TO THE EDITOR, CATHOLIC TIMES, FOR 26TH NOVEMBER 2000 CHRIST THE KING (B)
FR FRANCIS MARSDEN
“My Kingdom is not of this world.”
When Jesus is brought before Pilate, the accusations of Caiaphas and the mob do not convince the servant of the Roman State. The religious establishment charges Jesus with leading a rebellion to usurp Caesar’s power, and make himself “King of the Jews”.
Pilate draws aside from their vindictive complaints, to interview Jesus privately away from the shrieking mob. He has never been fond of the troublesome, quirky Jews, so fierce about their religious laws, so unpredictable and irrational for a man of international culture like himself.
Years of army command followed by political office have made Pilate a reasonable judge of character. This Jesus does not have the air of a common bandit, an upstart rabble-rouser, a Barabbas. He has seen plenty of that sort in his time. This man is different. Pilate is puzzled and prey to an undefinable anxiety.
Jesus is arraigned before Pilate. At the end of time He will judge the living and the dead of all the ages. Today He stands silently before the pragmatic political operator.
“You would have no authority over me had it not been given to you from above.” All authority flows from the Author of all. The serene authority of the Man before Pilate disconcerts the Roman procurator. This Galilean prophet exudes his own authority, which cannot derive from any worldly power-structure. His closeness to the Author of all subconsciously unnerves his judge.
For Pilate does not feel so close to the source of his authority, the Emperor. He has survived two bad reports to Caesar. He does not want a third. He is a little unsure of himself. His Roman training never equipped him to stand face to face with God the Son. “Are you the king of the Jews?” he begins. This is the capital slander, this is the incriminating charge.
“Do you say this of your own accord, or did others say it about me?” answered Jesus.
Pilate answered: “Am I a Jew? Your own nation and the chief priests have handed you over to me. What have you done?”
“My Kingdom is not of this world: if my Kingdom were of this world, my followers would have fought, that I might not be handed over to the Jews. But my Kingdom is not from hence.”
To bear witness to the truth
Pilate said to him: “So you are a King then?”
“You say that I am a King. For this I was born, for this I have come into the world, to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth hears my voice.”
“What is truth?” remarks Pilate. Does he murmur this like the cynical politician, or like the bewildered philosopher? With scorn, or with regret? The Roman and Greek philosophers each have their rival varieties of truth on sale. The Empire is full of pantheons of gods, eastern mystery cults, local deities and rival beliefs. There is only one truth, one certainty worth living for: the glory and the power of Rome, the rule of Caesar. In the darkness beyond, all is barbarity and chaos.
The scourging and the trial move on. Political expediency defeats the possibility of justice for an innocent man. Christ’s Kingship is manifested upon Calvary, when the soldier affixes the notice in the three ancient languages above the crown of thorns: “Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews.”
“To bear witness to the truth” – above all, the truth of the heavenly Father’s love; “For God so loved the world that He sent His only Son, so that all who believe in Him might not perish, but might have eternal life.” Divine love has come to dwell in our midst, and will not be dislodged.
Behold upon the Cross the truthful witness: the slain Lamb, the scapegoat, eager to carry upon his shoulders the weight of a world’s entire guilt. Here is the King who is ready to ransom each captive member of the human race from Satan’s power, if they will but allow Him. “God has taken us out of the power of darkness, and translated us to the Kingdom of His own beloved Son.”
History has witnessed multiple attempts to construct the ideal Kingdom of God upon this earth: the Christian Empire of the Byzantines, the Holy Roman Empire of the Middle Ages, the Papal States, from the Anabaptists’ Munster and Calvin’s Geneva to David Koresh’s Waco. The tide of History has borne them all away.
The communists rose up with guns to build an earthly Utopia, but created a living hell instead. Not a few liberation theologians have urged political struggle as the way to realise Christ’s kingdom upon earth.
Against all of these, Jesus’ words ring out: “My Kingdom is not of this world.”
“In this world you will have trouble, but be brave. I have overcome the world.” The Cross stands as the warning to all naïve optimism.
All attempts to build the perfect parish, the perfect society, the perfect community, are but temporary. Sometimes they are thwarted by sheer human stubbornness and truculence. Some backslide, others drift away, the faithful few persevere. The tares and the wheat grow together. The good die young and the awkward cling on.
The new Jerusalem is not down here on earth, it is above. All the counterfeit versions we devise here below will eventually crumble and pass away.
God did not plan life on earth to be perfect. This is a fallen world. It is damaged goods. We have our passing periods of happiness and contentment. Nevertheless sickness, handicap and death - not to mention sin and the weather - preclude the Earth being transformed into the Elysian fields.
This is but our temporary abode. We are pilgrims in a strange land. We have “no abiding city”. The heavenly Jerusalem is above, not down here. The world rushes on its way to destruction. The Church struggles on, a tiny minority, knowing the truth, possessing many of the answers to the world’s plight, but ignored, derided, scoffed at.
The Church inherits the place of Jesus, in this age not before the throne of Pilate, but before the cabinet desks of the United Nations bureaucrats and population controllers, the power-brokers of the G7, the US Senate, Brussels, Whitehall, the Kremlin. “Interesting,” they say, “but it doesn’t conform to the realities of the world situation today. After all, what is truth?”
“Everyone that is of the truth, hears my voice.” To be “of Christ” is to be “of the truth” – of precisely this most wonderful truth given us by “the First-born from the dead, the Ruler of the kings of the earth.” (Apoc 1:5) “He loves us and has washed away our sins with His blood, and made us a line of kings, priests to serve his God and Father.”
Some honestly seek truth and try to live by truth, at whatever cost to themselves. Others put their own selfish advantage first, so they fear truth, avoid truth, come to hate truth and prefer the darkness to the light. This division of humanity is more basic than any racial or linguistic or sexual difference.
“It is He who is coming on the clouds; everyone will see Him, even those who pierced Him, and all the nations of the earth will mourn over Him. This is the truth. Amen.” (Apoc 1:7)
When Christ the King returns in glory at the world’s end, we shall be faced with Truth: the truth of how we have lived, the truth of what we have become, the truth of our compatibility or incompatibility with the All-Holy God. Judgement is nothing other than the manifestation of Truth in its fullness. And then can commence the eternal reign of the King.