Christ the King
Preached November 25, 2018; St. Peter Catholic Church, The Dalles, Oregon
This past week I came across a couple of commentaries speaking about how foreign the celebration of Christ the King appears to a democratic world. Curiously, though, this specific celebration was only recently established in 1925 by Pope Pius XI, in the midst of this democratic world.
Still, because we have got rid of kings the kingship of Christ is difficult for us to grasp. We believe in the rule of the people and recognize only that authority which the people give to a government; we very readily transfer this same democratic mentality to our relationship with God and with his Church. We only accept the authority of God in our lives insofar as it pleases us, which means that we really don’t accept his authority at all.
Now our modern democratic societies have separated the lawgiving, executive, and judicial powers of government precisely in order to weaken government through a system of checks and balances; this supposedly makes government more responsive to the wishes of the people.
In any case, truly royal power contains within itself the legislative, executive, and judicial powers; a real king is a lawgiver, a commander, and a judge. In any historical monarchy the royal power is indeed limited by the traditions and customs of the people, but the real check on royal power has only ever been the higher power of God.
This is why the wise man spoke to the great kings: Authority was given you by the Lord and sovereignty by the Most High, who shall probe your works and scrutinize your counsels … for the lowly may be pardoned out of mercy, but the mighty shall be mightily put to the test. (Wis 6:1,2,3,6)
In truth, where there is no fear of God, there will be abuse of power, whether great or small, and no human system of checks and balances can prevent the abuse of power; checks and balances only shift the power to other human beings, subject to the same temptations.
In any case, the supreme King and Ruler of all the universe, is God the Creator of all. He is not King by democratic election, but by his very nature. He is the supreme and absolute lawgiver who governs all things by his wisdom, which reaches from end to end mightily and governs all things well. (Wis 8:1) He is the supreme commander who gives righteous orders that are to be obeyed by both angels and men. He is the supreme judge from whom nothing is hidden and who will demand an account of how we have followed his law and obeyed his commands.
All other legislative, executive, and judicial power in the world, whether embodied in a monarch or a democratic government, has legitimacy only insofar as it is subordinated to God’s kingship. That is true also of the authority possessed by the hierarchy of the Catholic Church. Anything outside this just subordination to the rule of God is an abuse of power, which will one day be called to account by the judgment of God.
God is the supreme King and Ruler of all the universe, but in today’s first reading we hear about one like the Son of man who is presented before the throne of God and receives dominion, glory, and kingship over all peoples, nations, and languages. He is given an everlasting dominion that shall not be taken away and a kingship that shall not be destroyed. In other words, this man will receive all the royal power of God himself.
The prophecy is fulfilled in the man Jesus Christ, the Son of Man who entered into his glory through his death and resurrection. (cf. Lk 24:26) As the Son of God, from all eternity he shared the everlasting dominion with his Father. As man he acquired that kingship by right of conquest, we could say, through his victory over sin and death. So now God exercises his Kingship through the man Jesus Christ, who has been established as King of the Universe and judge of the living and the dead.
We should mention here also the Queen-Mother, the Blessed Virgin Mary, who has been established by her Son over the realm of mercy; she is thus the dispensatrix of divine mercy and the mediatrix of grace.
Turning now to today’s Gospel we have what appears to be a very different picture of Jesus Christ, before he has formally ascended to his throne at the right hand of the Father. Jesus stands before the judgment seat of Pontius Pilate, who represents the earthly king, the Roman Emperor. As judge Pilate questions Jesus, who stands accused of being a traitor to the Emperor, a rebel king, a pretender. That is the meaning of Pilate’s question: Are you the King of the Jews? A simple ‘yes’ answer on the part of Jesus would amount to the confession of treason.
Standing before Pilate, it seems as though Pilate is the judge and Jesus is the accused. In truth, it is the other way around. Jesus affirms his royalty with the words: For this I was born and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.
Those words probe the heart of Pilate. He is now the one who stands accused. Will he stand for the truth, or will he stand for expediency?
Pilate responds with skepticism saying, What is truth? (Jn 18:38) He ends by pursuing the course of expediency, handing Jesus over to be crucified, after acknowledging the truth of his innocence. Pilate already stands condemned by the truth.
Today, both in the world and, alas, in the Church, there are many who follow the path of Pilate. The choose expediency, convenience, advantage, pleasure, or some other fleeting goal over the eternal truth of Jesus Christ, the Way, the Truth, and the Life. (Jn 14:6)
It is not always easy, but we are capable of judging the actions of others, just as Pilate was capable of judging whether or not Jesus was guilty of treason; Pilate correctly found that he was not guilty, but condemned him anyway. It is not always easy, but we are capable of judging what is right and what is wrong; what is true and what is false. Putting that into practice, however, is another matter.
Nevertheless, we are not capable of judging the hidden thoughts and intentions of the heart; indeed, it is not always easy to evaluate our own thoughts and intentions. Many times we mean well, but we deceive ourselves about our hidden motives. Many times we mean well, but we deceive ourselves about the connection between our actions and intentions.
What is hidden from us is not hidden from Jesus Christ, the King. He perceives our most hidden thoughts and intentions. He is the one who is capable of properly weighing and evaluating each one of our thoughts, intentions, and actions.
Jesus penetrating gaze pierces through our excuses and rationalizations and lays bare all of our laziness and negligence. If we open ourselves to his gaze it brings mercy and healing; if we deceive ourselves and reject gaze we will be subject to the judgment.
Indeed, in all that we think, do, or say whether we are aware of it or not, we always stand in Jesus’ presence, in a way as Pilate stood in his presence. In everything we think, do, or say, we are either submitting to the truth, or we are setting ourselves up as judges, as the authority. Nevertheless, even when we think we are judging, we are in truth being judged.
It would be better to submit to the judgment of the truth in the confessional in order to receive healing balm of the mercy of the Sacred Heart of Jesus.
When Jesus comes so that every eye will see him, even those who pierced him, then will the judgment that already takes place in the secret place of human hearts be manifest. Then all those who follow the path of Pilate, sitting in judgment on the meek and humble Jesus, sitting in judgment on the truth that is evident to us, even though it does not force itself upon us, will find Jesus as their judge.
Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.
The truth is first of all the truth of the eternal Word that was with God in the beginning, the Word that was God, the Word through whom all things were made, the Word that would take flesh in the womb of the Virgin and receive the name of Jesus – which means Savior.
The truth is, in the second place, the order of the universe that was created through the Word. This includes the order of man, created in male and female in the image of God.
The truth is, in the third place, the order of redemption and salvation that was established by the Word made flesh, Jesus Christ; that includes the order of faith, the order of grace, the order of the sacraments, the order of the Church.
The truth is, in the fourth place, the order of fulfillment in the new heavens and new earth that will come about through the resurrection of the dead.
This whole order of truth belongs to the reign of Jesus Christ, the King of the Universe. If we listen to the voice of Jesus and let the truth rule over us now, during the time of mercy, we will be able to stand before Jesus as judge and find our place in the order of fulfillment, in the new heaven and the new earth.