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His Holiness, Pope Benedict XVI
The feast of Christ the King was instituted by Pope Pius XI in 1925. The historical context was important. Mussolini and the fascists were dominant in Italy, and in Germany Hitler was making his move. The pope was making his point that on this earth, no matter what political aspirations people had, no matter what their hopes, there was only one king who would finally judge them. There would be judgment for what they had in their hearts and what they did with their lives. He was Christ the King. Hitler was forecasting the creation of the Third Reich, a kingdom that would last for a thousand years. In fact it lasted 12 and ended in ruins with the ruination of millions. Mussolini and his fascists were likewise a disaster.
The Gospel of John
This gospel of John gives us a detail of the trial of Jesus, namely his interview with Pilate who questioned him on his kingship. Are you a king? (Jn 18:37). Why the question? We recall Jn 6:15 when the crowd wanted to make him a king because he had fed the five thousand. And at Lk 24:21 the disciples on the road to Emmaus explained to their as yet unidentified companion that they had hoped Jesus would be the nationalist messiah who would free them from the burdens of political and economic oppression. All of this came in the wake of the sons of Zebedee asking for a special privilege from Jesus when he came into his kingdom (Mt 20:21). It was certainly impossible for Jesus to identify himself as the messiah in what was the traditional understanding of that term. Pilate was not being complimentary when he wrote the inscription on the cross: Jesus of Nazareth King of the Jews. He was just contemptuously getting rid of a potential rebel- and despatching him in the most awful possible way.
Jesus had taken pains not to be called the messiah, or a king. It was dangerously misleading were he to be so understood. In the Palestine of his day only the emperor of Rome could be seen to exercise the powers normally associated with kingship. Anybody else bearing the title, as for instance Herod, could only use the title when it was understood to be under the supreme authority of Caesar. Praetors, consuls and proconsuls represented the central authority of the Caesars locally. It was critical that Jesus was not to be confused with Herod and his aspirations, or the zealots and theirs.
In John’s Gospel Jesus is not presented as arguing with Pilate. He replies to a question about his kingship very truthfully, and very guardedly: “My kingdom is not of this world” (Jn 18:36). He had said the essential. We recall again that the Jews had tried to trick him into vocational suicide in putting the dreadful question: should we or should we not pay tribute to Caesar? (Mk 12:14). Here they could have trapped him: should he have said ‘yes you must’ then he was a collaborator with the Romans; should he have said no then he was a rebel against the Romans. So his life was on the line, as he knew so well. So his reply was a model for all Christian generations following: ‘Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s’. Thus Caesar was not a god and all accepting his authority must see to it that they are not idolaters. The exchange with Pilate is pivotal: “You would have no power if it had not been given to you from above” (Jn 19:11). Jesus told Pilate that he came in the interests of truth, a concept that for Pilate was entirely questionable, even if sincerely so for him, “What is truth?”.
But truth for Jesus was not just words; it was a way of life that would give people hope. People could be true to themselves, to their consciences, to their best instincts. The kingdom of heaven would be built on goodness and love. It involves the deepest compassion, following on an act of faith begetting a wholly new kind of commitment. The believer is to recognize the Son of God in the poor and the sick and the lonely and the abandoned. This covers all people and is not restricted to those who bear the Christian name. He set the example himself: when the blind see and the lame walk and the poor have the gospel preached to them then the kingdom of heaven is at hand (Lk 7:22). The king of that kingdom reflects the mind and heart of God, and God is love (1 Jn 4:8). Love and justice, joy and peace belong together. They are the bricks with which is built the contrast society. This is not just talk about truth, it is doing it (Jn 3:21).
To pray today to Christ the king is to pray to be like him. And he said: Learn of me for I am meek and humble of heart and you will have rest for your souls (Mt 11:28ff). To gain one’s life one must lose it (Lk 9:24). As long as you did it to the least of my little one you did it to me (Mt 25:40). This kingship has nothing to do with power and pomp and circumstance. The very nature of God himself is involved in it. Our peace and our purpose depend entirely on accepting it.
The church is Christ’s means for bringing people to The Father. The whole reason for the existence of the church is to give people hope, leading the world in ways of truth and justice and compassion and love until the Last Day…Come Ye blessed of My Father and enter the kingdom that has been prepared for you. With complete sincerity we pray together during this Mass: Thy kingdom come, thy will be done…we must mean with heart and soul what we pray for…. We want to love the suffering. We want love and affection for all, for those who are not or are rich, for those of different beliefs, famous or simple. The disciples of Our Lord want these wishes to be realities. They make present the kingdom of heaven.
A happy Sunday to you all . Amen.
Rev Richard J. Taylor
Spiritual Advisor to MCI