Nov. 24, 2018

OUR LORD JESUS CHRIST, KING OF THE UNIVERSE, 2018

“MY KINGDOM DOES NOT BELONG TO THIS WORLD”

Readings: 1st- Dan. 7:13-14; 2nd- Rev. 1:5-8; Gospel- John 18:33b-37

What does Pilate mean when he asks Jesus this question, “Are you the King of the Jews?” He means to secure his Roman Empire, to keep safe his earthly kingdom. Pilate feels threatened. From a political perspective, he sees Jesus as a political conspirator who has come to snatch his dynasty away. From a Jewish nationalist perspective, he views Jesus as that political-religious liberator who will free a foreign dominated state. He has reasons to be afraid.

The passage of today’s gospel is about the judgment that delivers Christ to his Cross, so, we see an intense conversation between Pilate and Jesus. Jesus is direct with Pilate. It is time to declare his mission, to make known his kingship. To the question, “Are you the King of the Jews?” He asks Pilate, “Do you say this on your own or have others told you about me?” Pilate exhibits an attitude of defense. Rather than answer the question, he claims, “I am not a Jew, am I?” If he is not a Jew, then what authority has he to administer judgment on Jesus? That depicts fear, anxiety, and ignorance about the identity and mission of Jesus. Pilate cannot escape blame for conspiracy of judgment in his handling of Jesus. He therefore engages in a series of questions and answers that betray his emotions. 

But the focus here is Jesus, not Pilate. Jesus’ answer to Pilate’s question, “What have you done?” is, “My kingdom does not belong to this world. If my kingdoms 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.” 

Let’s track this statement back to the beginning of Christ’s mission. The temptation scene presents us with Jesus facing the devil in the desert. The devil takes Jesus to a very high mountain and shows him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor with the words, “I will give you all these, if you fall at my feet and do me homage.” Jesus replies, “Scripture says, “The Lord your God is the one to whom you must do homage, him alone must you serve” (Matt. 4:8-10). It is clear from the beginning that Jesus’ kingdom is not earthly. So, Pilate and the devil seem to be thinking alike. They imagine that Jesus has come to put up a fight like earthly kings do, to possess and pursue power based on human assessment. The next proof we see about Jesus’ kingdom is at the time of his arrest. Simon Peter draws his sword to fight for his Master. Jesus doesn’t permit that. Rather, he cautions Peter to shield his sword with the words, “Put your sword back in its scabbard; am I not to drink the cup that the Father has given me” (Jn. 18:10-11).

What constitutes Jesus’ kingdom? The second reading from the book of Revelation gives us some highlights about the attributes of his kingship: 

-Christ is the faithful witness

-Christ is the firstborn of the dead

-Christ is the ruler of the kings of the earth

-Christ is the one who loves and has freed us from our sins by his blood

-Christ is the one who has made us into a kingdom, priests for his God and Father

-Christ is the Yes and Amen

-Christ is the Alpha and the Omega

-Christ is the one who is and who was and who is to come 

-Christ is the All-Mighty.

He is the Son of Man, who, as Daniel prophesies, is coming amid the clouds. He is with an everlasting dominion that not even Pilate can take away. Every eye will see him including those who pierced him. There is no hiding from the reality of his kingship; the prophet Daniel declares “all peoples, nations, and languages” are subject to him. 

Pilate’s eyes seem to open at this point, so he asks approvingly, “Then you are a king,” and Jesus affirms it, “You say I am a king.” Jesus takes that moment to explain to Pilate the nature of his kingship: “For this I was born and for this I came into this world to testify to the truth” (Jn. 18:37). It is like saying to him, “Now you know it. That’s my kingdom. It’s not like yours.” Jesus’ kingdom is this; “I am the way, and the truth, and the life” (Jn. 14:6). As the Almighty, Jesus commands a royalty that transcends earthly powers. He commands the kingdom of his Father, that all may be saved through him. Unfortunately, like Pilate, those who focus on earthly possessions and power don’t understand the kingdom of Christ. It resides in his suffering, death, and resurrection. 

Ordinarily, every kingship has its paraphernalia -staff of office, its regalia and various emblems of royalty. We might ask, what are the insignia of Jesus’ kingship? First of all, he rides on a borrowed ass into Jerusalem. The people chant for him just for a while, “Hosanna in the highest. Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.” And Jesus says to his disciples, “We are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and the teachers of the law. They will condemn him to death” (Matt. 20:18). Isn’t that his kingship? The Cross is Jesus’ symbol of power and authority. It is his Staff of office. His crown is the thorns on his head. As he is elevated on his Cross-throne, he declares judgment of mercy upon the world beginning with the thief beside him, “This day, you will be with me in paradise.” Next, he acquits his executioners, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they are doing.” His kingship is a universal kingship. The Cross has power over the whole universe. He declares, “When I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw all people to myself” (Jn. 12:32). Jesus is king indeed.  

Now, we are members of Christ’s kingdom. It is the kingdom of peace and justice. It is the kingdom of healing, forgiveness and reconciliation. It is the kingdom of faithfulness and trust. It is the kingdom of strength and support, of compassion and mercy. It is the kingdom of light and love. Let us declare Jesus king in our lives. Tell him to reign in you. Tell him to reign at all times. Tell him to use you to extend his kingdom to those around you, so that the world may embrace his reign. He is the beginning and the end, the alpha and the omega. Jesus is the King of kings and Lord of lords. There is nothing he cannot do in your life.