FEAST OF CHRIST THE KING
Today’s Gospel is from the Gospel of John. Pilate was the representative of Rome. His palace, his garb, his demeanor radiated the power of the Roman Empire. Jesus was a commoner, an itinerant preacher, a carpenter. There was nothing about him that would throw a powerful man in fear. Jesus held no titles. He was not supported by an army. He didn’t even wear armor or carry a sword. So here was this weak Jesus, standing before the powerful Pilate. Was Pilate mocking Jesus or intrigued when he asked him, “Are you a king?” We don’t know. “You say that I am a king.” It is not certain precisely what attitude Jesus took toward this charge at the investigation at his trial before Pilate. Some traditions present him as preserving a stony face, while others present him as not rejecting the charge but at pains to correct it: “You say that I am a king” could be equivalent to “These are your words, not mine”.
In the Johannine version of the trial today, Jesus explicitly accepts the title but corrects the charge by offering a reinterpretation of what kingship means for him.
“For this I have come, to testify to the truth.”
To testify to the truth. That is what true royalty is about. This feast of Christ the King is about testifying to the truth. It is about integrity.
There is a great scene in the play A Man for All Seasons that fits so well here. You might remember that the movie was about the determination of St. Thomas More to stand for the faith against the persuasion and eventually persecution of Henry VIII of England. In the scene I’m referring to, Henry VIII is trying to coax his Chancellor, Thomas More, to agree with him that it is proper for him, the King, to divorce his wife Catherine since she was his sister-in-law and since she did not give birth to a male heir to the Kingdom. After the King made all his arguments, Thomas More said that he himself was unfit to meddle in this argument and the King should take it to Rome. Henry VIII retorted that he didn’t need a pope to tell him what he could or couldn’t do. Then we come to the center point. Thomas More asks the King, “Why do you need my support?” Henry VIII replies with words we would all love to hear said about each of us, “Because, Thomas, you are honest. And what is more to the point, you are known to be honest. There are plenty in the Kingdom who support me, but some do so only out of fear and others only out of what they can get for their support. But you are different. And people know it. That is why I need your support.”
In the presence of integrity, Henry VIII knew who was King and who was subject. We remember from last week that beautiful letter of Thomas to his daughter while he was in prison. Truly a man of integrity, truth and of deep obedience to Christ the King of Kings.
Thomas More and so many others followed Jesus Christ in being people of integrity. The powerful Pilate could have Jesus tortured and killed, and he did, but Pilate himself remained a prisoner because he lived a lie, a lie that could not be dismissed with the washing of his hands. And Jesus remained a King because he testified to the truth to his last breath.
This gospel, this feast of Christ the King reminds us that each of us was born for this same reason, to belong to His Kingdom and to testify to the truth. And what is the truth? Jesus Christ is the truth, and the way, and the life.
The “truth” is that Jesus was born to announce a larger and eternal kingdom. The wonderful reality about Jesus as King is that he constantly calls and invites rather than forces a response. His Kingdom is not of this world, because it is not of its ways.
St. Augustinereminds us that Jesus did not say: "My kingdom is not in this world," but "is notof this world." And when he went on to prove this by declaring: "If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have fought to save me from being handed over to the Jews," he concluded by saying not “my kingdom is not here,” but "my kingdom is not from here."
“ Indeed” St. Augustinesaid, “his kingdom is here until the end of time, and until the harvest it will contain weeds.”
WHEN Pope Pius XI instituted the celebration of Christ the King in 1925, he said that when humanity recognizes “that Christ is King, society will at last receive the great blessings of real liberty, well-ordered discipline, peace, and harmony.”
The Kingdomof Godis a space. It exists in every home where parents and children love each other. It exists in every region and country that cares for its weak and vulnerable. It exists in every parish that reaches out to the needy.
The Kingdomof Godis a time. It happens whenever someone feeds a hungry person, or shelters a homeless person, or shows care to a neglected person. It happens whenever we overturn an unjust law, or correct an injustice, or avert a war. It happens whenever people join in the struggle to overcome poverty, to erase ignorance, to pass on the faith.
Jesus Christ is king! We pray today that God may "free all the world to rejoice in his peace, to glory in his justice, to live in his love."