Week 34, Sunday. Solemnity: Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe

How worthy is the Lamb Who was slain,
to receive power and divinity,
and wisdom and strength and honor.
To Him belong glory and power for ever and ever. (Revelation 5:12; 1:6)

Almighty ever-living God,
Whose will is to restore all things
in Your beloved Son, the King of the universe,
grant, we pray, that the whole creation,
set free from slavery,
may render Your majesty service
and ceaselessly proclaim Your praise.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you
in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God,
for ever and ever.

RESPONSORIAL PSALM (click for full Psalm)
The LORD is king; he is robed in majesty. (Psalm 93: 1).

GOSPEL EXCERPT (click for all readings)
“Pilate said to Jesus,
“Are you the King of the Jews?”
Jesus answered, “Do you say this on your own
or have others told you about me?”
Pilate answered, “I am not a Jew, am I?
Your own nation and the chief priests handed you over to me.
What have you done?”
Jesus answered, “My kingdom (ἡ βασιλεία ἡ ἐμὴ, he basileia he eme) does not belong to this world.
If my kingdom (ἡ βασιλεία ἡ ἐμή) did belong to this world,
my attendants would be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Jews.
But as it is, my kingdom (ἡ βασιλεία ἡ ἐμὴ) is not here.”
So Pilate said to him, “Then you are a king?”
Jesus answered, “You say I am a king.
For this I was born and for this I came into the world,
to testify to the truth.
Everyone who belongs to the truth listens (ἀκούει, akouei) to my voice.”” (John 18:33-37)

Dialogues are always revealing throughout Sacred Scripture. Beginning with the conversation between Eve and the Serpent to the dialogue between Jesus and the Woman of Samaria at the Well, the interchange of words between people has been quite noteworthy. In the Johannine pericope proclaimed this Sunday, Jesus’ dialogue with Pilate reveals much in terms of Jesus’ identity, mission and purpose in life. Intrigued by Jesus yet concerned about Rome and the crowd, Pilate nonetheless questions Jesus about kingship. Saint Augustine notes at this point in Jesus’ life: “It was not that Jesus was afraid to confess himself a king, but the phrase “you say” is nuanced enough that He neither denies himself to be a king (for he is a king whose kingdom is not of this world), nor does he confess that he is such a king as to warrant the supposition that his kingdom is of this world. For, since this was the very idea in Pilate’s mind when he said, ’“Are you a king then?” the answer Pilate received was, “You say that I am a king.” For it was said, “You say,” as if it had been said, since you are worldly, you say it in a worldly way (Tractates on the Gospel of John, 115).” What is noteworthy in this dialogue is that Jesus shifts Pilate’s emphasis on king (since Pilate can only think of kingship in terms of Roman rule) to kingdom. In other words, as far as Jesus is concerned, the proper focus is not on Him, but on His way of living, a way of living He (Jesus) described all throughout His Public Ministry as the Kingdom of God.

