Is He your King? Really? A Meditation on the Gospel of Christ the King
Msgr. Charles Pope
On the feast of Christ the King, we are called to acknowledge that Jesus is, in fact our King. It is one thing to say that he is our King because the song in Church we sang said that, or the preacher said that, or the Bible says that. Yes, faith does come by hearing. But there also comes a moment when WE must say that Jesus is our King. When we must personally affirm what the Church has always announced: “Jesus is Lord, and he is King, he is my king. He has authority in my life.”And this must become more than lip service. It must become a daily, increasing reality in our life.
Kings take care of us, but they also have the authority to command us. Can Christ command you or me? Or are we more typical of the modern person who doesn’t like to be told what to do? Or perhaps we suffer from the more mild form of this attitude that reduces and trivializes Jesus to being the “harmless hippie” who just says pleasant things about peace and flowers, but would never rebuke us or command us to repent.
And so, again the question for us: Is Jesus Christ your King?
And that brings us to the Gospel for today’s Mass. Now, the Gospels are not theater, as though we were in the audience and watching a story unfold, a story that took place 2000 years ago. No, we are in the story. We are not just to observe what Peter, or Pilate, of James, or Mary Magdalene do. They are us and we are them.
One of the things that this means is that when Jesus asks them a question, we cannot merely wait and see how they will answer as though we were watching a movie. No, WE have to answer the question.
In today’s Gospel the spotlight moves to Pontius Pilate. And the Lord asks the critical question of him (i.e. us) that we are here pondering. And we cannot simply wait to see how Pilate answers that question, WE have to answer it. Consider this Gospel in three stages.
I. INDECISION – In a remarkable display of literary artistry, John and the Holy Spirit vividly depict the vacillation of Pontius Pilate. For in this Gospel passage of the trial of Jesus, Pilate goes in and out of the Praetorium (i.e. the Governor’s palace) more than a bell-hop through the revolving door of a hotel. Indeed he goes in and out seven times. Note the text with the texts describing his motions highlighted in bold text:
29So Pilate went out to them and said, “What accusation do you bring against this man?” …..33Pilate [re]entered the praetorium and called Jesus…..” 39After he had said this, he went out to the Jews again, and told them, “I find no crime in him…..1Then Pilate took Jesus [back into the praetorium] and scourged him…… 4Pilate went out again, and said to them, “See, I am bringing him out to you, that you may know that I find no crime in him….8When Pilate heard these words, he was the more afraid; 9he re-entered the praetorium and [spoke] to Jesus….12Upon this Pilate [went back out] and sought to release him, but the Jews cried out, “If you release this man, you are not Caesar’s friend…When Pilate heard these words, he brought Jesus out and he sat down on the judgment seat…..(John 18-19 selected verses)
Did you count? Seven times Pilate goes in or out of the Praetorium! Such a picture of indecision an vacillation! He’s trying to please the crowds, he’s trying to please his wife (who had warned him to have nothing to do with that innocent man (Mat 27:19)), he’s trying to help Jesus. But he can’t decide! In and out he goes!
He is like us. We say we love God, but we also love the world. We want to please others, we want to please God. We cannot do both. We have to decide. But instead we vacillate, we go back and forth. We are Pilate. We are often locked in indecision, we vacillate, trying to please the world, trying to please others and to please God.
Is Pilate really so different from many of us? Faced with a crucial decision, he weighs the consequences that choosing Jesus will have on his career, his future, his family, his loyalty to country and Caesar, his access to power, and so forth. And while we may rightfully criticize Pilate for his choice, is it not easy for so many of us to make compromises with the world for the sake of similar things? How often does Jesus our King take a back seat to career, politics, convenience and so on? And so easily we stay rooted in vacillation, compromise and indecision.
II. INQUIRY – And now, in the midst of all this indecision comes the question.
Pilate begins with his own question: “Are you the King of the Jews?” (John 18:33) But Jesus, who is on trial, turns the tables on Pilate and putting him on trail asks him the crucial question:
“Are you saying this on your own or have others been telling you about me?” (John 18:34).
A remarkable question! And guess what?! YOU have to answer it, I have to answer it. Do not wait for Pilate, he has already made his answer and he has faced his judgment centuries ago. But YOU, and ME, how do WE answer the question?
Now notice what the Lord is getting at. He is asking you if you call him a King merely because you have heard others say this or because you personally know him to be King. Is he really your King, or this just a slogan you’ve heard in church before? Do you believe he is King or do you merely parrot what you’ve heard others say?
