This Sunday, we celebrate the truth that, even now, Christ reigns as King over all the earth. But what kind of kingdom is it?
Gospel (Read Jn 18:33b-37)
On this final Sunday of our liturgical year, the Church gives us St. John’s account of Jesus before Pilate to help us understand the kingdom He came to establish. It’s a lesson we desperately need. If we have a false notion of the reign of Christ as King of the universe, we can be subject to disillusionment and disappointment as we await its final manifestation at the Second Coming. See that Pilate is very curious about Jesus and His kingdom: “Are you the King of the Jews?” Jesus wonders where he got this idea. Had Pilate seen evidence that Jesus was traveling around Judea trying to set up a throne for Himself? Or had someone else suggested to him that Jesus was a rival to Caesar? Pilate answers right away: “Your own nation and the chief priests handed You over to me. What have You done?” Pilate is working entirely on the claims of the Jews. None of his Roman military officers was suggesting anything like this.
Jesus acknowledges that He has a kingdom (and thus must be its King), but His kingdom “does not belong to this world.” Can we imagine how strange this must have sounded to Pilate? To emphasize His point, as odd as it was, Jesus appeals to reason: “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.” This fact would have made sense to a man like Pilate; he would have understood that Jesus’ kingdom, wherever it was, did not present a threat to Rome, because the “king” was right here in his custody. He does pick up on one detail: “Then you are a king.” He wants to establish at least this. Jesus’ answer, however, instead of clearing up the matter, must have only made it more mysterious.
“You say that I am a king.” Jesus was not disavowing His claim to kingship. He is simply acknowledging that, without lifting a finger in violence of any kind, Rome, in the person of Pilate, confesses Jesus as a king. Brilliant! Then He goes on to talk about His kingly work: “I was born… and… came into the world to testify to the truth.” What king has ever spoken this way? Of all the grand claims that kings have made throughout human history, have any of them described themselves as coming from somewhere outside of this world to deliver truth to it? And if any king made a claim approaching the strangeness of this one, did he do it while he was a prisoner of an imperial governor who had the power of life and death over him, having refused to allow his followers to take up arms to free him?
At this point, it is helpful to pause and ponder Jesus’ words. He told Pilate: “Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to My Voice.” Those who are seeking a kingdom’s visible power or riches or reputation are bound to be disappointed in Jesus and His otherworldly kingdom. It will only be those who are seeking truth—about God, ourselves, our purpose in life, how to live in this world—who will want to follow this King. Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI has written well about the kind of kingdom for which we often hope and the one Jesus actually came to establish. It is worth quoting at length. Speaking about the third temptation of Christ in the wilderness, he writes:
The devil… shows Him all the kingdoms of the earth and their splendor and offers Him kingship over the world. Isn’t that precisely the mission of the Messiah? Isn’t He supposed to be the king of the world who unifies the whole earth in one great kingdom of peace and well-being?… This splendor, as the Greek word doxa indicates, is an illusory appearance that disintegrates. This is not the sort of splendor that belongs to the Kingdom of Christ. His Kingdom grows through the humility of the proclamation in those who agree to become His disciples, who are baptized in the name of the triune God, and who keep His commandments (cf. Mt 28:19f)… [T]his leads to the great question…: What did Jesus actually bring, if not world peace, universal prosperity, and a better world? What has He brought?… He has brought God, and now we know His face, now we can call upon Him… Jesus has brought God and with God the truth about our origin and destiny: faith, hope, and love. It is only because of our hardness of heart that we think this is too little. Yes, indeed, God’s power works quietly in this world, but it is the true and lasting power. Again and again, God’s cause seems to be in its death throes. Yet over and over again, it proves to be the thing that truly endures and saves. The earthly kingdoms that Satan was able to put before the Lord… have all passed away. Their glory… has proven to be a mere semblance. But the glory of Christ, the humble, self-sacrificing glory of His love, has not passed away, nor will it ever do so.
(Jesus of Nazareth, Part I, Ignatius Press, pgs. 38-39, 44)
Blessed be the reign of King Jesus!
Possible response: Lord Jesus, please give me eyes to see Your kingdom on earth as it really is.
First Reading (Read Dan 7:1-14)
God gave to Daniel, a prophet who lived in Babylon during Israel’s exile, a vision of the future. In it, he sees “one like a Son of man coming on the clouds of heaven.” He describes the Son of man’s celestial ascension to a throne before “the Ancient One.” He receives an eternal kingship, over all people, nations, and languages. Recall that Pilate wondered if Jesus was “King of the Jews,” a question Jesus never directly answered, because He was to be king over all, not just the Jewish nation.
We cannot miss the fact that Jesus fulfilled this prophecy. He ascended into heaven “in the clouds” and, one day, as the angels told the apostles who watched Him disappear, “This Jesus, Who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw Him go” (Acts 1:11). The reign of Christ began when the Crown of Thorns was placed on His head; it was revealed in power to the apostles at His Ascension, and it will be fully realized in glory at His Second Coming. Jesus rules now: “His dominion is an everlasting dominion that shall not be taken away, His kingship shall not be destroyed.”
Possible response: Lord Jesus, help me remember that power in Your kingdom is the power of the Gospel to change hearts and lives.
Psalm (Read Ps 93:1-2, 5)
The psalm today is a great help to us as we seek to trust and believe what we can see only in a veiled way for now. No matter how we feel about it, no matter how the world or the Church looks today, we can sing, “The Lord is king; He is robed in majesty.” When our hearts and minds seem feeble against the visible concrete realities that surround us, we can affirm our faith in these words: “Your throne stands firm from of old; from everlasting You are, O Lord.”
Possible response: The psalm is, itself, a response to our other readings. Read it again prayerfully to make it your own.
Second Reading (Read Rev 1:5-8)
St. John, just like Daniel, received a vision from God while he was in exile on the isle of Patmos. It gives us a description of our King and the work He does in His kingdom: “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.” Ponder how different this kingdom is from any other earthly kingdom—this King frees us from ourselves, our sins. Jesus’ claim about Himself here is even more extravagant than the one He made before Pilate: “I am the Alpha and the Omega… the One Who is and Who was and Who is to come, the Almighty.”
On this Solemnity of Christ the King, will we dare to believe these words? Will we let them steady us as we wait for His return for us?
Possible response: Lord Jesus, thank You for conquering my true enemies—sin, death, the devil—with your kingly power.