Christ the King
First Reading Daniel 7:13–14
Psalm Psalm 93:1–2, 5
Second Reading Revelation 1:5–8
Gospel John 18:33–37
Psalm 93:1–2, 5
TheLordis king, he is robed in majesty;
theLordis robed, he is girded with strength.
He has established the world; it shall never be moved;
your throne is established from of old;
you are from everlasting.
Your decrees are very sure;
holiness befits your house,
Reading the Word
As I watched in the night visions,
I saw one like a human being
coming with the clouds of heaven.
And he came to the Ancient One
and was presented before him.
To him was given dominion
and glory and kingship,
that all peoples, nations, and languages
should serve him.
His dominion is an everlasting dominion
that shall not pass away,
and his kingship is one
that shall never be destroyed.
Grace to you and peace from Jesus Christ, the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth.
To him who loves us and freed us from our sins by his blood, and made us to be a kingdom, priests serving his God and Father, to him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.
Look! He is coming with the clouds;
every eye will see him,
even those who pierced him;
and on his account all the tribes of the earth will wail. So it is to be. Amen.
“I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.
Then Pilate entered the headquarters again, summoned Jesus, and asked him, “Are you the King of the Jews?” Jesus answered, “Do you ask this on your own, or did others tell you about me?” Pilate replied, “I am not a Jew, am I? Your own nation and the chief priests have handed you over to me. What have you done?” Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not from this world. If my kingdom were from this world, my followers would be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Jews. But as it is, my kingdom is not from here.” Pilate asked him, “So you are a king?” Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.”
Hearing the Word
“A Different Kingship”
Today, we celebrate the solemnity of Christ the King. Kingship is usually associated with such imagines as the crown, sceptre, throne, palace, fortress, abundant wealth, power, prestige, army and servants. Earthly kings pursue all these. But what kind of a king is Jesus, who enjoyed none of these privileges? Today’s liturgy provides some answers.
The first reading from the book of Daniel contains the vision of God’s heavenly throne, before whom a mysterious “one like the Son of Man” appears. This vision is a part of a series of visions which promise deliverance and future glory to the suffering and oppressed Jewish people. These visions originate from the time of ruthless persecutions of the faithful Jews by the Syrian king, Antiochus IV Epiphanes (167-164 BC). Antiochus tried to force the Jews to become like Greeks, forcing them to adopt Greek culture and religious practices, while renouncing their own faith and identity. Those who refused to obey the royal orders were subject to cruel torture and death (cf. 1 Macc 1:41-63).
The vision from today’s reading presents a human-like figure, one looking “like the Son of Man”, coming into God’s presence. This mysterious heavenly being represents the faithful Israelites suffering on earth. God hands him authority and power over all kingdoms of the earth, with which he will establish God’s everlasting kingdom of peace and righteousness among the nations. The vision reassures God’s suffering people that God controls all events in history, and will triumph over the evil forces that oppress them. This victory will come through his heavenly servant who, looking and acting like a human being, will exercise divine power. The vision also teaches that human history unfolds under God’s watchful eye, it is God who delivers his faithful from all oppression. Forces of evil oppose God and oppress his people for now. But the Lord will overthrow these hostile powers once and for all, put an end to oppression, and make his faithful rulers of the earth (cf. Dan 7:27).
The second reading from the book of Revelation portrays Jesus as the kings of kings. There are many similarities between the book of Daniel and Revelation. The latter was also composed against the background of oppression and persecution of God’s faithful. This time it was Christians who suffered at the hands of the Roman Empire. Revelation was also written to offer encouragement and consolation to the suffering believers. Like Daniel, the author of Revelation also assures his readers that, in the end, Christ’s enemies will be overthrown. God’s reign will be established and the evil one and his servants will be defeated and utterly destroyed.
Our text briefly describes Jesus as the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and ruler of the kings of the earth. Jesus is the faithful witness because he was faithful to his Father and his mission to the point of death. He is the first-born from the dead because of his resurrection. Finally, he is the ruler of all earthly kings because, after his ascension, he possesses divine status and supreme authority. On account of his death, resurrection and return to the Father, Jesus has the authority and power to reign over the universe. All earthly powers, including that of the powerful Roman empire with its Caesar, are subjected to him.
Christians who follow Jesus, and are faithful to him, will also one day become a “kingdom and priests of God, his Father”. Even though they are presently persecuted, since they serve the “king of kings”, they will reign with him. This reign of the faithful will begin with Jesus’ coming “with the clouds”. This is an unmistakable allusion to the reading from Daniel. The author of Revelation sees Jesus as the “Son of Man” who will come to earth with judgement over his enemies, those who “pierced him”. That will be the time of salvation for those who remained his faithful servants amid adversity and persecutions.
Today’s Gospel reading describes a part of Jesus’ trial by Pilate. The evangelist portrays Jesus as the king firm in his convictions, even though powerless and shackled. He stands in stark contrast with the all-powerful Roman governor who, ironically, is hesitant, weak and ruled by his fears and personal ambitions. Jesus was brought before Pilate on the political charge of laying claims to kingship. In the Roman legal system, such a charge carried an automatic death sentence.
