Lectionary #161, Gospel John 18: 33b-37
Today, on the feast of Christ the King, we sing at mass: “The Lord is king, he is robed in majesty!” (Ps 93:1). From the earliest traces of religious practice, in cultures from the Yellow River to ancient Sumeria, from the Vikings of northern Europe to the stone pyramids of the Maya, and from the Indus Valley to Upper Egypt, divinity and the royal prerogatives of kingship have gone hand in hand. The Psalmist eagerly joins in this chorus, proclaiming that splendor, strength, wisdom, and holiness are all in the possession of the Lord God of Israel. Daniel too, gives us a vision of the Ancient One, seated upon his throne in glory, graciously bestowing his powers on the mysterious Son of Man, and the Book of Revelation teaches us that it is through the resurrection—Jesus’ status as “the firstborn of the dead”—that he is king and “ruler of the kings of the earth” (Rev 1:5).
These readings leave us with no doubt that the Lord is king indeed, but only in the gospel do we find just what kind of king he is. In that moment of interrogation before Pontius Pilate, in language that remained obscure to his followers until after his resurrection, we discover that Jesus’ reign was not like that of earthly kings, for he himself says: “My kingdom does not belong to this world.” We further begin to realize that the kingdom would only be fully revealed when the Lord himself had been raised from the dead.
The centrality of the resurrection in defining Jesus’ kingship is made clear in the readings from Daniel and Revelation, which provide a frame centering upon and highlighting it. The resurrection is anticipated in the heavenly coronation language of Daniel and confirmed in Revelation, with a clear mention of it, “Jesus Christ is the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead,” at the beginning of the Revelation text.
The dominion, glory, and power of which Daniel and the author of Revelation speak contrast sharply with the portrait of the Kingdom of God that eventually emerges in the gospels—a dominion of humble, self-giving love, which gives of itself to the very end. This contrast is not surprising after all, since in the ancient religions of the near east, kings demonstrated their sway by bringing death and destruction to others, not by dying themselves, much less dying innocently and scandalously, on a cross.
Still, Jesus announced clearly in his dialogue with Pilate that he indeed has a kingdom, “…but as it is, my kingdom is not here.” The gospel on this day and the feast of Christ the King itself thus serve as reminders to us that the painful events which were about to unfold in Jesus’ life were not the end, and that he would be vindicated in a wondrous and unprecedented way. When we go through difficulties as we seek to hasten the coming of the kingdom in its fullness, we should remember that the joy of the kingdom will one day be ours as well, when through our participation in the resurrection we—and all the members of the Church—will share in the glory of the risen Christ, a glory that has already begun to manifest itself in the Kingdom here on earth.
Sustained by the revelation of the powerful yet humble royal dignity witnessed in Jesus’ passion, let us resolve to imitate his way of faith in God and his manner of living that “Kingdom faith” so that we may say together with the Psalmist—and all the humble Christian believers over the centuries—“The Lord is king, he is robed in majesty!”
Father Edward Mazich, O.S.B.