Today we celebrate the Feast of Christ the King, the last Sunday in Ordinary Time in the Church Year. For me, our Gospel reading for today highlights the traps we can fall into when we consider Christ as our King. For us who live in countries without a history of monarchs, this can be especially true.
Our Gospel reading from John takes place during the interrogation of Jesus by Pilate before He is condemned to death and executed by crucifixion. Pilate asks Jesus, “Are you the King of the Jews?” After some further conversation, Jesus says, “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.” And Pilate says, “Then you are a king?” We can see that Pilate, an official of the Roman Empire, has trouble comprehending what Jesus is saying. He’s trying to make Jesus fit into a category that he can understand.
When I see portrayals of Jesus as a kind of warrior king, doing battle with Satan or something, I have to confess I cringe a little. It’s not because I doubt the presence of evil, nor is it because I want to surrender to injustice, but because I wonder if this sort of portrayal is not doing the same sort of thing that Pilate was trying to do: make Jesus fit into worldly categories, instead of realizing that Jesus doesn’t fit into worldly categories. The worldly understanding of kings has little to do with who Jesus is for us. Do we want to make Jesus into a worldly king, so we can claim worldly dominance over others? I think part of our church history may make us take pause in answering that question. I think that is why the Church has realized that it can seldom align itself with the wishes of the powerful. It is why we speak of an “option for the poor.”
Our second reading from the Book of Revelation reminds us: “Jesus Christ is the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead and ruler of the kings of earth. To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood … to him be glory and power forever and ever. Amen.” If we want to understand what kind of king we have in Jesus, we need to look at the Cross:
We follow this King not because we seek to have dominion over others, but because His love impels us to love others. Yes, Jesus is glorified after the Resurrection, but not like some superhero who has saved the day by beating up the bad guys. He has been vindicated by the sacrifice He made so that all of us can have life to the full!
But, Fr. Phil, if we follow that kind of king, we will be weak and trampled over. We won’t be able to stand up for ourselves. I don’t see nonviolence as abdicating responsibility to work for justice and peace. When I look at the champions of nonviolence, I do not see weak people. Like Jesus, they spoke truth to power and stood up for what is right, realizing how much they may have to suffer for it.
God, give us the grace to let go of trying to make Jesus into our image of a king, but rather follow Him as the King He is.
In Christ our King,
Fr. Phil, CP