At the end of our Church's liturgical year, we celebrate & recognize Christ the King. Perhaps today's Gospel reading is a bit surprising to us. Rather than strongly proclaiming Christ as our King, it shows Pilate bantering back & forth with Jesus: are you the king of the Jews or are you not the king – are you of this world or are you not of this world?
Perhaps the most significant statement in today's Gospel comes at the end, as Jesus declares: “You say that I am a king. I have come into this world to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth hears my voice.” So, what does it mean for us to say that Christ is our king? How are we to find the truth that is embodied in Christ & his kingdom?
When we hear about kingdoms and kings, perhaps it brings to mind the kingdoms that human societies have built here on earth. Serving the very poor as a missionary, I was astonished at the elaborate churches built in the colonial era in the city of Quito, Ecuador especially the Jesuit church of La Compania, constructed in the year 1605. The area behind the church's altar is literally covered in gold, supposedly 7 different shades of gold. The missionaries went out in the colonial era to save souls, but they went out to establish earthly kingdoms as well. The conquistadors channeled the wealth of America back to Europe to build up the kingdoms there. King Philip II of Spain used the riches he acquired from Spain's colonies in the Americas to build the palace and monastery of El Escorial outside of Madrid in the late 16th century. In fact, the architectural plan of El Escorial was based upon descriptions of Solomon's Temple in Jerusalem. The vision of the colonial super-powers was to build a kingdom here on earth of riches, wealth, and prosperity as a reflection of the grandeur of God's eternal kingdom and a reflection of a country's power and strength. Ironically, King Philip's elaborate plans to build up his kingdom almost bankrupt his country of Spain.
So, we human beings have many examples of kingdoms here on earth, kingdoms as the summit of power, dominance, riches, and physical force. Pilate asks Jesus, “Are you the king of the Jews?” He is echoing the rumors & accusations made about Jesus. Pilate as the Roman governor of the foreign power occupying Israel is a man with seemingly unlimited power. He asks this question of Jesus, who seems to have little power, if he is indeed a king. In his final answer to Pilate, Jesus says he has come into this world to testify to the truth, showing that real power and real authority come not from positions and titles, but from the inner strength of a person. Thus, to Jesus, real power is not in the title of king, but is in the truth.
So, what is this truth to which Jesus' testifies? In today's Gospel, Jesus doesn't clearly announce that he is king. He doesn't clearly define his kingdom: he only says that it is not of this world. In many ways, the confrontation between Pilate & Jesus is a confrontation about the truth. Pilate basically asks Jesus, “What is truth?” This one of the crucial questions we need to ask ourselves, as it is essential to our human existence. One of the deepest moral concerns of our US bishops and the Church in Rome is that we should not reduce truth to relativism, with each person having his own private vision of the truth, bending the truth to fit our own individual situations. Many in our secular society today see truth as encompassing just about everything, with truth being something we can democratically vote on or choose. Deciding on what the truth really is defines our lives: even how we love others depends upon our understanding of the truth.
Who is the truth? What is the truth? In Pilate's exchange with Jesus, he cynically dismisses any claim to the truth, he allows Jesus' fate to be determined democratically by the will of the majority. But, our Catholic values & our Catholic grasp of the truth aren't decided democratically. Jesus will not be the truth, the way, and the life for us if we don't follow him, or listen to him, or serve him, or love him. Once, when the Vatican envoy to the United Nations spoke up for our Catholic beliefs on a moral question, the other representatives in the UN assembly attacked him. He responded that he would prefer to be crucified for the truth rather than crucify the truth himself in his life or in his speech.
Countries build large monuments and palaces, they show off their wealth to demonstrate their power and might and to show the world what their kingdom is all about. But just because we are baptized, just because we call ourselves Catholic, just because we attend mass each week doesn't mean that we truly proclaim that Christ is our king. The kingdom of God, Christ as our king, and the truth that this represents have been proclaimed in the past in Jesus' own life and ministry; they are proclaimed in the present through the witness of the Church and through the way that we the Catholic faithful live out our faith; and they will be proclaimed in the future as the kingdom of God reaches its completion in the age that is to come.
In order for us to truly say that we belong to Christ's kingship, we need to try to walk with Christ in our daily lives, in the truth that he embodies. We need to try to live out our faith fully in the Spirit of the Gospel. We need to allow that Gospel spirit to penetrate every facet of our lives.