Many people I have encountered in recent years have shared concerns with me about the direction in which events in our world seem to be moving. I often tell them that the more we study the past the less we worry about the present and future. In the scripture readings on the feast of Christ the King we find great hope for the present and future precisely by looking to the past, and by considering the events that we know took place from the evidence of historical study, and whose significance we hold by faith.
We first learn that Christ has in fact already triumphed over sin, including all the grave sins we see in our world at present, and death itself—each of the feast’s readings emphasize this—and become our “King.” Christ’s death is witnessed by secular historians of the ancient world, and his resurrection is witnessed in the gospels and has become the foundation for the existence and belief of the Church over twenty centuries.
Once we accept Christ’s acclamation as King, then we begin to understand that Christ’s kingship is not like an earthly kingship, even if the biblical authors use such terms to describe it. This helps us to see how the discouragement we find in so many worldly events should be held in perspective by Christian believers, since our Lord’s kingship “is not of this world” (John 18:36). His kingship was demonstrated not in some kind of military victory or palace intrigue, but rather through the mystery of his incarnation, passion, death, and resurrection, events which must always be considered in connection with each other.
When we understand Christ’s kingship as one established through his perfect self-giving love, witnessed in these events, we see the antidote to every sin man has ever inflicted on man, and we behold a power that transcends that of any and all earthly rulers. By putting death itself to death, Christ gives all who believe in him a share in his victory and indeed in his kingship—and eases the anxiety that preoccupies those who view life through strictly rational eyes.
For his part, Pilate did not comprehend our Lord’s response to him when he questioned Jesus: “Are you the king of the Jews?” After Jesus answered: “My kingdom does not belong to this world….my kingdom is not here,” Pilate pressed him, saying “Then you are a king?” (John 18:33, 36-37). In answering this second question with the words “You say I am a king,” Jesus shows that his kingship and that Pilate had in mind have nothing in common, and that he did not want his disciples’ understanding of his eternal kingship to be corrupted by Pilate’s ideas. The one is established through violence and fear, the other through peace and love.
Today’s feast reminds us that Christ is indeed King, though one whose majesty is demonstrated when he gives of himself completely to his people. Rulers like Pilate did not recognize this since he and his grasping and conniving ilk cling to power by exploiting and crushing their people.
Knowing this, we can move forward in our own day with peace and confidence, assured that he who triumphed over sin and death will give those who suffer their effects a share in his final victory, when, as we hear in Revelation, he will be acclaimed as: “the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead and ruler of the kings of the earth….who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood, who has made us into a kingdom, priests for his God and Father” (Rev 1:5-6).
Father Edward Mazich, O.S.B.
Image: Fresco by Raphael, the Trinity with Mary and John the Baptist, detail from the Triumph of the Christian Faith, Vatican