Year B: Thirty-Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time
The Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ the King
You Say I am a King
John 18: 33b-37
So, Pilate went back into the praetorium and summoned Jesus and said to him, “Are you the King of the Jews?” Jesus answered, “Do you say this on your own or have others told you about me?” Pilate answered, “I am not a Jew, am I? Your own nation and the chief priests handed you over to me. What have you done?” Jesus answered, “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.” So, Pilate said to him, “Then you are a king?” Jesus answered, “you say I am a king. For this I was born and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.”
- What does it mean to you personally to say that Jesus Christ is King? In what specific ways is Jesus King in your life?
- Where do you struggle most to accept Jesus’ definition of Kingship as being the least, most vulnerable, and a servant, rather than the most important, most prestigious, and most powerful?
- In what circumstances do you turn Jesus into a God that serves your idea of power, rather than a God whose ultimate power is mercy?
- If the personhood of Jesus is the Way, the Truth, and the Life, how do you hear and respond (testify) to the truth of Jesus in your life?
- Do you think, as a Church we have overidentified with what Jesus did for us, rather than what he stood for?
Solemnity of Christ the King
Mary M. McGlone CSJ
Today’s Gospel comes from Jesus’ trial before Pilate and focuses on Jesus as a king. In John 12:13, crowds acclaimed Jesus as he entered Jerusalem and cried out to him as the King of Israel. Even though it was a religious or theological title, the people had political aspirations for their messiah. What was difficult for them to remember was that if the Messiah was sent by God, then his mission came from God, not from the agenda of his people. Everything about Jesus as the king of Israel was therefore a revelation of God’s will.
In today’s Gospel scene, Pilate asks Jesus if he is the King of the Jews. The difference between being the King of Israel or King of the Jews is that the Jews were a people like any other, defined by ethnicity, not by covenant. It is no surprise that Pilate doesn’t understand the implications of his question, nor that Jesus avoids answering it.
Instead, Jesus questions Pilate: Is he asking for himself or as a matter of trial evidence? Pilate retorts that he is no insider to Jewish thinking. He claims that he is a civil leader whose task is to keep peace and eliminate threats to political stability. Thus, he seems genuinely curious when he asks, “What have you done?”
Jesus responds that his kingdom is unimaginable in Pilate’s world. Pilate lives in the world of winner-take-all. Jesus says that if he were a part of that world, his followers would rise up and he would never fall into the power of apostates of foreigners.
Pilate then takes the conversation back to his world of thought: “You are a king?” Jesus’ response, grammatically difficult to translate, affirms: “You are saying that. I am royal.” The point is that Jesus does not exactly say he is “the king,” but admits to a kind of royalty that is not exclusive, territorial, coercive, or in any other way understandable on Pilate’s terms.
There seem to be two interrelated challenges for us who would celebrate this feast. If we call Christ a king, we must remember that his title comes from God’s realm. Thus, he will not fit our models nor act on our agenda. Secondly, claiming Christ as king calls us to live the values of his realm, redefining power and greatness and learning from him how to be free enough to give all we are.
If we celebrate this feast as an autumn version of Palm Sunday, every “Glory to God” and “Hosanna” we sing demands a recommitment to carry out our baptismal promises.
The Feast of Christ the King
Fr. Michael K. Marsh
Last spring, I went back to school. There are about fifteen students in the program in which I am enrolled. At our fall session in September students from another program were also present. Though we did not have classes together we did share meals. One evening at supper I sat with a woman from the other program. I introduced myself and she asked, “Where are you from?” “Texas,” I said. She asked, “What do you do?” I responded, “I am a priest in the Episcopal Church.” Her very next question was this, “Are you one of those liberal priests?”
As we talked, I realized she was asking not so much about me but for herself. She really was not interested in learning about me. Although she did not come out and say it, what she really wanted to know was whether I would challenge her beliefs, values, and opinions; was I a threat to her self-identity and understanding of God, herself, and the world; would I upset the status quo of her kingdom. At a very basic level she wanted to know “are you for me or are you against me?” It is a question we all live with and answer with every new encounter.
That question and the concerns she expressed are at the core of Pilate’s encounter with Jesus in today’s gospel. “Are you the King of the Jews,” he asks. What he really wants to know is if Jesus is a threat to his identity, his power, his rule. “What have you done,” he inquires. Behind that question lay his real concern. “Have you upset the status quo I seek to maintain? Are you changing the usual way of doing business and life – our beliefs, values, and relationships?”
Whether spoken or unspoken, conscious, or unconscious, those concerns get triggered every time we encounter another person, a different idea or belief, a new decision or event that might affect us. Like Pilate we want to know what we have to do in order to defend our kingdom. The kingdom we most often defend is the kingdom of our status quo. We do not want someone to mess with our self-identity, values, beliefs and opinions. They should not question our understanding of God, self, others, or the world. And we certainly do not want them taking away our power, privilege, control, or comfort. We have worked hard to build that kingdom and we do not want someone coming along making changes.
And yet Sunday after Sunday that is exactly what we ask for. We ask that those very systems would be changed. We gather and together we pray, “thy kingdom come” – thy kingdom in which you are king; thy kingdom of love and compassion; thy kingdom of mercy, forgiveness, and reconciliation; thy kingdom of justice and concern for the poor; thy kingdom of humility, surrender, and self-giving; thy kingdom of peace and holiness. Thy kingdom come. We are praying that God might rule our hearts, lives, and world. We are asking for change – that this world, our lives, and relationships might be different.
If we really mean that prayer – “thy kingdom come” – then we must live, speak, and behave consistent with what we have prayed. We must change the way we see, think, hear, act, and speak. The status quo must go. There is a different way of living and being. If Christ is king then we are not. And the other systems and structures of power in this world are neither the first nor the final voice to which we listen. They are not determinative of our decisions about or encounters with one another.
If we truly mean “thy kingdom come” then we must also pray, “Our kingdom go.” Our kingdom of power, domination, and greed must go. Our kingdom of violence and oppression must go. Our kingdom of fear, prejudice, and resentment must go. Our kingdom of judgment and labeling must go. Our kingdom of individualism and indifference to the other must go. We must stop defending the kingdom of status quo.
In defending our kingdoms, we tend to live as if the truth belongs to us. We live as if we know the mind of God and, therefore, we know what is right and best, who is in and who is out. And in that moment, we are no longer listening to the voice of Jesus. We have become as deaf as Pilate. The truth does not belong to us. Instead, we are to belong to the truth. Only then will we be able to hear and listen to Jesus’ voice.
I must, in all honesty, tell you that the lady I met that night at supper was not the only one protecting her status quo. I too had my little kingdom. And with each question or accusation I retreated a little further and reinforced the walls, ensuring that nothing was changed or lost. Perhaps the greatest tragedy of that night is that we never spoke about the Christ, the one who had called us both there to pray, study, learn, and be changed. I cannot help but wonder if we both were so sure that the truth belonged to us that we were unable to hear the voice of Jesus in each other.
The reign of Christ the King frees us to step outside the status quo and not just live in a new kingdom but to be and become a new kingdom – the Kingdom of God. If Christ is our King, then the status quo must fall. If Christ is my King, then next fall at school I will look for my new friend and begin a new conversation.
Reflection excerpt from: Interrupting the Silence, Fr Michael K. Marsh