(See the readings of the Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe, November 21.)
“Do you remember?”
I remember hearing my parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles ask this question at family gatherings over Thanksgiving and Christmas. They remembered people, events and even buildings from the past and mostly remembered them with fond memories.
Almost four years ago, as many Philadelphians will recall, the Eagles won the Super Bowl. The long wait of the fans was over. There was excitement in the air as the time passed. With victory secured, the city and suburbs erupted into a big party that lasted for weeks. For local fans, the fact that the underdog comes out on top only adds to the celebrations. The long-awaited victory had finally arrived and now it was time to celebrate.
Some of that experience might translate into what we are celebrating today. This Sunday marks the end of the liturgical year with the Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe. The feast celebrates Christ’s victory over death and his seat at the “right hand of the Father”. He also looks forward to his return to earth in triumph as King of Kings.
Today’s Gospel recalls Jesus ‘trial before Pilate, in particular Pilate’s questioning of Jesus’ kingship. In particular, Jesus said to Pilate: “My kingdom does not belong to this world.
When Jesus uses the term “world” (especially in the Fourth Gospel) he means anything that is not in God’s domain. By saying that his kingdom does not belong to this world, he is indicating that his kingdom is of the Father, the kingdom of God. Now, this kingdom is the one in which God’s plan for the whole world is fulfilled. It is made visible, not as a sign or in anticipation or in a limited way, but completely. It is the realm of love and mercy, where there is no trace of evil or imperfection left.
As Jesus is judged by the rulers of this world (Pilate was an official of the Roman Empire), the contrast between the kingdom of God and the “world” comes to the fore. Many of us can relate to this contrast. We regularly witness or encounter the imperfections of this world, whether in the presence of evil or violence, in conflict or anger, in injustice or prejudice or even in the simple struggles and frustrations that accompany the search for the good.
As the exchange with Pilate continues, Jesus speaks of his mission saying: “For this I was born and for this I came into the world, to bear witness to the truth. All who belong to the truth listen to my voice.
Jesus is the authentic witness of the kingdom of God. He is the Truth. It is in him and through him that the kingdom is manifested and that all are invited to citizenship. In this kingdom is life, eternal life. Earlier in the gospel, Jesus said, “I have come that they may have life and have it more abundantly.
The contrast between the “world” and the “kingdom” continues with the fact that Jesus is not crowned with gold or silver, nor with palm or olive branches, but with thorns. The “world”, and in this case the forces of evil, laugh at the King and the “Kingdom”. The cross becomes the throne.
Love led Jesus to the cross. His unconditional love for the Father, expressed in fidelity, moves him forward. The forces of the “world”, also called “darkness”, try to stop it but are unable to do so.
The contrast is now complete. Jesus’ victory is cemented in this love. Now everything is transformed. The cross, instrument of death, henceforth becomes a sign of victory and, with the Resurrection, of life. Jesus is king, as Pilate involuntarily notes in the sign he orders for the cross.
The hymn of the second reading (taken from The Book of Revelation) speaks of Jesus as “the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead and the ruler of the kings of the earth”. He is the one who “loves us and has delivered us from our sins by his blood”.
Today we celebrate the kingship of Jesus and look forward to his return when the victory is complete and celebrated in its entirety. Daniel foretells the triumph: “When he reached the Old One and was presented before him, he who resembled the Son of man received rulership, glory and kingship; all peoples, nations and languages serve him. … His rulership is eternal rulership that will not be taken away, his kingship will not be destroyed.
Revelation also speaks of his return, when the Lord God says: “I am the Alpha and the Omega” – the first and last letters of the Greek alphabet, symbolizing all, whole, complete and perfect – “he who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.
Today’s celebration of Our Lord Jesus Christ, the King of the Universe, is one of victory. Jesus conquers the power of this “world” on the cross. He did it for us. When the forces of the “world” – whether it be pain, suffering, sorrow, persecution, or whatever – weighs us down, we turn to the Lord of life who has them. already deprived of their power. We renew our faith in his triumph and are exalted in the hope that he will return and lead us all to his kingdom.
Mgr. Joseph Prior is Pastor of Our Lady of Grace Parish, Penndel, and former Professor of Sacred Scripture and Rector of St. Charles Borromeo Seminary.