Webster’s dictionary defines “king” as “a male monarch of a major territorial unit, especially one whose position is hereditary and who rules for life.” People all over the world today understand this meaning very well, and the people in Jesus’ time understood it in much the same way. Today’s feast of Christ the King, however, invites us to ponder not earthly kingship, but heavenly kingship.
The contrast between these two kinds of kings emerges in today’s Gospel. Pilate is questioning Jesus about whether he is or is not the “King of the Jews.” Pilate is thinking about earthly kings, the only kind he knows, those who rule by force, pride and willpower. If this man Jesus is claiming to be a king, his claim will never be tolerated by Rome. Perhaps Pilate is also thinking about the Jews’ hope for a Messiah, a strong leader, a new King David, who would come with power and liberate them from Rome. Pilate will not welcome any king or Messiah.
He is not prepared for the answer Jesus gives: “My kingdom does not belong to this world.” Jesus reveals that he is indeed a king, but not the kind of king Pilate fears, not the kind of Messiah the people hope for. Jesus says that if he were an earthly king, his supporters would be fighting to save him – exactly the sort of social upheaval Pilate will not allow. But Jesus turns the ordinary understanding of kingship upside down. He is not a king who rises up to challenge Rome; he is a King who has come down from heaven to overcome sin. He is more interested in testifying to the truth than in reigning by force. He has come to serve, not to be served; to save others, not to save himself.
“My kingdom does not belong to this world.” These words revolutionize our whole understanding of life, for we who belong to his Kingdom do not belong to this world either. He says to us, “Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.” When we listen to his voice as we ponder the word of God each day, he teaches us an entirely new way of thinking. He turns our natural views upside down. The truth he teaches us frees us from our misguided ideas and attachments to this world.
Tragically, Pilate and the people did not listen to his voice. They were closed to the truth, which led to their rejection of Jesus. The tragedy of Pilate is played out over and over through the years whenever anyone chooses to reject the truth, to reject Jesus Christ the King.
When people reject Jesus as their king, they usually do not really know whom they are rejecting. He does not look like an earthly king, much less a heavenly one! The vision of the prophet Daniel helps us see beyond Jesus’ ordinary appearance. Daniel saw a heavenly king, “One like a Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven.” He saw the Son receive “an everlasting dominion that shall not be taken away; his kingship shall not be destroyed.” Unlike earthly kings that come and go, rise and fall, are born and die, Jesus is an eternal and universal King.
Each of us has been created to serve this King, and to reign with him in his Kingdom. The Book of Revelation reminds us that Jesus, who is “the firstborn of the dead and ruler of the kings of the earth,” has “made us into a kingdom, priests for his God and Father.” Every baptized person shares in Christ’s priesthood and kingship. We are called to participate in his mission while we are here on earth and to reign in his eternal Kingdom when we die.
When we shift our horizon from earth to heaven, we find that we are no longer enslaved to worldly powers. So many other “kings” compete for our allegiance! Not only government leaders, but also money, technology, success, media, toys, power… These things in themselves are not bad. They can enrich our lives and help us enrich the lives of others. They are gifts from God, to be used to build his Kingdom on earth. But if we forget who the Giver is and begin to serve the gifts, they become our kings – or tyrants – and we their subjects. Today’s feast reminds us that Jesus is the one, perfect, merciful, eternal King. When we “seek first his Kingdom,” bearing faithful witness to the truth with great love, everything else in our lives can be rightly ordered. To serve him is to reign with him.
How can I share in Jesus’ mission as priest, prophet and king? What things do I allow to rule my heart? Am I willing to shift my horizon from earth to heaven?
Excerpt from The Anawim Way, Volume 14, no. 8. More information about The Anawim Way may be found here.