Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe
When I was young we played a game called “king of the mountain.” It could be played on any elevated surface, a small hill or even a large pile of dirt. To become king you simply pushed anyone else off the top of the hill. The game was not based on the best image of what a king should be. Indeed, kings historically were known as people who gathered armies to protect their rule and expand that rule over others. Historically, the Jewish and later Christian king was supposed to recognize their rule as an entrustment from God. The good king was supposed to help people be good members of God’s people.
Today we celebrate the solemnity of Christ the King. Jesus identified Himself as a king, in answer Pontius Pilate’s question noted in today’s Gospel. He had announced the establishment and presence of God’s Kingdom, and before His death He acknowledged that He was the king of that spiritual kingdom.
Our first reading from the Old Testament book of Daniel long before had foretold of a coming King who would have a universal and eternal reign. The dramatic language that Daniel uses to foretell the coming of Christ presents a far different picture than the one we see in the Gospel. Jesus stands before Pilate, arrested and accused, hardly an image of power and majesty. The picture is, nevertheless, consistent with the irony of Christianity itself: that God would become man, that God in human flesh would then suffer and die to win salvation for sinners and that true victory is found in faith and sacrifice and not the certainty and aggression of a sword.
In the dialogue between Jesus and Pilate Jesus connects His kingship with testimony to the truth. The next line, not included in today’s reading, has Pilate asking “What is truth?” Indeed, it is a question that it seems our culture increasingly asks, and fails to answer, with clarity or consistency.
The kingdom of God, the kingdom established by Jesus Christ, is the kingdom founded on what is true. However, everything that is true is not self-evident. It is not always easily proven by science or mathematical formula. All people do not agree about what is true, and many seem to deny absolute or objective truth, suggesting that very opposite propositions can be true.
Those who would seek to belong to the kingdom established by Jesus are called to have a particular understanding of Truth. Most importantly, they are called to believe truth exists and it is revealed by God in Jesus Christ and handed on by His Church. In teaching about the concept of truth, I like the simple definition provided by the 20th century philosopher and convert from atheism, Jacques Maritain. He said truth is what is, what is, in and of itself, independent of and totally outside the mind. What is true is what simply is and it doesn’t matter what anyone thinks – about it, other than the author and source of truth, God.
So there are many things proposed as true (the nature of God, Jesus, salvation, the Church, human dignity and the moral code it requires) that the members of Christ’s kingdom are called to accept in Faith. Jesus Christ our king does not come to us with an army brandishing swords. Jesus Christ our king does not force us into submission. Jesus Christ our king comes to us with a simple invitation to believe, to have faith, in the Truth that He has come to bear witness to. And if that were not enough, He gifts us with the power to recognize Him and respond to His invitation. But He does not force us. The taxes we freely return are faith and action. And His benevolence is expressed in the gifts of grace that increase our ability to grasp and live according to the truth.
Our second reading from the Book of revelation reflects the first century Christian Faith, abetted by the special revelation that compelled St. John to write it. This passage combines the image of power and majesty found in our first reading. It also mentions the events that followed Jesus’ conversation with Pilate, the shedding of Jesus’ blood to free us from our sins. It was the shedding of His blood that makes membership in His kingdom possible. It is the kingdom of those who recognize the divine Jesus Christ who was at the beginning of creation, and thus as God – the source of our life. It is the kingdom of those who recognize Jesus Christ as the end point, as our goal. We members of the kingdom of God, here on earth, are to live each day longing for the total and eternal encounter with our King at the end of our lives. In the meantime, in His kingdom here on earth, encounter with Jesus Christ should be the goal of everyday. And it certainly must be sought in its unique expression in Mass each Sunday.
We live in a culture which proposes alternate and varying truths on all sorts of moral issues. But if we claim Jesus Christ as our king, we claim to believe that moral truths are for the good of all. If we want to truly be His subjects, we must let Him rule our hearts, our minds and our actions. But He will not force us, and we can choose to reject His rule in one way or another. And, unfortunately He will let us.