In this Year of Faith in which we heed Pope Benedict’s call for a New Evangelization, the Gospel experience of the Kingdom is quite central. In fact when Pope Paul VI penned the Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Nuntiandi (On Evangelizing in our Day, a document very important in grasping the methodology of the New Evangelization), he noted the centrality of Kingdom in Jesus’ work. “As an evangelizer, Christ first of all proclaims a kingdom, the kingdom of God; and this is so important that, by comparison, everything else becomes “the rest,” which is “given in addition.” Only the kingdom therefore is absolute and it makes everything else relative. The Lord will delight in describing in many ways the happiness of belonging to this kingdom (a paradoxical happiness which is made up of things that the world rejects), the demands of the kingdom and its Magna Charta, the heralds of the kingdom, its mysteries, its children, the vigilance and fidelity demanded of whoever awaits its definitive coming (Evangelii Nuntiandi, 8).” Clearly, Pope Paul VI sees “the Kingdom of God” has the central experience of Jesus’ Public Ministry; so central that everything in His ministry is grounded in “the Kingdom.” Similarly, the Catechism of the Catholic Church (paragraphs 541 through 556) examines the manifold depth of “the Kingdom” in Jesus’ Public Ministry. Hence, on this Solemnity of Jesus’ Kingship, a consideration of the Gospel reality of Kingdom is most apropos.
1. The “Kingdom of God” is God the Father intervening in a definitive manner. The Kingdom is not necessarily or strictly a specific place, although ‘place’ will be a dimension of the Kingdom as a way of living. The Kingdom is a way of living, an ongoing activity initiated by God the Father in loving concern for beings that have been created in His image and likeness. This is an important dimension of the Greek βασιλεία (basileia, as a verb: “to rule”). We have become addicted to sin in such a way that we cannot break free from its grip by our own power. We have come to enjoy sin too much. Sin’s tentacles have woven deeply into our lives that often we cannot see or think clearly. We may from time-to-time have great desires to rid ourselves of sin, desires that are marvelous but desires that do not contain within themselves the power to effect what is desired. More often than not, however, sin has dulled our senses to Divine Love. Sin has numbed us into complacency and entitlement to the point that we even approach the things of God and Church from a selfish point of view with no regard to the life of faith as engagement with the Divine Persons who call me as an individual and as a community to ongoing conversion manifesting charity and service to the Body of Christ. So powerless over sin, so addicted to the false self we have become that an intervention is needed: the “Kingdom of God.”
2. This intervention is a work of power, a power that transforms and surpasses the power of Creation. God the Father’s work is quintessentially a work of restoration, not annihilation. Ask anyone in construction and he or she will tell you that it is often easier to raze a building and start over than to renovate or restore. Renovating an existing structure that does not have a level, plumb or square line in it makes restoration tedious and time consuming, not to mention the ‘surprises’ lurking behind old plaster and lathe. Yet ask any restorer when the project is complete and most likely she or he will tell you that in spite of its challenges and frustrations, it was and continues to be a labor of love. Such is the Kingdom. Neither Creation nor humanity is destroyed. The Creator does not raze the created order and begin anew. Even though humanity makes continuous choices reinforcing the addiction to sin, the Father – with eyes of loves – gazes upon each human person in such a way that each of us are declared “precious.” So precious are we in the sight of God the Father, that none of us are disposable, expendable or useless. Each of us has a particular vocation in the Father’s plan of salvation and our very being is so precious to the Father that the loving, transforming power of His Kingdom calls us from the addiction to our false selves to our true selves as icons of the Father’s love.
3. This transforming power becomes a way of living, hence not a specific ‘place’ that one can absolutely pinpoint. You cannot use Google Maps or a GPS device to find the Kingdom. The Kingdom is God the Father’s way of living. It is a way of living that is the Son, Jesus. He lives each moment of His life attentive to His Father’s word and will. Spending nights in communion with His Father, Jesus teaches with His life that Kingdom living is living joined, connected, related – whatever words you wish to use – to God the Father. As a way of living, the Kingdom is a radical embrace of the First Commandment: no one nor no thing nor anything we deem important comes before the Father or interferes with our relationship with Him. Kingdom living is life that provides the essentials to a sister or brother in need (Matthew 25) and celebrates, praise and thanks the Father for all that He is doing in life (cf. Luke 1:46-55, “The Magnificat”). It is in this sense that one can speak of the Kingdom as ‘a place.’ Wherever one is when living as the Father commands and bound to the Person Jesus, there is the Kingdom.
4. The Kingdom, as a way of living, has been prepared by the prophets of Old. Many of the prophets called Israel to authentic worship, a message that is still quite valid despite present, misguided and weak arguments that attempt – erroneously – at a division between religion and spirituality. For the prophets, the spiritual relationship formed by the covenant necessarily bound one (religion) freely to observe and practice a continuous, ongoing change-of-heart. The prophets knew that the ‘energy’ required to live justly as a covenant person (spirituality) did not come from within a person by himself or herself. Such living depended upon the mercy of God celebrated and experienced in authentic worship. Such worship then propelled one to be an instrument of charitable service in the world acting, not on one’s own initiative and power, but in the name of God (Christoph Schönborn, God Sent His Son: A Contemporary Christology, page 172-173).
5. The Kingdom, as a way of living, is now definitely revealed and embodied in Jesus. Here, all ambiguity concerning the Kingdom is erased. The Kingdom is essentially a Person, the Person Jesus: “only He can lead us to the love of the Father in the Spirit and make us share in the life of the Holy Trinity (Catechism of the Catholic Church, paragraph 426).” The Incarnation makes the Kingdom a reality in the created order to effect the Father’s loving transformation of everything, most especially the human heart. Responding and living the love revealed to us in Christ Jesus is the essential work and live of the “Kingdom of God.”
Standing before Pilate, Jesus testifies to a final aspect of the Kingdom: apparent powerlessness (Joachim Gnilka, Jesus of Nazareth: Message and History, page 150). In a Gospel that does not have many references to the Kingdom, Jesus – throughout the Johannine Gospel – witnesses with His own life that the way of love is the way of the Cross. It is in His Cross that Jesus’ kingly rule gives His citizens their final lesson of how to live in this unique Kingdom: willingly letting go of self unconditionally to do the will of the One Who has sent each of us into the world.

It is truly right and just, our duty and our salvation
always and everywhere to give You thanks,
Lord, holy Father, almighty and eternal God,
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

For You anointed Your Only Begotten Son,
our Lord Jesus Christ, with the oil of gladness
as eternal Priest and King of all creation,
so that, by offering Himself on the altar of the Cross
as a spotless sacrifice to bring us peace,
He might accomplish the mysteries of human redemption
and, making all created things subject to His rule,
He might present to the immensity of Your majesty
an eternal and universal Kingdom,
a Kingdom of truth and life,
a Kingdom of holiness and grace,
a Kingdom of justice, love and peace.

And so, with Angels and Archangels,
with Thrones and Dominions,
and with all the hosts and Powers of Heaven,
we sing the hymn of Your glory,
as without end we acclaim ...