On the feast of Christ the King, we are called to acknowledge that Jesus is, in fact our King. It is one thing to say that he is our King because the song in Church we sang said that, or the preacher said that, or the Bible says that. Yes, faith does come by hearing. But there also comes a moment when WE must say that Jesus is our King. When we must personally affirm what the Church has always announced: “Jesus is Lord, and he is King, he is my king. He has authority in my life.”And this must become more than lip service. It must become a daily, increasing reality in our life.

Kings take care of us, but they also have the authority to command us. Can Christ command you or me? Or are we more typical of the modern person who doesn’t like to be told what to do? Or perhaps we suffer from the more mild form of this attitude that reduces and trivializes Jesus to being the “harmless hippie” who just says pleasant things about peace and flowers, but would never rebuke us or command us to repent.

And so, again the question for us: Is Jesus Christ your King?

And that brings us to the Gospel for today’s Mass. Now, the Gospels are not theater, as though we were in the audience and watching a story unfold, a story that took place 2000 years ago. No, we are in the story. We are not just to observe what Peter, or Pilate, of James, or Mary Magdalene do. They are us and we are them.

One of the things that this means is that when Jesus asks them a question, we cannot merely wait and see how they will answer as though we were watching a movie. No, WE have to answer the question.

In today’s Gospel the spotlight moves to Pontius Pilate. And the Lord asks the critical question of him (i.e. us) that we are here pondering. And we cannot simply wait to see how Pilate answers that question, WE have to answer it. Consider this Gospel in three stages.

I. INDECISION – In a remarkable display of literary artistry, John and the Holy Spirit vividly depict the vacillation of  Pontius Pilate. For in this  Gospel passage of the trial of Jesus, Pilate goes in and out of the Praetorium (i.e. the Governor’s palace) more than a bell-hop through the revolving door of a hotel. Indeed he goes in and out seven times. Note the text with the texts describing his motions highlighted in bold text:

29So Pilate went out to them and said, “What accusation do you bring against this man?” …..33Pilate [re]entered the praetorium and called Jesus…..” 39After he had said this, he went out to the Jews again, and told them, “I find no crime in him…..1Then Pilate took Jesus [back into the praetorium] and scourged him…… 4Pilate went out again, and said to them, “See, I am bringing him out to you, that you may know that I find no crime in him….8When Pilate heard these words, he was the more afraid; 9he re-entered the praetorium and [spoke] to Jesus….12Upon this Pilate [went back out] and sought to release him, but the Jews cried out, “If you release this man, you are not Caesar’s friend…When Pilate heard these words, he brought Jesus out and he sat down on the judgment seat…..(John 18-19 selected verses)

Did you count? Seven times Pilate goes in or out of the Praetorium! Such a picture of indecision an vacillation! He’s trying to please the crowds, he’s trying to please his wife (who had warned him to have nothing to do with that innocent man (Mat 27:19)), he’s trying to help Jesus. But he can’t decide! In and out he goes!

He is like us. We say we love God, but we also love the world. We want to please others, we want to please God. We cannot do both. We have to decide. But instead we vacillate, we go back and forth. We are Pilate. We are often locked in indecision, we vacillate, trying to please the world, trying to please others and to please God.

Is Pilate really so different from many of us? Faced with a crucial decision, he weighs the consequences that choosing Jesus will have on his career, his future, his family, his loyalty to country and Caesar, his access to power, and so forth. And while we may rightfully criticize Pilate  for his choice, is it not easy for so many of us to make compromises with the world for the sake of similar things? How often does Jesus our King take a back seat to career, politics, convenience and so on? And so easily we stay rooted in vacillation, compromise and indecision.

II. INQUIRY – And now, in the midst of all this indecision comes the question.

Pilate begins with his own question: “Are you the King of the Jews?” (John 18:33) But Jesus, who is on trial, turns the tables on Pilate and putting him on trail asks him the crucial question:

Are you saying this on your own or have others been telling you about me?” (John 18:34).

A remarkable question! And guess what?! YOU have to answer it, I have to answer it. Do not wait for Pilate, he has already made his answer and he has faced his judgment centuries ago. But YOU, and ME, how do WE answer the question?

Now notice what the Lord is getting at. He is asking you if you call him a King merely because you have heard others say this or because you personally know him to be King. Is he really your King, or this just a slogan you’ve heard in church before? Do you believe he is King or do you merely parrot what you’ve heard others say?

There is an old Gospel song that says, “Yes I know Jesus for myself.” But is that really the case with us? Too many of us are satisfied with a kind of inferential faith. Inferential faith is based merely on what others have said: “I think, or suppose, that is I infer that Jesus is Lord because my mother said so, or my pastor said so.” This is a good beginning, for after all, faith comes by hearing (Rom 10:17).