There is an old Gospel song that says, “Yes I know Jesus for myself.” But is that really the case with us? Too many of us are satisfied with a kind of inferential faith. Inferential faith is based merely on what others have said: “I think, or suppose, that is I infer that Jesus is Lord because my mother said so, or my pastor said so.” This is a good beginning, for after all, faith comes by hearing (Rom 10:17).
But there comes a moment when YOU have to say so. It is not enough that your pastor says so, or your mother says so. And thus Jesus is asking you and me right now: “Are you saying I am King on your own or merely because others have said so?”
Answer him…..It’s a crucial question isn’t it? The faith of the Church is essential, normative and determinative, but at some point you have to step up and say, I personally affirm that the faith of the Church is true and is mine and I hereby declare: “Jesus is Lord and King.”
And what does it mean that he is King? As we have already discussed, A king has authority doesn’t he? Does Jesus have authority in my life? Do I have the obedience of faith (Rom 1:5) and base my life upon his will?
A king also takes care of his people and protects them. Do I allow the Lord to feed me with the Holy Eucharist? Do I allow him to protect me from the poison of sin by the sacrament of confession and the medicine of his Holy Word? Am I willing to live within the protection of the walled city of his Church?
Is the Lord really my King? How do I answer? Is it more than a slogan or is his Kingship real? Let the Lord ask one more time:
Are you saying I am a king on your own or have others been telling you about me?
III. IMPLICATION – You have to answer. To refuse to answer, IS to answer.
A fascinating and wondrous literary device is employed by John and the Holy Spirit in this Gospel passage. We have already seen how Jesus, who was on trial, has turned the tables, and it is now Pilate who is really on trial. Pilate who has the duty to question Jesus is now being questioned by him. And it is Pilate who must now make a decision, not so much about Jesus, but about himself. He has been asked a question he cannot ultimately avoid and now it is time to answer. And here is where the ingenious literary device comes into play. Look carefully at this line from John’s Gospel and see if you notice anything strange:
Upon this [the shouting of Crucify him!]Pilate sought to release him, but the Jews cried out, “If you release this man, you are not Caesar’s friend; every one who makes himself a king sets himself against Caesar.” When Pilate heard these words, he brought Jesus out, and he sat down on the judgment seat at a place called The Pavement, and in Hebrew, Gabbatha. (John 19:12-13)
So what is strange here? Well notice that when Pilate has Jesus brought out, “he” sat on the judgment seat. Who exactly is sitting on the judgment seat? Well, you might say, Pilate of course!” And historically that might have been true. But the text is ambiguous as to the exact identity of “he” and most Scripture scholars argue that it is supposed to be ambiguous.
From the standpoint of historical facts it was likely Pilate who took that seat. But from the standpoint of Divine Justice it is Jesus who takes that seat.
He has turned the tables on Pilate. Pilate is now on trial and the verdict is about to be revealed. Pilate will seal his own fate when he hands Jesus over to be crucified. His vacillation is over. He has made his choice. He has answered the question.
From this context it is Jesus who sits silently upon the judgment seat. The verdict is in. In deciding to hand Jesus over, in deciding to favor himself and the crowds over Jesus, Pilate has brought judgment on himself.
Too many of us have cartoonish notions about our final judgment. Many today conceive of that judgment as either a benign Jesus giving us a great big hug, or for the condemned, an angry Lord gleefully passing judgment on his “enemies.” Perhaps too there is some notion of the repetition of our deeds, good or bad, and the pronouncing of some sort of verdict, while we cringe and wait. But Jesus is not a King who imposes his Kingdom. He is one who invites our entry into his Kingdom. So ultimately judgment is about our choice, not His.
And. thus what if judgment is finally this: the Lord, who suffered for us, respectfully and quietly seated on the Judgement seat, accepting our final choice, a choice that is the cumulative sum of all our choices, a choice that is now and forever fixed? Isn’t that what really happens here?
The Lord has called the question for Pilate, as he does for us. But the choice is for Pilate and the judgement he brings on himself. A choice either to accept the Lord’s kingship, or to reject it and see the Lord led away, while he (Pilate himself) stands alone, the judgment having been rendered by his own choice.
Yes, there are implications as to whether we accept the Lord for our King or not. Today the Lord asks us all: “Will you let me be your King?” And to those of us who say, “yes,” the Lord has this further question, “Are you saying this on your own or is it just that others have been telling you about me?” Is he really our King? Think about it. There are implications.
The question that we cannot fail to answer has now been answered by Pilate. What is your answer? What is mine?
