Christ the King
Nov. 26, 2000
John 18: 33-37
St. Joseph’s Home, Paterson, N.J.
Guardian Angel, Allendale, N.J.
“Pilate said to Jesus, ‘Are you the King of the Jews?’” (John 18: 33).
|Passion Play at Salesian school in Itajai, Brazil (2010), courtesy of SLM Steve Widelski|
Four weeks ago I arrived in Rome for a meeting of Salesian historians from all over the world at our GHQ. Many people asked me who was going to win our election—including a member of the British Parliament who turned up at HQ to visit one of his old teachers on staff there. As a diligent, well informed reader of both The New York Times and The Record, I was able to respond with complete confidence, “God only knows.”
(I note in parentheses that I did vote by absentee ballot—personally delivering it, signed, before I departed, in Paterson, not Florida.)
Well, like you I expected to know on Nov. 8 what only God knew the day before. But it appears that God’s still keeping the answer a closely guarded secret, and my stock answer will hold true for a while yet, as “their attendants fight” over the kingdom.
We may not know who our President-elect will be. Today’s feast of Christ the King enables us to put presidents and all earthly rulers into perspective—even Pontius Pilate’s Rome, which lasted 1,130 years as kingdom, republic, and empire—rather longer than our beloved republic’s 393 years so far, including our colonial period.
As the agent of a great earthly empire, Pontius Pilate was concerned about the political aspirations of any popular public figure, including Jesus of Nazareth. We have plenty of historical evidence of political unrest in Judea under Roman occupation; of Jewish hopes for independence and a revival of the monarchy of King David’s family; of various bloody revolts connected to the proclamation of so-called messiahs. So Pilate asked this rabbi from Galilee whom so many Jews were talking about, who had just days before made a spectacular public entry to Jerusalem and immediately challenged the Temple authorities—Pilate asked him who he thought he was: “Are you the King of the Jews?”
Jesus was descended from David. But his royal claims were not, are not, political as we ordinarily understand politics: “My kingdom does not belong to this world” (18:36). Pilate seemed to be intrigued. He wanted to know more about this otherworldly kingdom. Jesus told him it was a kingdom of truth. His subjects were, are, lovers of truth: “Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice” (18:37).
A steady gag asks, “How can you tell when a politician is lying?” “His lips are moving.” We’ve heard more than our share of political spin and truth-stretching and worse since Nov. 7.
But we all know that ultimate truth doesn’t lie in—or should I say, rest upon?—any election or political party or system of government. Lovers of the truth may flourish in republics or kingdoms, tribal councils or empires, even in dictatorships and prisons. Ultimate truth—our final salvation—lies in God’s everlasting love, revealed to us in his Son Jesus Christ. Our allegiance, therefore, to any earthly ruler or political system or our native land has to be relative—relative to Jesus Christ and his teachings, his values, his truth. He is our Lord, our Master, our King, “the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end” (Rev 22:13).
Rome rose, prospered, declined, and fell. So have all other republics, kingdoms, and empires, most of them in a lot less time than Rome. But the dominion of Christ “is an everlasting dominion that shall not be taken away; his kingship shall not be destroyed” (Dan 7:14).
That being so, we seek in all things to serve Jesus and the truth. We don’t join Pilate or the secular elite of our society in asking scornfully, “What is truth?” (John 18:38), which is the next verse after this morning’s gospel. If we take an interest in public affairs—and indeed, we should—it is to serve Jesus by serving our fellow human beings. For the truth is that they are our brothers and sisters, beloved of God, from the least to the greatest, from the industrial magnate with his billions to the street children of the Third World, from the unborn to the frailest senior citizen. Whoever wins the Presidency, whatever relationship he’ll have with Congress, whatever rulings the Supreme Court may issue next month or in the next 4 years—our allegiance remains with truth: the relative truths of fairness, of equality, of just laws and procedures; the non-negotiable truths of human dignity based on God’s fatherhood of us all, of a moral code determined by God and not by popular consensus, and of a last judgment and an eternal destiny beyond Planet Earth. That destiny includes one of 2 kingdoms not of this world, a kingdom which we belong to even now by choosing to serve it. One is the kingdom of falsehood, dishonor, hatred, sin. The other is the kingdom of Jesus Christ, to which we belong when we seek truth, love truth, proclaim truth, honor truth, live truth, without fear or favor, without regard to earthly politics or earthly rulers. In serving truth, we serve Jesus Christ, the way, the truth, and the life of the human race.