34th Sunday – Christ the King

Dan 7:13-14; Rev1:5-8; John 18:33b-37

Dear Friends! The title “Christ the King” has its roots both in Scripture and in the whole theology of the Kingdom of God. In most of the messianic prophecies given in the Old Testament books of Samuel, Isaiah, Jeremiah and Daniel, Christ the Messiah is represented as a king. And we have so many references in the New Testament:

a) In the Annunciation, recorded in Lk 13:2-33, we read: “The Lord God will make him a King, as his ancestor David was, and He will be the King of the descendants of Jacob forever and His Kingdom will never end.” In fact, the Kingdom of God is the center of Jesus’ teaching and the phrase “kingdom of God” occurs in the Gospels 122 times, of which 90 instances are uses by Jesus. b) The Magi from the Far East came to Jerusalem and asked the question: (Mt. 2:2) “Where is the baby born to be the king of the Jews? We saw his star… and we have come to worship him.”  c) During the royal reception given to Jesus on Palm Sunday, the Jews shouted: (Lk.19: 38) “God bless the king, who comes in the name of the Lord.”  d) The signboard hung over Jesus’ head on the cross read: “Jesus the Nazarene, king of the Jews.”  f) In Matthew 25:31, we read that Christ the King will come in glory to judge us on the day of the Last Judgment.

Today’s gospel presents the first part of the trial conducted by Pilate who questions Jesus about his kingship. In his dialogue with Pilate, Jesus implies that Pilate does not understand the spiritual or transcendent nature of Jesus’ kingship (“My kingdom does not belong to this world”). Jesus admits that he is a king but declares that his kingdom is not of this world. Neither His present nor His future reign operates according to the world’s criteria of power and dominance.

Today, the Church celebrates the Solemnity of Christ the King, and yet never in the New Testament does Christ ever call himself “king.” In today’s Gospel from John, though he talks about “my kingdom,” he also explicitly distances himself from the title itself, “You say that I am a king.” Earlier in John’s Gospel, when the people came to make him a king, Jesus fled to the mountains (Jn. 6:15).

It all depends on what we mean by “king.” In Lk. 22:25, Jesus criticizes prevailing notions of what it means to be king, “The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them and those in authority over them are addressed as ‘Benefactors,’ but among you it shall not be so.”

Jesus avoided the title of king because his own understanding of kingship is so different from most earthly understandings. There are some in various levels of authority today (societal, cultural, governmental), who seem to believe that we would be better with freedom from religion rather than freedom of religion. Perhaps, they envision religion as an earthly kingdom that lords authority over them: thou shalt not this and thou shalt not that. True religion, however, does not impose a series of rules, but rather proposes a vision of relationships that makes us more free, not less.

Some would like to limit freedom of religion to freedom of worship only, but at our Baptism, we were not only anointed as priests—that is, participants in Christ’s priestly mission—in order to offer fitting worship. We were also anointed as prophets and kings—which anointings call us to witness our faith beyond the church building and to serve others beyond the church building.

Our faith teaches us that we are of service to one another not when we enable each other to sin, but when we help each other not to sin. This is what religious freedom is really about—freedom to live virtue and avoid vice; our best examples of it are the saints, whose virtue helped to build up civil society as well as the Church; and we live it best when we follow Jesus in listening to his voice, the voice of truth, as today’s Gospel proclaims, even when embracing His truth may include embracing the Cross as well.

Christ on the Cross, crowned with thorns, is our image of kingdom—life lived for others, even unto death. Christ the king on the Cross is also our image of religious freedom: to see the picture of the truly free man, then look no further than Christ on the Cross.

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