There is something very peculiar, unique actually, about the Gospel passage (John 18:33-37) given us on this final Sunday of the liturgical year: the dialogue between Pilate and Jesus. On this Sunday, as we do every year, we honor Christ as King of the Universe: a resounding title indeed! A title we might attribute to Jesus without a second thought, but that, after a brief reflection on this Gospel passage we might have to reconsider on account of some personal vital implications for all of us.
“Are you the King of the Jews?”
Nobody would ever dream of approaching Queen Elizabeth and ask her: “Pardon me your Highness, are you the queen of England?” The entourage, the bodyguards, the press secretary, the palace in which she lives, everything and everyone would make our question not only superfluous, but also plainly stupid.
Yet, with Christ, before Pilate, and even nowadays, before our eyes and the eyes of the world, the question is legitimate, beyond the unspoken agreement that the answer will undoubtedly humor Pilate and many others.
Jesus is in chains, bruised up, dirty, tired, totally unkept. He does not look like a king. He does not act like a king. He is most certainly not dressed like one. He only speaks like a king, but that could be easily attributed to a severe case of delusion.
Jesus is so in charge of the situation that instead of answering Pilate’s question, He responds with a question of his own. Pilate tries again with a different question: “What have you done?” Jesus replies by pointing out the nature of his Kingdom: clearly, his Kingdom is of a totally different type than Pilate and everyone else was accustomed to. His Kingdom unveils the truth about God’s plan of salvation. And the subjects of Christ’s Kingdom are not your average subjects, but rather special people who hear the truth and act upon the truth.
Wow! It is precisely here, as Jesus specifies the nature of his Kingdom that we find it difficult to celebrate today’s feast.
“Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.”
Everyone who claims to be a Christian, anyone who belongs to Christ who is TRUTH, listens to Him. Suddenly, Jesus becomes uncomfortable, disturbing, demanding. We can deal with people who are dishonest, who lie and cheat. We know how to protect ourselves, to steer clear of them. We can live with evil people; but we have a lot of trouble with someone like Jesus, who can see clearly and assess accurately our trumpeted goodness and honesty. We can live with the “truths” that float around politics, morality, media, workplace, school system, hospitals, anywhere really; cynicism and savoir faire can help us.
But we know that it is impossible for us to stand before Christ, the Truth, and continue to hide our fears, to pretend, to act as if we and everything inside our heart and around us were OK. We rely on common sense; we look at others; we do not want to stand out; we choose to go with the flow; but here, Jesus, the Truth, expects us to deny ourselves, to turn the other cheek, to forgive our enemies and pray for our persecutors, and for those who are ripping us off.
We have a hard time with being decent people, law-abiding citizens, Catholics in good standing; but Jesus, the Truth, demands that we strive to be as perfect as the Father is perfect, to be as compassionate as God is. Our list of values is pretty good, right? Order, honesty, integrity, a nice family, reasonable prosperity, a successful career…but here comes Jesus, the Truth, and expects us to remake our list based on a different criterion.
“Blessed are the poor, those who mourn, the hungry, the meek, the peacemakers, those who are persecuted.”
Day in and day out we operate on the principle that good must be rewarded and evil punished; the good guys on this side, the bad ones in jail or, at least, away from us. Honest people over here and the crooks over there; the righteous and sinners, friends and foes, we and the others.
Here comes Jesus, the Truth, and He doesn’t even try to hide his preference for sinners, the rejects, prostitutes, tax collectors, the outcasts.
God should build His Kingdom up there, in heaven. But a king in our midst, a king whose agendum is embarrassing, impossible, unreasonable, is not that appealing to us. How can He expect to build a kingdom with ideas and people that society and the whole world despise and ridicule? Hence, you see, we are clearly at a critical point of our life. The type of Kingdom that Christ has in mind is clear, by now, so is what type of King He is. After this consideration, we are afraid that, today, as soon as we walk out that door, the whole world of our family, friends, acquaintances, coworkers, classmates might be asking us: “Are you a subject of Jesus’ Kingdom?”
If we opt to belong to Christ, the Truth, we must listen to His voice and act upon it by working toward genuine integrity: i.e., that what we say and do on the outside may be a true reflection of what occurs on the inside. Jesus, the Truth, desires to share his Flesh and his Blood with us, so that we may become genuine witnesses to the Truth. Thus, no one out there would dare to say: “Hey, you do not look like a Christian; you do not act like one; you do not sound like one; you do not reason like one.” But everyone will soon be bound to notice that the Kingdom of Christ will eventually, inevitably, triumph over the whole universe thanks also, although in a small way, to our humble and loyal contribution.