Novena to Christ the King
JESUS began his public life by announcing His Kingdom. "The Kingdom of God is at hand! Reform your lives and believe in the Gospel!" [Mk 1:14]. The Kingdom of God is primarily spiritual. Its final realization consists in the union of all the blessed in the possession of God in Heaven.
Entrance into this Kingdom comes through the acceptance of the Gospel message by faith and the receiving of Baptism. Christ's Kingdom is not a worldly kingdom. The name by which the Kingdom of God is most commonly called is the Catholic Church. It is at once Divine and human; on earth and in Heaven. Small as a mustard seed in its beginning, it was destined to become catholic, that is, to embrace all the earth or to be universal. This concept of the Catholic Church as the one universal Kingdom of God makes it evident that there can be only one true Church, just as there can be only one true Kingdom of God.
The Church is Jesus Christ, living on and acting in the world through His duly authorized ministers, until the end of time. He gave to His Church a form, an organization which would enable it to carry on His work on earth -----to teach, to rule, and to administer to the souls of men.
Membership in the Kingdom of God is the most precious thing that a person can possess. We must regard it as a pearl beyond price and gratefully sacrifice for this gift.
Jesus Christ is our King -----all things have been created in Him, through Him, and for Him and as the Son, the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity, He is the perfect image of God.
It is of faith that Jesus Christ, as Man, has the fullest spiritual power, leading to salvation, establishing the Church and her Sacraments, and disposing of all graces in the supernatural order. In virtue of the union of His human nature with the Divine, He possesses still greater power, which is the foundation of His Kingship.
We, as individuals, must strive to be subject to Christ the King most perfectly, in mind, will, and heart, because we were purchased at the price of His Own Precious Blood. Christ must be King of the home and all human society.
JESUS, Thou didst declare that Thy Kingdom is upon the earth, but not of the earth; it is a spiritual, supernatural Kingdom, the Kingdom of truth. It fights with the power of conviction, and conquers by this means the hearts that by right belong to it. Thou Thyself art witness to this truth, and Thou Thyself art the Truth.
Jesus, I believe that Thou art truly a King because Thou hast come into the world to institute among people the rule of God; every person who is of the truth, who believes in God and recognizes His authority in human affairs, owes Thee a loyal and undivided allegiance and "hears Thy voice."
As a Catholic I am a member of Thy Kingdom, and Thou art my King. To Thee I owe loyalty, obedience, and love. Help me to carry out these most sacred duties toward Thee. I wish to be "of the truth " that is "a child of God" and gladly to hear Thy voice and follow Thee in all things. I accept Thee as my King and submit to Thy authority.
Reign supremely in my heart and in my life. Thy reign is heavenly peace; Thy law is love. Help me to pray and work that Thy Kingdom may come into every soul, every family, every nation.
Jesus, since I honor Thee as my King, I come to Thee with great confidence, asking Thee to grant this special favor, if it be Thy holy Will:
(Mention your request).
Lord Jesus Christ, my King, I adore Thee as the Son of God, and through the prayers of Thy most loving Mother I beg of Thee, send me from out of the abundance of Thy loving Heart the grace of the Holy Spirit in order that He may enlighten my ignorance, purify and sanctify my sinful heart, and confirm me in Thy holy love. This I request through the love of the Father and the Holy Spirit, through Thine infinite mercy, and through the merits of all Thy Saints. Amen.
CHRIST, Jesus, I acknowledge Thee as King of the universe. All that has been made has been created for Thee. Make full use of Thy rights over me.
I renew the promises I made in Baptism
when I renounced Satan and all his pomps and works. I promise to live a good
Christian life. Especially, I undertake to help, to the extent of my means, to
secure the triumph of the rights
of God and of Thy Church. Divine Heart of Jesus, I offer Thee my poor efforts so that all hearts may acknowledge Thy sacred Royalty and the Kingdom of Thy peace may be established throughout the entire universe. Amen.
Citations on the Kingship of Christ from Scripture
"I Myself have set up My King on Zion, My
holy mountain You are My Son; this day I have begotten You. Ask of Me and I will
give You the nations for an inheritance and the ends of the earth for Your
possession. You shall rule them." -Ps 2:6-9
"The Lord God will give Him the throne of David His father. He shall be King over the house of Jacob forever and His Kingdom will be without end." -Lk 1 :32-33
"The Kingdom of God is at hand! Reform your lives and believe in the Gospel!" -Mk 1:14
"My Kingdom is not of this world. At this Pilate said to Him, 'So, then, You are a king?' Jesus replied: 'You are right in saying I am a King. The reason I was born, the reason why I came into the world, is to testify to the truth.' " -Jn 18:36-39