Solemnity of Christ the King
For us who are living here in Australia, royalty is not far from our national consciousness. There’s hardly a week that we don’t have news about Queen Elizabeth and the royal family. When we pull out our wallets and pick a $5 note, we can see the face of Queen Elizabeth. Every time we get coins in our change, we’ll see the portrait of Queen Elizabeth there too. Soon, when Queen Elizabeth passes away, Prince Charles will become king. So whether we like it or not, the monarchy is a part of our culture and history.
The gospel for today is talking about a king but a different kind of a king, that is Jesus, Christ the King. The setting of the gospel is when Jesus, after being arrested and charged with blasphemy, was found guilty by the Sanhedrin and was condemned to death. However, since Israel was under Roman occupation, the Sanhedrin has no power to execute anybody. It is only the Romans who have the power to put people to death. The issue though is that the Romans would have no interest in putting somebody to death because of a religious issue like blasphemy. So the Chief Priest and scribes had to come up with something that would interest the Roman governor in putting Jesus to death. And the charge that they could come up with was setting up Jesus as a potential rival of Caesar as King of the Jews.
In the conversation between Pilate and Jesus, it is interesting to note that finally Jesus revealed his true identity, that he is indeed a king. During his ministry, Jesus explicitly warned his disciples and even the evil spirits that he casted out of people not to reveal his identity. Theologians have described this as the “Messianic Secret”. Why would Jesus not reveal his identity that he is a king? Perhaps, Jesus hesitated because he feared that the people would make him a worldly king, to build an army and to start a rebellion against the Roman Empire. Obviously, Jesus has a different idea as to what he wanted to be known for. However, during the last days of his life, he started to admit what people knew about him all along. When he was entering Jerusalem, people were shouting, “Hosanna to the Son of David, Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.” Jesus didn’t object to the adulation. When the High Priest asked Jesus whether he was the “Son of the Most High”? Jesus admitted it and even added, “one day you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of the Power and coming with the clouds of heaven”. Then when asked by Pilate, Jesus admitted that he was a king but his kingdom did not belong to this world. Pilate concluded that Jesus was a king but more of a king in spiritual matters and therefore not a threat to Rome. Pilate then wanted to release him, however, when he asked the people, the people wanted Jesus to be crucified and they even declared, “we have no king but Caesar”. Then Jesus’ fate was sealed. A few hours after that conversation, Jesus would be dead.
This feast of Christ the King reminds us that Jesus is indeed a king. The question is though, what kind of king is he? And are we willing to be his subjects? When we hear the word “king”, the first thing that comes to our minds are kings who wear golden crowns, sit on a throne, have regal vestments, holding a sceptre, have dozens of people attending to him and whatever they say is law. Jesus is a different kind of king. He is a king who wears not a crown of gold but a crown of thorns. He doesn’t have regal vestments, he was instead stripped of clothing when he was crucified. He doesn’t have any golden throne to sit on, what he had was a wooden stable when he was born. He doesn’t have dozens of people attending to him, instead he is the one washing the feet of his disciples. Whatever he says is not law but everything he says is love.
Are we willing to be subjects of his kingdom? It is really up to us. While we know that Jesus is powerful because he is God, we also know that Jesus is powerless to control our free will. He is powerless because he can’t make us love him and yet he is powerful because he will always love us even if we don’t love him in return.
As we conclude this liturgical year with the feast of Christ the King, let us remember that Jesus reigns but it is up to us if we want to be his subjects and enjoy what Jesus is offering to us: happiness with him and eternal life.