Nov 23, 2012

Christ the King - The faithful witness

Christ the King of the Universe

Sunday Word:

Dn 7: 13-14
Rev 1: 5-8
Jn 18: 33-37

A most famous quote often used but nonetheless so truthful is a simple observation about the effects of power. Lord Acton of England in the 19th century wrote: "Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men."

Unfortunately, history has often shown this to be true. Think of the Roman Emperors, many of whom thought of themselves as divine. The Adolf Hitler's and the Napoleon's who seized power and wielded it through force and fear rather than through a benefit for the common good. Nor can we hide the history of our own Papacy, particularly those of the 1600’s, whose personal morality was anything but stellar: Alexander VI and Leo X to name just two. Earthly power and prestige can be used for good, surely, but when invested too heavily in one person, its power to corrupt is almost inevitable.

Hitler imagined that he would ultimately take over the world and the Third Reich would rule for a thousand years with the power of the super-race. Well, he's gone and we are still here. Long gone are also Roman Emperors who demanded the worship of their citizens.

So, this Sunday, the last week of our liturgical year, we hear of a potentially corruptible title:  Jesus Christ, King of the Universe. “King of the Universe” is quite a claim!  It is a claim, however, that can only be made by God himself whose power is beyond any earthly force. It is absolute power for which there is no equal. In the Gospel (Jn 18: 33-37) for this Sunday we see a clash of powers between the weak but cunning Pontius Pilate and the mighty Jesus who is far more than he appears on the surface.

The claim for Kingship is the center of the contrast between them. Pilate asks, perhaps with some hesitation: “Are you the King of the Jews?” Such a possibility would strike fear in the heart of Pilate. It would be a challenge to his own efforts to keep the Pax Romana in this backwater location of the Roman Empire. 

Jesus’ response puzzles Pilate: “My kingdom does not belong to this world . . .” Pilate cannot imagine another “kingdom” other than an earthly one so he seems to assume that Jesus suffers from a sad case of delusional thinking. “Then, you are a King?” Pilate states sarcastically. 

The context of the brief inquiry is telling as well.  Here Jesus stands before the authority of Rome. Arrested by the Chief Priests and soldiers about to be scourged and condemned to death.  Seemingly helpless and pitiful he truly stands as the book of Revelation tells us in our second reading as the: “. . . faithful witness . . . who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood, who has made us into a kingdom . . .” Jesus’ kingdom is not one for subjects but for faithful disciples who are called by the witness of their own lives to bear witness to a kingdom of “. . . truth and life, a kingdom of holiness and grace, a kingdom of justice, love and peace . . .” (Preface for Christ the King). Jesus’ kingdom is beyond space and time and unlike ancient Rome or any earthly power, his kingdom will never end and its power has no limits. This power does not corrupt but rather brings one to conversion of heart and life.

For those of us who live in this amazing democracy, we shun any allusion to royalty or slavish submission.  We have a President, not a King or Queen. We have a balance of power between three branches of government. We have equal rights before law and a system, which at its best, will permit a healthy freedom.  Yet, clearly our challenge is to incorporate the morality and values of the spiritual and moral kingdom that Christ brings.  Like his clash with Pilate, however, we well know there might be a price to pay in our pursuit to be faithful to the truth as Christ himself bore witness on our behalf.

What “kingdom” is pulling you?  What power is ruling over your life? We live in two worlds in a sense – this life and our hope for the next.  Yet, if we truly believe Christ is King of the Universe, then our Eucharistic celebrations become a place to stand in adoration and gratitude that his kingdom will not pass away. 
Almighty, ever-living God
whose will is to restore all things
in your beloved Son, the King of the universe,
grant, we pray, that the whole creation,
set free from slavery,
may render your majesty service
and ceaselessly proclaim your praise.

(Collect for Solemnity)