This title always seems a bit unsettling doesn’t it? Here in this country which prides itself on democratic government we view such things as monarchy as, well, old world, and based on created inequality. Not the sort of thing we wish to contemplate when thinking of Jesus the lamb of love and justice.
Today we celebrate the Solemnity of Christ the King with the passage we all know so well–Jesus’ confrontation with Pilate. “Are you the King of the Jews?” demands Pilate. He, no doubt did not understand the answer.
The context here is important. Pilate is portrayed as something of an intellectual disinterested third party who has been put upon by the Sanhedrin to deal with a problem they pushed upon him. He is seen in John as someone who might actually want to let Jesus go and therefore Jesus has in his own hands the keys to his release. Answer correctly and Pilate might turn him loose.
But of course Jesus does no such thing.
But in reality, it is perhaps even unlikely that such an event took place. Pilate was no intellectual, and certainly was not dealing with Jesus because the Jewish leadership forced him to. He was a cruel powerful man who regularly insulted the Jewish religion, and surely couldn’t care less about their petty internal squabbles. Jesus must have been to him, no more than another barely troublesome irritant.
John writes thusly for a reason. It is the late 90’s or early 100’s of the common era. Jesus has been gone for close to 70 years now. The efforts of the Jesus followers to reform Judaism throughout the realm have largely failed. Most of Judaism rejects Jesus as the Messiah. The Jesus people are facing having to contend with Rome on their own, without even the shallow protection of the Jewish “state”.
John, can turn his anger upon that leadership and at the same time, try to appear nonthreatening to Rome. Thus Pilate is portrayed as a mild man, and it is the Jews who have forced Jesus to the cross.
Moreover, it allows John to elicit the differences that exist between Jesus’ coming Kingdom and that of Rome, the template of what earthly Kingdom is all about.
Jesus announces that no earthly kingdom, not even Rome will withstand his Kingdom. But it is no kingdom of armies and rich potentates. Instead it is a kingdom that is based on truth, the truth of God. Those who recognize Truth will recognize Jesus and his Kingship.
The truth of which Jesus speaks is the truth as announced throughout the Gospels, based on the stories of healing, of wisdom, of love and companionship, of service to others, of compassion, of inclusion, of fairness, equality, justice. This is the truth. Those whose hearts are attuned to this message, “hear” it, and follow. They enter into the Kingdom and become the Kingdom.
When Jesus asks Pilate, “do you say this on your own, or have others told you about me?” he really is asking Pilate whether he recognizes the truth in Jesus, or is he merely responding to the charges of the Sanhedrin. Pilate of course is clueless, responding in disgust, that “he is no Jew”.
Jesus in saying that his kingdom is “not here” is not referring to a place, but to a state of being. For we know that the Kingdom is within, and those who cannot see the truth of his message cannot and will not find the gate through which to enter.
We each need to ask these questions of ourselves. Do we see Jesus as King in this new way of being? Do we?
- The challenges and comfort of the Kingship of Christ (joelmlay.com)
- Jesus before Pilate: His heroic refusal to name names (mikerivageseul.wordpress.com)
- 34th Sunday – Christ the King (johnmsfs.wordpress.com)
- Last Sunday after Pentecost: Year B (preachingthenewlectionary.com)
- What is Truth? (livingontilt.wordpress.com)