Solemnity of Christ the King (B)
By Msgr. John N. Fell
This Sunday the Church celebrates the Solemnity of Christ the King, the final Sunday of our liturgical year. Pope Pius XI instituted this feast in 1925 to combat the progressive secularization of Western culture. The Holy Father was dismayed by the increasing influence of anti-Christian values in the mainstreams of society, morality, and government; his hope was that increased attention to Christ the King would “hasten the return of society to our loving Savior” (Pope Pius XI, Quas Primas, 1925). The late Holy Father’s concerns remain even more needed in our own day, and thus our readings this day attempt to rekindle our own religious ardor by portraying Jesus’ kingship as a matter of loving service poured out for the sake of the truth, that is, his progressive revelation of his Father’s Heavenly Kingdom.
Almost ironically, the Gospel reading chosen for this feast of Christ’s kingship presents us with Jesus, scorned and beaten, on trial before Pilate. This harsh setting points to the fact that Jesus’ kingship did not rely on the usual royal trappings. Pilate’s first words to him are the very direct question, “Are you the King of the Jews?” (Jn 18:33b). Jesus responds by asking Pilate whether that is his own insight, or whether he is merely repeating the charge made by the crowds. Pilate’s response makes it clear that he had little prior knowledge of Jesus; his entire concern was to ascertain whether Jesus was likely to be a political trouble maker. Pilate was only interested in the possibility of Jesus’ inciting an insurrection against the Roman occupational government.
He then asked Jesus, “What have you done?” (Jn 18:35c). Sensing Pilate’s real motivation, Jesus ignored the question, but sought to assure Pilate that he posed no political threat. His answer, “My kingdom is not of this world” (Jn 18:36a), serves as the clearest of statements that he had no political designs. Partisan intrigue and the power of armies would have nothing to do with the kingdom Jesus sought to establish. He emphasizes the truth of his assertion by pointing to the fact that there were no soldiers trying to release him from arrest. Those who were expecting a political Messiah had gotten it wrong.
Pilate, understanding neither the basis of the charge nor Jesus’ response to it, asked further, “So, then, you are a king?” (Jn 18:37a). Jesus replied, “It is you who say I am a king” (Jn 18:37b); in this, Jesus does not deny his kingship, but emphasizes that he had not come to be an earthly celebrity, a status desired by the crowds and feared by the authorities. He then revealed the purpose of his mission, “The reason why I came into the world is to testify to the truth” (Jn 18:37c). He makes it abundantly clear that entry into his kingdom could come only through truth — the truth he had revealed in his proclamation of God’s Kingdom, which was manifested in his person, his message, and his miracles.
Jesus was uniquely qualified to testify to this truth for he was the only one who had come down from heaven (John 3:13), who had seen the Father’s work (John 5:19), and who had heard the Father’s message (John 8:26). Because Jesus belonged to what was above (John 8:23), he himself was the fullest manifestation of truth (John 14:6). And so, Jesus’ every word and work offered a revelation of God’s desire and plan for humanity. The truth to which Jesus testified was oriented to uniting all people with God and one another. Christ’s kingship is supremely displayed in his cross and resurrection, the chief moments in which he achieved the reconciliation of humanity and divinity.
By his testimony to the truth, that is, by the way in which Jesus lived out his sovereignty, he has “made us a royal nation of priests in the service of his God and Father” (Rv 1:6). Christ desired to appoint all his followers as heirs to his kingly dominion. This dominion is to be exercised, of course, in the same manner as Jesus, by testifying to the truth of God’s dynamic Lordship over all. Each of Jesus’ followers is given the royal power to transform the world by our exercise of virtue over vice, compassion over condemnation, and service over selfishness. Christ’s followers rule, as Jesus himself did, by recasting a world of darkness into God’s kingdom of light.
As we come together to worship our God this Thanksgiving week, our grateful hearts testify to the goodness which the power of Christ our King has brought into our world and our lives. May we seek to respond to that goodness by manifesting the truth of God’s kingdom in the way that we serve him and each other, our determination and hope always uplifted by the heavenly assurance that Christ’s “kingship shall never be destroyed” (Dn 7:14).
Msgr. Fell is a Scripture scholar and director, diocesan Office for Priest Personnel