22 November 2015

Are you a king?

Christ the King
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
Our Lady of the Rosary, NOLA

Pilate wants to know. He wants to know whether or not Jesus is the King of the Jews. Or does he? He asks the question. But is he genuinely curious. . .or, is he simply doing his duty as governor? Pilate knows that a “king” pops up in Judea on a regular basis, vowing to run the hated Romans out of town. He knows these “kings” are always crazy on religion, and promising to re-establish the Davidic kingdom. But the “king” standing in front of him on this day is different. The rabble seem to hate him. That's unusual. The Jewish priests hate him. . .but they always hate the zealots. So, what's so different about this Jesus character? Pilate says, “Your own nation and the chief priests handed you over to me. What have you done?” Expecting to hear some sort of religious mumbo-jumbo that only matters to the priests, Pilate must've been taken aback when Jesus replies, “My kingdom does not belong to this world.” Roman governors are accustomed to rebels and terrorists; they are used to having to mediate between local factions, warring over a throne. What they aren't used to – what Pilate cannot be used to – is hearing a royal prisoner say, “My kingdom does not belong to this world. . .For this I was born and for this I came into the world to testify to the truth. . . .”

To be a king he was born, and to be a king he came into the world. Not to rule from a throne in a palace, or from an office in a capitol but to announce and establish a kingdom founded on his Father's mercy, a kingdom ruled by the hearts and minds of repentant sinners and turned to the hard work of serving the least of God's people. Somewhat dumbfounded, Pilate asks, “Then you are a king?” But Jesus doesn't take the bait. Instead, he says, “You say I am a king.” Pilate wants to know whether or not Jesus is claiming to be one of those militant kings who rise up on occasion to challenge Rome. But Jesus isn't playing that game. He's teasing Pilate with the truth. But Pilate can't hear the truth. He can't see it standing right in front of him. So, Jesus says, “Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.” Those who belong to the truth belong to Christ, and he is their King. Not by right of election or conquest or inheritance. But as disciples, students of the truth, Truth Himself, the Christ. Pilate is no disciple, so he infamously asks, “What is truth?” You can almost see Jesus shaking his head in pity.

And it is a pitiful question – what is truth? We could believe that Pilate is asking a philosophical question, a question posed to uncover a bit of wisdom. Or we could believe that he is simply being cynical, asking the question rhetorically like he might at a dinner party. Or we could believe that Pilate – living 2,000 years ago – is a thoroughly modern man, one who uses the human tools of language, law, and logic to hold divine truth at bay. I hear despair in Pilate's question. I hear, “What's the point of asking these questions and answering them? Nothing matters in the long run. All we have is what's in front of us.” Pilate's question – asked as it is, when it is – is a coward's question. We know it's a coward's question b/c his decisions to release a criminal and execute the Savior are calculated, political acts made to quell the anger of the mob and deflect criticism from Rome. Asking “what is truth?” is a simpler way of asking “does the truth really matter?” Pilate – a hopeless bureaucrat stuck in a rebellious podunk province on the backside of the Empire – takes the coward's way out. He follows the King of This World and sends an innocent man to his gruesome death. He is modern man writ small, an emblem of despair when confronted by truth.

We celebrate Christ as King to be reminded that while we are citizens living in this world, we are not of this world. Our ultimate citizenship lies in the Kingdom of Heaven. Even while we live and die here on earth – doing all the things that people do – we know that our time here is short, that our time here will run out. What then? If we were to follow Pilate and his modern logic, we would simply cease to exist. We'd hang around in the memories of family and friends. There'd be photographs and other small monuments of our passing through. But we would be nothing, no-thing after death. Do we live now to die and disappear sometime later on? No, the disciples of truth do not; we do live in this world, but we do not die as its citizens. We live now as disciples of the King and live forever as his subjects! What passes for courage in this world is foolishness in heaven. What passes for strength and honor and intelligence in this world will be weakness, cowardice, and stupidity in the kingdom to come. Pilate was not an evil man. He was blind and deaf. He could not see nor hear the truth standing in front of him, offering him a way out of his despair. Are you a king? You say that I am.

Do you say that Christ is king? Do you believe that Christ is the king of your life, your death, and your resurrection? If so, do you live as his loyal subject, living in this world – as we all must – but knowing that your end is in heaven? When we live with Christ as King, we turn our hearts and minds to him when we speak and act; we take his teaching as truth before we decide; we hold his sacrifice on the cross as an example of supreme love when we serve; we look to him for advice, permission, to receive the gift of who we are for him; he is for us the center and the foundation of our lives. Day in and day out. The cornerstone of all that we do in this world. Opposition, persecution, temptation, and sin peck away at your loyalty to the King, but nothing and no one can topple his rule in your life. . .unless you yourself renounce his kingship and give yourself back to the darkness of this world. You can live in Pilate's world: power, wealth, oppression of the weak, violence, despair. You can be of his world: popularity, compromise, betrayal, cowardice. Or, you can live under the rule of Christ the King and see through the impermanence of the Enemy's power and look on the glory of God, face-to-face. . .when His kingdom is fulfilled.

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