolize the nation, without having any real power. But if it is a king with power, then we might think of how the Declaration of Independence characterized King George III of England: as a tyrant, someone who dominated and coerced his subjects, and who took things from them in order to enrich himself. To our ears, a king might sound like someone who intends to control us and take things away from us. And so we might ask Jesus: “Is that what you are? A king?”

And to both Pilate and us Jesus replies: “Yes, I am a king, but not that kind of king.”

To Pilate he says, “My kingdom does not belong to this world. I’m not trying to take away territory from your empire, defend its borders, and set up an internal civil government. No, what I’m doing is different; my kingdom is different.” And as evidence he points out that his followers are not fighting for his freedom; since, we know, he told them not to.

To us he says, “Look at the cross. I’m wearing a crown, but it is a crown of thorns. I’m not trying to dominate you and take things away from you. I came so that you might have life and have it more abundantly (John 10:10); and I have given myself for you and poured out all my blood to save you and set you free. What I’m doing is different; my kingdom is different.”

Each year, on the last Sunday in Ordinary Time we celebrate the Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, the King of the Universe. And in this Year B, out of the three-year cycle of lectionary readings, our readings invite us to take a cosmic or heavenly view as we consider the kingship of our Lord Jesus.

We began by hearing a part of one of the visions seen by the Prophet Daniel. Earlier in this vision, he had seen a series of strange beasts climb out of the turbulent sea—a winged lion, a bear, a multi-headed leopard, a beast with many horns—which represented a series of kings and empires, apparently the Babylonians, the Medes, the Persians, and the Greeks. And then he saw the Ancient of Days, apparently God the Father, bring judgment upon them and bring their kingdoms to an end. Then comes the part we heard: now another appears, not a beast but a human figure, the Son of man; and he comes not from the sea but riding on the clouds of heaven as only God can do; and a universal kingdom is given to him that will never end.

This is our Lord Jesus Christ; and when, during his earthly ministry, he spoke of himself as the “Son of man,” he was identifying himself as this glorious heavenly figure. For he is God the Son, the Word, through whom all things were made. He is the one who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood. And he is the one who will come again, to bring about the new heaven and the new earth, in which there will be no more death or mourning, wailing or pain. He is the king who makes all things new. (Rev 21:1-5)

The kingship of Christ is not a threat to Pilate or to us; Christ the King is not a competitor. As St. Irenaeus wrote back in the second century A.D., “The glory of God is man fully alive!”

Indeed, in our baptism, Christ gives each of us a share in his kingship. (CCC 783, 897) How amazing is that! But let’s take a moment to think about what this means.

First, what does a king do? Three of a king’s main duties are to unify his people, to defend against enemies, and to rightly order and arrange things for the good of his subjects. We know that our Lord Jesus has indeed defended against enemies when upon the cross he defeated death and sin and Satan; and he has sought and found each of us, like a shepherd finding a lost sheep, and brought us home and brought us together as his Church, especially in baptism and the Eucharist. It is perhaps especially in rightly ordering things in our lives that our participation in his kingship comes in. And we can consider this within ourselves and outside ourselves.

  • Within ourselves, we want to bring all things under his good and loving rule. So we look at our thoughts, feelings, and desires; at our words and actions. Whatever is sinful, we cooperate in removing; and we seek to order all things in the right priority, the right allotment of time and resources in removing; and we seek to order all things in the right priority, the right allotment of time and resources. All of this we certainly have the right to do within our own hearts and minds.
  • When we turn to others outside ourselves, we then seek to use love and persuasion, to help them to know Jesus, to accept him in faith, to follow him, and to rightly order their lives too. We do this with our families, with our friends and neighbors and co-workers; and also with the larger culture and society, government and economy, where we seek to order laws and institutions so that, rather than pressuring people toward sin, they instead prompt us to do what is right and good. (Vatican II, Lumen gentium, 36; CCC 909)

And we should take note that this following of Christ as king will sometimes bring us into conflict with the world around us.

  • At its worst, when a culture and government is very wrong, we may come into a head-on collision, leading even to martyrdom. There have been times (such as the Cristeros in Mexico, 1926-29) when our brothers and sisters in Christ have laid down their lives for Christ the King; and this may even happen today in different parts of the world, where we face radical secular governments, or Communist governments, or Islamic governments. Pray that we will not face this ourselves.
  • And yet, even at its best, to follow Christ as king will take us beyond what our culture and government expects.   Our Lord Jesus famously made the distinction: “Repay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God.” (Mark 12:17) To follow him as king is not merely to be conventionally nice or respectable or to perform generic service; it is to seek to make Jesus himself known and followed and love and obeyed; and that will lead us to other goals, other actions, beyond what our society gives to us.

And so it is that Jesus turned the question to Pilate personally, and to us. “A king? Do you say this on your own? Who do you say that I am? (Mark 8:29)” May we respond: “Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the King of kings and Lord of lords, the King of the universe. I claim you as my king, in my mind, in my will, in my heart, and in my body (cf. Pope Pius XI, Quas primas, 33). And I look forward to your coming amid the clouds in glory, when you will bring your kingdom to its fullness, and will make all things new.

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