34th Ordinary Sunday (Year B)
(CHRIST THE KING)
First Reading: Daniel 7:13-14 Second Reading: Revelation 1:5-8 Gospel Reading: John 18:33b-37
“THE LORD IS KING; HE IS ROBED IN MAJESTY.”
Some years ago, an American soldier on a bus in Sweden told the man sitting next to him - “America is the most democratic country in the world. Ordinary citizens may go the White House to see the President and discuss things with him.”
The man said - “That's nothing. In Sweden, the King and the people travel on the same bus.”
When the man got off the bus, the American was told by other passengers that he had been sitting next to King Gustav Adolf VI.
Yes, Jesus Christ too, the 'King of the kings' travels in our 'life bus,' with us towards heaven, our ultimate destination. He is our Lord and King and in him we live and move and have our very being. He is not just part of our life, but he is at the very center of all our living, and also the beginning and the end, 'the Alpha and the Omega' of our life and all life.
Today is the 34th and the last Sunday in Ordinary time and traditionally on this Sunday we solemnly celebrate the feast of “Christ the King,” a feast of God's Kingdom – God's Rule. With this we also come to the grand finale of the Liturgical Year B. Next Sunday is the first Sunday of Advent and with that we go on to the new Liturgical Year C. And as we come to the end of this liturgical year, and as always, we look to the future; the ultimate future when Christ the King will return in glory for the final judgment: “The Lord is King; he is robed in majesty.”
Now, the word 'king' evokes all kinds of images, while it is true that kings and kingship belong to the past – they are extinct and if at all they exist, they could be found in history books. And whatever image of king comes to our mind may influence subconsciously our thoughts about this feast. But what really is this feast of “Christ the King” all about? Is it still relevant to call Christ – the King? Why is it celebrated at the end of the liturgical year?
The feast of Christ the King fits very appropriately into the liturgical year – a cycle which begins with Advent, then moves on to Christmas or the actual birth of the Messiah in Bethlehem, then to the dying and rising of Jesus at Easter, and finally, after the Sundays in Ordinary time, to the end of the liturgical year where Jesus Christ comes in glory at the end of time in today’s feast of Christ the King.
But to call Jesus Christ “King” is a paradox – and in this is the central paradox of our faith. The Gospel Reading of today from St. John does present Christ as a king, but he is “King” in a different sense. It speaks of a strange confrontation between Pilate, the Roman Governor, and Jesus. An encounter between a man who feels, as the chief authority of a colonial regime, that he has unlimited power and Jesus, a traveling preacher who seems to have none.
In the Gospel text, Pilate asks Jesus, “Are you the king of the Jews?” Jesus answers him, “My kingdom is not from this world. If my kingdom were from this world, my followers would be fighting to keep me from being handed over…but as it is, my kingdom is not from here.” Then Pilate asks him again, “So you are a king?” and Jesus answers, “You say that I am a king. For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth.”
Although Jesus does not explicitly respond by saying 'I am a king', he does speak very clearly about 'my Kingdom' or 'my Kingship'. He says it is 'not of this world'. In fact, the gospel of St. John presents him as king exactly in his humiliation, standing bound and scourged before Pilate. He is King because he witnesses to the truth, that God is love and that it is by the force of love that God rules the world, that God has loved us from all eternity. Jesus as king is quite different from the conventional image. It is very different from the image that Jesus’ own people had of the Messiah-King they eagerly awaited. In front of Pilate at this moment he looks anything but a king.
So, Jesus' kingdom is not to be compared with the kingdom of the earth. His kingdom is not about ruthless power, or royal attendants, or all those things we think of when thinking of kings. He has no ministers, no servants, he has no royal mantle, no scepter. On the contrary, his crown is of thorns, his mantle bloodstained. He stands alone, condemned, despised & crucified and on his cross, which is his throne, the inscription on it reads - “Jesus of Nazareth, king of the Jews.” We call Jesus 'King' because of his value, and because of his authenticity – and in him we recognize a different kind of power than is normally associated with kingship. This kingship stands in stark contrast to what we often call leadership in the world as it is. His power is from everlasting, and will last forever. It’s characteristic is its eternal spiritual quality. It will be victorious, and it often brings surprising victories against all the odds, against the principalities and powers of this world: “The Lord is King; he is robed in majesty.”
In the First Reading of today from the Book of Daniel, once again we share the visions of the Prophet Daniel, whereby he inspires hope in the Jewish people who are experiencing hardships and cruelties. In particular, the author speaks about a visionary experience at the end of human history where the forces of good and evil will engage in a final apocalyptic struggle. But ultimately, the author writes, good will triumph over evil. And in the midst of this struggle appears the figure of a man – “One like a Son of Man” - a mysterious biblical man, who comes upon the clouds of heaven. And this mysterious figure goes before God, the Ancient One. This Messiah king receives from God the Father power and kingship over all nations. His rule is universal and it lasts forever. No one can take it away from him: “The Lord is King; he is robed in majesty.”
The Book of Revelation is yet another book full of apocalyptic visions and mystical imagery and the passage chosen for today's Second Reading brings together the Gospel and First Reading. In the vision, Jesus is the First-born from the dead who, through his blood has washed away sin and rendered us a royal and priestly people. He is the one who is to come from the clouds, and everyone - including those who condemned him to death - who pierced him will see him in his majesty.
At that point - at the closing of history - everyone will be confronted with an eternal reality – the one who is the 'Alpha' and the 'Omega' revealed as Son of Man and Son of God. Then they will be faced with a choice - how do they react to this revelation? Will Pilate bend his knee before the one whom he condemned to death? Will Caiaphas? Herod? The soldiers who crucified him? And what of Judas? This is the moment foretold by St Paul: “The day when every knee shall bow - every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is indeed Lord.” “The Lord is King; he is robed in majesty.”
To conclude – A famous actor once gave this crisp bit of advice to a group of young actors: “The king sits in every audience, play to the king.” And the King of kings stands in the midst of all the common things in life: Let us play to the King. There is no point in celebrating the feast of CHRIST THE KING, unless we bring ourselves under his Kingship. It is he who rules our life with LOVE. We await his final coming at the end of time and we have no complete understanding of what the end of time will be like. But, to know how it is to happen is of less importance than how we prepare for the moment. How will each one of us react and respond whenever he comes and calls our name, and calls us home?