November 22, 2012
The Solemnity of our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe
[Pilate said to Jesus,] "Are you the King of the Jews?" 34 Jesus answered, "Do you say this on your own or have others told you about me?" 35 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?" 36 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."
37 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."
This is the last Sunday of the liturgical year. Next Sunday is the first Sunday of Advent. Though this has been the year devoted to reading Mark’s gospel, the text for this Sunday is taken from John’s gospel.
This Feast of Christ the King may feel awkward to many of us who are born and raised in the United States, a country whose roots go back to the rejection of the King of England and his power to impose his will on others. While that was a long time ago, the sentiment is still very strong.
The title “king” also brings to mind a medieval system of royal entitlement at the expense of unfortunate serfs and servants. Even today in our world, royal families live a lifestyle that few of their fellow countrymen can afford. There are still too many places where those of royalty live a privileged style of life while the poor continue to struggle for basic survival. Our experience and attitudes toward royalty can affect not only how we hear the texts, but also our openness to the Holy Spirit working within us as we celebrate this Solemnity.
In all the gospels, Jesus has harsh criticism for religious leaders who assume positions and attitudes of superiority. Jesus also rebukes those who see him as the messiah, those who would want to reestablish the greatness of the Hebrew Nation as it was in the days of their great King David. The religious authorities, for their part, see Jesus as someone who is presenting himself as “anointed of God.” Therefore they see him as blaspheming. They know that his claim would also be a threat to Roman authority.
In this gospel Pilate acts as one who must determine if Jesus is an authentic threat to the Roman authority that he represents. In his questioning Pilot asks directly if he is a king. He is asking Jesus if he believes he is the Messiah. In those days, one of the ways people expressed their hope and belief in God was through the image of a future kingdom that would restore God’s order and peace to all of creation. Linked to this image of God’s kingdom is God’s ruler, one who would rule the kingdom with the mind and heart of God, who was understood as the true and only king.
On one level the gospel text is a dialogue between two people who are attempting to speak to one another, but who have totally different ideas of kingship. Pilate, the governor, is trying to determine if Jesus considers himself to be the King of the Jews. If so, is he a member of the religious fringe, or does he with his band of disciples have true political aspirations? Should Jesus and his disciples be taken as a threat to the Roman rule of the area? For his part Jesus never claims that he is a king, but he does represent a kingdom, the Kingdom of God. God’s Kingdom turns the order upside down. This Kingdom is built on a King who does not order but invites, does not demand to be served but washes the feet of others, does not demand that others give their life in service but instead gives his life for others. In the gospel, Pilate and Jesus try to speak and hear each other--each from the perspective of the kingship that they represent.
Even though Jesus dies disgraced and suffering, the inscription that hung over his head on the cross indicated that Jesus was the “King of the Jews.” In John’s gospel it is often Jesus’ enemies who, although they have no idea of the truth of their words, state the profound truth that John wants his community to know. In the central section of John’s passion account, Jesus is presented as the king. “Then Pilate took Jesus and had him scourged. And the soldiers wove a crown out of thorns and placed it on his head, and clothed him in a purple cloak, and they came to him and said, ‘Hail, King of the Jews!” (John 19:1)
At the end of each liturgical year the Church closes the year with this Solemn Feast of Christ the King. Throughout the year we have been reflecting on Gospels where Jesus has been revealing to us who God is in word and deed. He has also been instructing us in what it is to be a disciple of Jesus, the one who came to serve the will of God, His Father. Pilate is trying to sort out who this “King of the Jews” is that stands before him. But Jesus is true to his role in the Kingdom of God.
1. What is your attitude toward royalty? What images come to mind when you think of royalty?
2. What do you recall of the royal line of David in salvation’s history? What is your understanding of how God was working through this royal line?
3. What is your response to people who appear to feel entitled to a lifestyle that is beyond those who make that lifestyle possible?
4. What feelings do you think Pilate was experiencing as he questioned Jesus? Are those feelings familiar to you?
5. At the beginning of the text, Pilate seems to have the freedom to ask Jesus about his relationship with God and the people who are his followers. Do you feel like you have that same kind of permission to ask questions and enter into a dialogue with Jesus?
6. At the end of the text, Jesus says that everyone who belongs to the truth listens to his voice. In the next verse, which is not part our text, Pilate does not reply but instead asks the question “what is truth?” How is your life a reply to Jesus’ statement?
7. How do you understand Jesus as King? How can you authentically celebrate this feast?
Reflection questions are written by Fr. Paul Gallagher, OFM. They are edited by Sister Anne Marie Lom, OSF and Joe Thiel. To be added to the distribution list, send your name and email address to firstname.lastname@example.org
A Spanish translation of the reflection questions is made possible by Fernando Alessandrini. If you wish to receive the Spanish translation, please contact Fernando at email@example.com.
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