Sunday Gospel Reflections

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Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ King of the Universe

Year B, John 18, 33b-37

25 November 2012

Through his encyclical letter Quas Primas promulgated on 11 December 1925, Pope Pius XI introduced in the Universal Church the Solemn Feast of Christ the King. The issuance of the encyclical letter as well as the promulgation of the Feast was deemed as a response of the Church to the growing sense of unhealthy nationalism and secularism among modern man and woman. In his motu propio Mysterii Paschalis, Pope Paul VI decreed that the feast of Iesu Christi universorum Regis be celebrated on the Last Sunday of the liturgical year, aptly ending the liturgical year with the celebration of Christ’s Kingship.

In today’s liturgy, both the First Reading (Daniel 7,13-14) and Second Reading (Revelation 1,5-8) speak of the grandeur of Christ as the “Son of Man” and as the firstborn of the dead. Yet it is surprising to note that the Gospel Reading portrays somehow differently Jesus as “King.” It is interesting to consider also that in the Gospel Reading from John (Ch 18 speaks of Jesus’ arrest), we see the scene between Jesus and Pilate, as well as their conversations. It is a bit strange to picture Jesus Christ the King before the authority of Pilate. Scripture Scholar Rudolf Bultmann writes in his commentary that “The catch-phrase – the question about the Kingship of Jesus – had been given in tradition” and that “The significance of the question is determined by the fact that Pilate, i.e., the state, understands the concept of king only in the political sense.” As one sees in the response of Jesus, our Lord answered “Yes;” He is a king. But as Bultmann continues, “Jesus does not speak directly about himself, rather he speaks about his basileia: it is not of this world, i.e., it does not have its origin in this world, and therefore it is not of this world’s kind; it is in Johannine sense – an eschatological phenomenon.” For Pilate, to be King is to be number one, that means, to be on top of everything in terms of economic, social, and military strength and power. To be king is to be ruler of all. But for Jesus, to be king is to be the servant of all. To be king means to bring all peoples into the loving embrace of the Father.

The message of this solemn feast as well as of the readings is very apparent for us Christians of the post-modern era. We are invited to once again claim Jesus Christ as our King. Yes, Christ the King is a powerful king. But we are reminded by the evangelist John in his portrayal of Jesus that to be king is to testify to the truth. If Jesus is indeed our King, let us therefore bear witness to the Truth in our lives. Amen.

“For this I was born.”

Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ King of the Universe (Gospel: John 18:33-37)

All four gospels have this Pilate’s cross-examination of Jesus, who was dragged to the Praetorium, bound up and no one to protect or defend him. “Are you the king of the Jews?” came the first question of Pilate to Jesus (Mt 27:11; Mk 15:2; Lk 23:3; Jn 18;33). There are many possibilities on how to read that inquiry by Pilate. What must Pilate have felt asking that to Jesus? Was he insecure that the king whom he thought was to overcome their hold of Judea was right before him? Did he sound sarcastic that he found it ridiculous bringing in the question before a hapless man who didn’t have an army to defend him? Did he feel some pity at the same time played safe that he just satisfied the angry mob’s request to put him on trial?

Regardless of how Pilate said it, the mock trial of Jesus, who was clearly innocent of breaking any Roman law, ended up tragic to cost his life. But Jesus in his subtle ways conveyed the most striking understanding of true kingship for which he was born. Precisely Jesus assured that “[his] kingship is not of this world;…[his] kingship is not from the world” (18:36) to stress that he had no plans to usurp the power of the Rome over Judea. He is king not in human terms and conditions of monarchy but by his example of witnessing the love of the Father to whom the people owe their true allegiance and reverence. In that culminating public manifestation of Jesus, he sums up all his public life as a teacher, provider and healer. Unlike the kings we know of since the ancient times, Jesus proclaimed himself as the king who serves. His kingship is one of authority and power to be of service to the people. He treats his people not by subjugation but of servitude.

For us today, the message of this trial of Jesus before Pilate beckons us to reflect on how do we relate to the King of the Universe. Jesus shows us the way by reinventing the true meaning of royalty. Those who would inherit the kingdom of Christ are those who are ready to serve. We are enjoined by our King not to seek for honor, not to be served, not to compromise our dignity with the falsehoods and pretences of this modern world. In the face of persecution and suffering, Christ the King exemplifies the way to conduct ourselves with true nobility. Jesus says, “You say that I am a king. For this I was born, and for this I have come into the world, to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth hears my voice” (18:37). May we have the disposition and the courage to listen to the voice of our King.

Erik John J. Gerilla, SJ
Loyola House of Studies
Ateneo de Manila University
Mobile Phone (+630) 916-2836959

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