But there comes a moment when YOU have to say so. It is not enough that your pastor says so, or your mother says so. And thus Jesus is asking you and me right now: “Are you saying I am King on your own or merely because others have said so?”

Answer him…..It’s a crucial question isn’t it? The faith of the Church is essential, normative and determinative, but at some point you have to step up and say, I personally affirm that the faith of the Church is true and is mine and I hereby declare: “Jesus is Lord and King.”

And what does it mean that he is King? As we have already discussed, A king has authority doesn’t he? Does Jesus have authority in my life? Do I have the obedience of faith (Rom 1:5) and base my life upon his will?

A king also takes care of his people and protects them. Do I allow the Lord to feed me with the Holy Eucharist? Do I allow him to protect me from the poison of sin by the sacrament of confession and the medicine of his Holy Word? Am I willing to live within the protection of the walled city of his Church?

Is the Lord really my King? How do I answer? Is it more than a slogan or is his Kingship real? Let the Lord ask one more time:

Are you saying I am a king on your own or have others been telling you about me?

III. IMPLICATION - You have to answer. To refuse to answer, IS to answer.

A fascinating and wondrous literary device is employed by John and the Holy Spirit in this Gospel passage. We have already seen how Jesus, who was on trial, has turned the tables, and it is now Pilate who is really on trial. Pilate who has the duty to question Jesus is now being questioned by him. And it is Pilate who must now make a decision, not so much about Jesus, but about himself. He has been asked a question he cannot ultimately avoid and now it is time to answer. And here is where the ingenious literary device comes into play. Look carefully at this line from John’s Gospel and see if you notice anything strange:

Upon this [the shouting of Crucify him!]Pilate sought to release him, but the Jews cried out, “If you release this man, you are not Caesar’s friend; every one who makes himself a king sets himself against Caesar.” When Pilate heard these words, he brought Jesus out, and he sat down on the judgment seat at a place called The Pavement, and in Hebrew, Gabbatha. (John 19:12-13)

So what is strange here? Well notice that when Pilate has Jesus brought out, “he” sat on the judgment seat. Who exactly is sitting on the judgment seat? Well, you might say, Pilate of course!” And historically that might have been true. But the text is ambiguous as to the exact identity of “he” and most Scripture scholars argue that it is supposed to be ambiguous.

From the standpoint of historical facts it was likely Pilate who took that seat. But from the standpoint of Divine Justice it is Jesus who takes that seat.

He has turned the tables on Pilate. Pilate is now on trial and the verdict is about to be revealed. Pilate will seal his own fate when he hands Jesus over to be crucified. His vacillation is over. He has made his choice. He has answered the question.

From this context it is Jesus who sits silently upon the judgment seat. The verdict is in. In deciding to hand Jesus over, in deciding to favor himself and the crowds over Jesus, Pilate has brought judgment on himself.

Too many of us have cartoonish notions about our final judgment. Many today conceive of that judgment as either a benign Jesus giving us a great big hug, or for the condemned, an angry Lord gleefully passing judgment on his “enemies.” Perhaps too there is some notion of the repetition of our deeds, good or bad, and the pronouncing of some sort of verdict, while we cringe and wait. But Jesus is not a King who imposes his Kingdom. He is one who invites our entry into his Kingdom. So ultimately judgment is about our choice, not His.

And. thus what if judgment is finally this: the Lord, who suffered for us, respectfully and quietly seated on the Judgement seat, accepting our final choice, a choice that is the cumulative sum of all our choices, a choice that is now and forever fixed? Isn’t that what really happens here?

The Lord has called the question for Pilate, as he does for us. But the choice is for Pilate and the judgement he brings on himself. A choice either to accept the Lord’s kingship, or to reject it and see the Lord led away, while he (Pilate himself) stands alone, the judgment having been rendered by his own choice.

Yes, there are implications as to whether we accept the Lord for our King or not. Today the Lord asks us all: “Will you let me be your King?” And to those of us who say, “yes,” the Lord has this further question, “Are you saying this on your own or is it just that others have been telling you about me?” Is he really our King? Think about it. There are implications.

The question that we cannot fail to answer has now been answered by Pilate. What is your answer? What is mine?

There is an mp3 of this sermon recorded Saturday night here: King or no

23 Responses

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  2. edracruz says:

    My LORD and my GOD. My KING and my SAVIOR.

  3. GABRIEL says:

    The kingdom of God is not a democracy. The Lord never seeks reelection. There’s no discussion, no deliberation, no referanda as to which road to take. There’s one right, one wrong. One absolute ruler.

  4. Vijaya says:

    This is a wonderful reflection on the reading. As always, you bring depth and clarity to the Scriptures.

    Our family just recently enthroned the Sacred Heart of Jesus … so you have our answer. Christ is King! Our lives have been transformed since we were rec’d into the church, and we continue to be transformed.

