Christ the King – an Inconvenient Truth or Liberation? November 22, 2009
We are invited to listen in on a conversation in today’s Gospel. Two men face off, one very powerful and influential by the world’s standards, the other – Christ. There’s a lot riding on the outcome of this encounter, although it’s clear Pilate doesn’t quite know the extent of it.
Picture a time when a society is clearly divided into those who have the power, those who want power, and those who will never have power. This was the situation in the Palestine of Jesus’ time, with Roman occupation men like Pilate had all the power and wealth, and the armies to enforce it.
Occupied Jews who were smart knew enough to stay on the right side of the Romans did fairly well. The Pharisees and the High Priests do OK by keeping things quiet, and they live a pretty good life as they await the coming of the Messiah to give them back their promised land.
Along comes Jesus to rock that boat, and they don’t quite know what to do with him.
He preaches a different kind of love of God – one in which after God, we are commanded to love our neighbour. To put our neighbour ahead of ourselves, because isn’t that, my friends, the definition of love – to put someone else’s needs ahead of your own?
But what does that mean? That all this striving for power and status and material possessions mean nothing at all? Apparently the poor are the blessed ones, the meek are blessed, and the lowly are in fact the first for God’s affection. Christ threatens the fabric of society of his time. He is not exactly the messiah the Jews have been waiting for, not only because he doesn’t arrive in a blaze of glory, but because what if they believe what he preaches they will have to renounce all that they believe to be true.
It’s no different for the Romans. If they believe what Christ says, their world will be very different indeed. If Christ is King, then he is the highest authority in the land, in the world, and that means going against the most powerful government on the face of the earth, with potentially disastrous results.
Christ has become the original inconvenient truth.
Two men face to face and Pilate isn’t keen on recognizing the King in front of him.
How is that different from today’s world? Don’t we tend to hold in high esteem those who have achieved positions of great wealth in our society? Beyond financial wealth, we value talent and good looks and physical fitness. We idolize our rock stars and our sports stars and our
Oh come on. We want to be like them. Bigger houses. Nicer cars.
"You can do it. If you believe it, you can achieve it." We motivate ourselves by reading quotations from famous people. I have personally spent hundreds of dollars in the last 30 years of my business career attending seminars, buying books, motivational calendars – all with the goal of “making it” in the business world. The next promotion, the biggest bonus, recognition, maybe even elected office….
And you know, relatively speaking and in comparison to most of the rest of the world, we’re actually very wealthy. Even the relatively poor among us are doing well in comparison just by the accident of their birth on this side of the equator, or that they live in this country with all its natural resources, temperate climate and access to water, wood and oil…
Sometimes, though, just as the Jews and Pilate were, we are forced to face the truth in our midst. We are forced to see the poor among us. The poor in health, in hospitals and hospices across this country and in our community. The poor in spirit, the lonely, the elderly, the unemployed, the business person who’s just lost everything. The weak and the unsuccessful.
Often just two people face to face, like Jesus and Pilate. You see that scene played out every day across our community.
The street person asks the passerby on her way to the coffee shop if she can spare a few coins. The dying patient alone in the hospital asks the Hospice worker to sit with her a bit longer. A friend’s mother dies and she just needs someone to talk to. Just two people, one in need, the other being asked to give. A little like our scene in the Gospel.
Although it probably didn’t seem like it, and there isn’t a happy ending to the story, there is good news for Pilate in all of this. He has a choice.
The Christ is right in front of him. Jesus Christ has offered Pilate the chance to recognize him as King. Imagine the realization slowly dawning on Pilate that who he has in front of him is no mere rabble rouser, no run of the mill trouble maker for the Jews.
All the way through his ministry Christ has offered the truth and invited people to follow him, to become one with the truth. But, as I have said, it is an inconvenient truth.
Because if you believe, if you really believe, and embrace what Christ is saying, and follow him with all your heart, and proclaim him King – not a King but the King, then you must give up all that you hold valuable in this world in order to gain eternal life in the next. You must show a preferential option for the poor, you must recognize that those who have little or nothing are the blessed, and those who put wealth and power ahead of all else will have a difficult time finding their way to heaven.
It’s not going to be easy for Pilate to acknowledge Christ as King, but at that very moment, what if he had? What if Pilate had fallen to one knee and turned his life over to Jesus Christ. Christ never said it would be easy.
Pilate had an option, the Jews had an option, and the people of
We have an option. Not many of us are in a position with power of the magnitude of Pilate’s, but we are asked to deal with the problem of Christ in our daily lives. It breaks down into two parts.
The first is a question of what we hold dear to our hearts. What is it that motivates us? Is it material possessions, or status, or simply having more than everyone else? Any time we place something ahead of God we are worshiping false gods and false royalty. We know that, still it’s no easier for us to hear than it was for the people of Jesus’ time.
The good news is, the truth is, when Christ is at the centre of our lives in prayer, worship and in practice, those other things don’t quite matter as much, and we’re free to love our family, our closest friends and the strangers in our midst. A weight is lifted off our shoulders. The truth has set us free.
Secondly though, is a question of how we treat the poor, the lowly, and the down on their luck. Christ himself said, and this is what gets him in trouble in the first place, “when I was hungry you fed me, when I was thirsty you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you made me welcome…” (Matthew 25)
Pilate just wanted Christ to go away.
We gain for ourselves a place in the Kingdom when we find ourselves face to face with the hungry, the thirsty, and society’s cast-offs, the lonely, the sick, the dying… and we face the truth. We forget ourselves for a moment, our ambitions and our possessions and our foolish pursuits and put their needs first as Christ loves us and puts us first even to the point of dying. We acknowledge Christ as King in the loving and prayerful service of others in the name of God.
This Sunday, the Feast of Christ the King, was originally implemented in 1925 by Pope Pius XI who hoped that a day acknowledging Jesus Christ as King of the universe would act as a corrective to some dangerous political ideas of his time, and would help bring about peace and harmony and calm order in his time.
He could have issued a Papal encyclical, but instead established this solemnity, in his words “the annual celebration of sacred mysteries is more effective informing people about Faith and in bringing them the joys of the spiritual life… solemn documents are often read by a few…feasts move and teach all the faithful.”
This is a message of hope.
This man whose sacrifice for us we celebrate at the table of the Eucharist, this Christ; is he our King?