During his conversation with Pilate, Jesus clarifies the origin and nature of his kingship. First, Jesus is not a worldly king. The origin of his kingship and the source of his power are from above, and not of this world. Second, Jesus does not exercise his power the way Rome does; his kingdom “is not from this world” because it is not founded on violence. The Roman rule and authority rested on subjugation, brutality and ruthless suppression of all who dared to oppose it. By contrast, Jesus’ reign does not oppress but lifts up and liberates people. Finally, Jesus’ kingship consists in bearing witness to the truth. To bear witness to the truth means revealing the truth about God, and drawing all human beings into the divine communion of love. Membership in Jesus’ kingdom is extended to anyone who listens to him and believes in him, because he alone is the true reflection of the Father (John 1:18). Jesus extends an invitation to Pilate to embrace this truth in his final words, “everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.” This implies that Pilate must dispel his illusions about the world based on falsehood and the power of violence, and follow a different truth, the truth about the world based on love and communion with God as taught and revealed by Jesus.
The kingship of Jesus differs dramatically from what we normally associate with this concept. Daniel portrayed God as the divine king on the heavenly throne. But this divine king was concerned with the liberation and salvation of the people through “the Son of Man”, whom he entrusted with power and authority. The book of Revelation shows Jesus as the Son of Man. By his death and resurrection he redeemed his people, and acquired authority over all other rulers in the universe. His kingship is based on self-sacrifice and service, not on might and power. In the Gospel, Jesus affirms his disassociation with earthly kingship. He is concerned with bearing witness to the truth about God, so that his followers can enter into the everlasting kingdom of love through communion with his Father. Thus, divine kingship of Jesus is focused entirely on the liberation and salvation of the people. Those who choose him as their king, can sing joyfully with the psalmist, “the Lord is king, he is robed in majesty; the Lord is robed, he is girded with strength.”
Listening to the Word of God
Who is the king we honor and follow as Christians? Today’s liturgy answers that question in a very clear and unambiguous manner. Our king is one who exercised his power and leadership for the sole purpose of bringing his people liberation and salvation. He does not rule by simply demanding that his followers obey his commands. Rather, he himself carried out the work of our redemption. It was a costly mission. He paid the price of privation, humiliation and eventual execution. From a purely human point of view, Jesus life was a failure. He had only a few disciples who eventually abandoned him. His teachings and deeds were criticized and rejected. He died alone with the mocking inscription over his head that declared him “the King of the Jews”.
But his kingship cannot be judged on human terms. In a broader perspective, the divine perspective, Jesus’ mission in kingship appears quite differently. The author of Revelation brilliantly portrays the effects of his self-sacrifice. By God’s design, Jesus’ offering of his life brought him glory and authority unparalleled in the entire creation. His life confirmed what he thought – that leadership consists in service and greatness consists in sacrifice.
In human societies, including African societies, kingship usually means supreme authority. Kings can establish laws and ensure that they are followed. Even though they might be subject to certain limits imposed on them by tradition and custom, they can often bypass these and impose their will. Even in Christian communities, similar practices occur as the leaders appointed for service exercise it in a self-serving manner, bending the Christian principles to serve their own purposes.
Still, there are many who imitate Jesus the King and carry out the task of leading others with exemplary commitment and with the good of others in view. Experience shows that only the memories of honest and well-meaning leaders will endure and continue to be held and cherished. Self-serving leaders are usually quickly forgotten, or remembered only as examples not to be followed. The Christlike leaders live on in peoples’ minds as shining examples of what it means to be truly human.
Many of us aspire to positions of leadership. Ambition and the search for authority and power drive many people, regardless of their age and gender. There is nothing wrong with seeking leadership. But we must be careful about the motives and ideas we hold about leadership. Such question us “why do I want to lead others?”, and “what do I hope to accomplish through my leadership?” have to be continuously asked. With leadership comes great responsibility for shaping the lives of others. A good Christian leader will bring the faithful closer to Christ, a leader who causes scandals will turn many away from the path of faith. Our age is that of scandals. Many hidden and hideous acts have been perpetrated by Christian leaders in distant and recent history. These need to be honestly acknowledged and treated as a severe warning to all those who aspire to leadership. Power and authority carry with them a deadly potential to corrupt even a well-intentioned leader. To prevent this from happening, every person entrusted with leading others must rely on Christ’s guidance offered through his teaching and example. For a Christian leader, and, in fact, for every Christian, to claim Jesus as one’s king implies imitating his kingship through a life of other-centered service.
“When kings lose direction, they become servants.”
Do I feel the desire to lead others? For what reason?
Do I consider Jesus my king? What does Jesus’ kingship mean for my life?
Response to God
My prayer during this week will be that of praise and thanksgiving to God for the gift of Jesus, his Son and our King, who made it possible for me to belong to God’s kingdom.
Response to your World
I will choose one of the aspects of kingship presented by today’s readings, and try to reflect it in my actions and behaviour.
In our group, we will hold an evaluation of the leaders of our community. As the criteria for this evaluation, we will use the example of Jesus to see if they have fulfilled their mandate to lead as he did. In what way can we offer them guidance to be Christ-like leaders?
Lord Jesus, our eternal and glorious king, with humble reverence we gaze at you as the glorious Lord of all creation. Above all, we thank you for choosing to be the humble king who himself rescued us from the powers of death. We thank and praise you that you have chosen to serve the cause of our salvation, and for opening for us the path to your eternal kingdom where we hope to be with you forever. Amen.
Scripture quotations from New Revised Standard Version Bible: Catholic Edition, © 1989, 1993. Used with permission.