    By the way, do you know why the Feast was moved from one month ago to the end of the liturgical year? I was so confused the first time we went to Latin Mass (it was Feast of Christ our King) and then a month later we celebrated it again at our regular parish where we were rec’d into the Church.

  5. Wordman says:

    Simply wonderful Monsignor!

  6. TaillerHuws says:

    But they do accept him as their king. We do read in the OT how God is mistreated – how the people disobey or complain or murmur against God. And so, to call for Barabbas’ release instead of Jesus their King is like a confirmation of the historical treatment of God by His people. “Okay. Reject me and then I will show you again My Fidelity to prove to you that I am not leaving you – that I am Faithful and True in spite of your own faithlessness and infidelity – that you need Me in order to have life and true happiness.”

  7. Dennis says:

    Thank you, Msgr, for this post. It was timely for me, because I was reflecting on this very question today and realized that I do not act as if Jesus is my King. I am torn, knowing that I want Him to be, but also knowing that I would have to give up some things if He was. How can we come to truly accept Him as King? I want to, but not fully, so it feels like all of my efforts are futile… Any advice?

    • Vijaya says:

      Dennis, I struggle with this too, but I have asked for these virtues, and God does not refuse. Change is slow, I admit, but sometimes we can break certain chains that bind us just like that, and you wonder how it happened. It’s the Lord’s doing! So don’t be discouraged.

      I find myself singing Jesus my Lord, my God, my all almost daily. The refrain: Sweet Sacrament with Thee adore, oh, make me love Thee more and more … and He stirs my heart to love and obey.

  8. Robertlifelongcatholic says:

    i always thought of Jesus as king of the Church but my relation with Him has always been familial.

    • yan says:

      I think you are right on.

      “This Kingdom of Christ has been given to the Church, which is the seed and the beginning, and it has the task of proclaiming and spreading it among all nations by the power of the Holy Spirit.”–Pope BXIV, today

  9. Fr. Staney D almeda, Mysore Dioceses, India says:

    Dear Msgr, thank you very much for this wonderful homily. Though i missed this time to take points from ur homily but sure for next year I could preach to my peopel from your reflection . Kindly continue your valuable thougts , as to reach to all over the world. Thank you .

  10. FrDarryl says:

    Ecce alio homo: Msgr Charles Pope. Gotta love a man whose head leads his heart and who know what, whom, when and how to fight: especially a real man with sweet computer programming coupled with catechetical promulgation skills. Napoleon was right: people do do want men who have great skills!

  11. Bender says:

    This is a timely question. Just exactly who do we look to as our king, as our sovereign? On the one hand, we live in the world, but we are not of the world. We submit to worldly rulers to a large extent, but they are not the ultimate authority. For example, we Catholics around here live under the government of the United States as good and faithful citizens, but Mr. Obama is not our king, and while sometimes the two can co-exist, sometimes it might be necessary to choose between the two. Henry VIII fancied himself a king, and thus presumed to arbitrarily decree what was marriage and what was not marriage, but ultimately he was merely a pretender to the throne, as John Fisher and Thomas More and a few others understood. Now, we too are faced with that same choice.

  12. Peg says:

    http://www.usccb.org/bible/reflections/

    Father Erik Arnold’s reflection for today’s Feast of Christ the King was helpful to me.

  13. Cathy says:

    In the words of Fr. Miguel Pro, “Viva Cristo Rey!”

    …I was disappointed that this final Gospel passage of the liturgical cycle B did not include Pilate’s infamous reply, “What is truth?” (John 18:38). …In “The Dolorous Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ,” mystic Anne Catherine Emmerich provides a detailed account of Pilate’s thoughts and actions at this time, including Pilate’s interactions with his wife Claudia Procles who repeatedly and desperately entreated that Jesus not be harmed. Emmerich’s account is well worth reading.

  14. Deacon John M. Bresnahan says:

    Unfortunately, today our undereducated young people need to be taught what it means to be a king. When many modern young people hear the word “king” they think of a figurehead ruler who has virtually no power and who, if he wants to keep his throne, had better be subservient to the will of the people. Most royalty today are just variations of the species known as “celebrity.”

  15. […] Read more . . . Share this:TwitterFacebookEmailPrintLike this:LikeBe the first to like this. By Servus Fidelis in Article on November 25, 2012. ← Whispers in the Loggia – For All the Cardinals, “The Demanding Responsibility To Bear Witness” Click Image to Go to Home Page […]

  16. RichardC says:

    Aristotle said that all knowledge comes through the senses. Sight is the most noble of the senses; touch is the most necessary. Reading is a sort of conversion of seeing into hearing with the help of the imagination. When St. Paul says that faith comes through hearing, I always think of that saying of Aristotle.

