John 18: 33b–37
The choice of this text from John’s gospel could not be more appropriate for the feast of Christ the King. It is taken from the Passion Narrative and is part of the exchange between Pilate and Jesus during his trial before the Roman Procurator. This trial scene is particularly important for John, and he devotes no less than twenty-nine verses to it. In fact, this scene reveals John’s concept of the central issue in the life and ministry of Jesus.
When Pilate and Jesus discuss the question of kingship, it is clear that Pilate has in mind political and military power. He also knows that he, as a representative of the mighty Roman Empire, possesses this kind of power in fullest measure. He lives in a palace and has access to the finest military forces of those days. By contrast, Jesus stands before him as a shackled and helpless prisoner. The contrast could not be more obvious.
Nevertheless, when Jesus says that he has come into this world to “testify to the truth,” he is claiming a power that directly challenges the power of Pilate. For the truth to which Jesus is testifying is not philosophical or scientific truth, but the ultimate truth about God’s intention in creating us human beings. Jesus has received this truth from his heavenly Father and reveals it in his words and actions … and never more so than during his passion and death.
This revelation offers a truth that is so revolutionary that we could never believe it without the witness of Jesus and the gift of faith. Jesus is telling us nothing less than that the only truly effective and lasting power in the world is that of unselfish love. He is a bound prisoner because he loves others and he will soon give his very life for love of them. This love of Jesus will conquer the hearts of millions, while the power of Pilate and the great Roman Empire will crumble to dust.
The message in today’s gospel is that truly revolutionary message, given to us by Jesus, which permeates all the gospels. It is a difficult message because we find it so hard to believe that quiet, gentle, and persistent love, which seeks only the good of others, can possibly be more powerful than all the money and missiles on which we rely for security.
We can comprehend and trust this teaching only by the gift of faith. But we must remember also that this precious gift is offered to everyone by the love of God. Accordingly, we need to be open to all the many ways in which God’s love is made available to us—through contact with God in prayer, but also through the love of other good people, and even through the beauty of nature.
As we gratefully embrace this goodness in life, in spite of much evil there also, we will gradually become free enough to dare to trust the power that is in our unconditional loving. We do not need to live in mansions or command armies or be endowed with special gifts in order to be a loving presence in our world. Yet we can be certain that such loving has the potential to transform the universe. Jesus is indeed the King of kings and Lord of lords, but only because of his great love of us.
Demetrius R. Dumm, O.S.B.