    When St. Peter says that Jesus is the Messiah, Jesus tells him that this was revealed to St. Peter from God. This, then, is an example of knowledge, specifically the kind of knowledge called faith, coming from some place other than the senses.–unless I am misunderstanding something.

    Good sermon.

  17. Aloysius Duque says:

    Whether we believe it or not, accept it or not, know it or not JESUS IS EVERYONE’S KING!!!!

  18. Hart Ponder says:

    The power of the our Father Prayer asking God’s Kingdom to come is very powerful! I fear for those who seem to replace the Gospel with Nationalism or the “American Dream” … I often reflect on Daniel 2:44.

  19. RAY - ENGLAND says:

    I would like to thank you Fr Charles for your obviously very timely, but also highly inspirational exhortation for us all to reconsider whether Christ truly is our King or not.
    I give thanks to God that I was baptised and received into Christ’s church on the Feast of Christ The King, in 1965. It was important to me then – as now – that I should understand precisely what was required of me to be Christ’s totally loyal subject, and its renewal is, I find, a daily process, when I try to, in all good faith, ask for forgiveness for my sins and to renew my allegiance to my Heavenly King.
    I, quite clearly, have not always been, to use St Thomas More’s words, ‘God’s good servant first’ – indeed I have failed many times. But to me, the most important thing about Jesus Christ being my true King, is that I can come back, every time I fail, and ask His forgiveness, knowing that He is always my good King, even if I am not always His good servant.
    I would like to share a small poem I wrote to honour ‘My King’ for the 43rd anniversary of my baptism in 1999.
    Just to confess that I have not always been totally loyal to Him, I can tell you that in that year, I was sadly spending a shortish amount of time in prison for sins I had committed. Even so, it became even more clear to me during that time that Jesus IS King, wherever we may be in our lives and I thank Him that he was especially there to ‘give freedom to those in prison’ – like me.
    CHRIST THE KING – MY BAPTISMAL BIRTHDAY

    Christ the King is born within –
    old Adam died, released from sin;
    Satan fallen – God’s love to win
    my soul – the world and all its kin.

    Christ vilified, crucified, slain;
    Christ the victor, raised again!
    God’s true Son – given for us, riven for us,
    Driven away, the dark of sin and pain.

    God the Father, Abba, Pater,
    God the Son, Heaven’s King,
    God the Spirit, life’s imparter,
    Divine, Thine – Mine
    CHRIST MY KING!

    I hope that these few small and hopefully humble words of personal testimony will help anyone, such as, for example, Dennis above, to understand that Jesus is always there for us as our loyal King – even when we are not, now and then, His loyal subjects.
    God’s blessings on all who trust in Jesus as their Lord and King.
    Ray

  20. RAY - ENGLAND says:

    I would like to thank you Fr Charles for your obviously very timely, but also highly inspirational exhortation for us all to reconsider whether Christ truly is our King or not.
    I give thanks to God that I was baptised and received into Christ’s church on the Feast of Christ The King, in 1965. It was important to me then – as now – that I should understand precisely what was required of me to be Christ’s totally loyal subject, and its renewal is, I find, a daily process, when I try to, in all good faith, ask for forgiveness for my sins and to renew my allegiance to my Heavenly King.
    I, quite clearly, have not always been, to use St Thomas More’s words, ‘God’s good servant first’ – indeed I have failed many times. But to me, the most important thing about Jesus Christ being my true King, is that I can come back, every time I fail, and ask His forgiveness, knowing that He is always my good King, even if I am not always His good servant.
    I would like to share a small poem I wrote to honour ‘My King’ for the 43rd anniversary of my baptism in 1999.
    Just to confess that I have not always been totally loyal to Him, I can tell you that in that year, I was sadly spending a shortish amount of time in prison for sins I had committed. Even so, it became even more clear to me during that time that Jesus IS King, wherever we may be in our lives and I thank Him that he was especially there to ‘give freedom to those in prison’ – like me.
    CHRIST THE KING – MY BAPTISMAL BIRTHDAY
    Christ the King is born within –
    old Adam died, released from sin;
    Satan fallen – God’s love to win
    my soul – the world and all its kin.
    Christ vilified, crucified, slain;
    Christ the victor, raised again!
    God’s true Son – given for us, riven for us,
    Driven away, the dark of sin and pain.
    God the Father, Abba, Pater,
    God the Son, Heaven’s King,
    God the Spirit, life’s imparter,
    Divine, Thine – Mine
    CHRIST MY KING!
    I hope that these few small and hopefully humble words of personal testimony will help anyone, such as, for example, Dennis above, to understand that Jesus is always there for us as our loyal King – even when we are not, now and then, His loyal subjects.
    God’s blessings on all who trust in Jesus as their Lord and King.
    Ray

    • RAY - ENGLAND says:

      I am very sorry – my comment seems to have copied over twice! I have no idea why. Perhaps you will want to delete the second copy.
      Ray

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