25 November 2012
Many years ago our school debating team qualified for the finals of the national competition. We eventually made the final itself against another school team. This latter team came from a school with about twice as many pupils as our own. They had won the competition for the two previous years and so were the favourites. On paper it seemed an unequal contest but amazingly our team won.
In the gospel today we have something like that. The Gospel speaks of a strange confrontation between Pilate, the Roman Governor, and Jesus. At first sight it seems to a very unequal encounter. One between a man who feels, as the chief authority of a colonial regime, that he has unlimited power and Jesus, a traveling preacher who seems to have none.
“Are you the King of the Jews?” asks Pilate. He is irritated when Jesus asks in return if it is an honest question or just an echo of rumours and accusations heard from others. Pilate is decidedly uncomfortable that Jesus, a member of a despised and subject people, speaks to him as one equal to another, as one human being to another. The balance of power is shifting and Pilate does not like it. Real power and real authority are not in positions or titles but in the inner strength of the person, as it was in Mother Teresa.
But Jesus does not speak down to anyone as Pilate is trying to do. Jesus’ power and authority is not dominating but enabling and empowering. Only the weak feel the need to dominate.
Something all of us in authority – parents, teachers, employers, priests, government officials, managers – need to remember.
At first Jesus does not explicitly respond by saying “I am a king”, yet he speaks very clearly about “my Kingdom” or “my Kingship“. He says it is “not of this world”. Its beginnings are IN this world but it is not OF this world, in the sense that its source of inspiration and power is God himself.
Jesus as king is quite different from the conventional image. It is very different from the image that Jesus’ own people had of the Messiah-King they eagerly awaited. Jesus has no army, seeks no political influence. In front of Pilate at this moment he looks anything but a king. Very soon, Pilate, out of fear and with his own political and career interests in mind, will have Jesus flogged. Soldiers will mockingly put a crown of thorns on his head and jeeringly bow to the “King of the Jews”. In a typical piece of Johannine irony, they will be speaking the deepest of truths.
Then Jesus will be brought out by Pilate. “Ecce homo”, (‘behold the man’), he says to the crowds’. Words we might translate as: “Look! this battered vision before you is, believe it or not, a human being.” In this piteous state, Jesus is rejected in favour of a murderous gangster. The people reject their King. It was not surprising really. This was not at all their idea of the King-Messiah-Saviour promised to Israel.
Yet Jesus is not really our King unless we are consciously his subjects. He is not our King if we do not listen to him, love him, serve him, follow him.
He is not our King if we do not actively identify with the goals, the aims of his kingship. We come under his kingship not just because we are baptised or because we carry the name Christian or Catholic nor even because we involve ourselves in various religious activities.
We can say we really belong to his kingship
- when we try to walk with him,
- when we try to live our lives fully in the spirit of the Gospel,
- when that Gospel spirit penetrates every facet of our living.
- And we cannot really follow Jesus our King until we know him better. This requires more than just a nodding acquaintance with the Gospel and the New Testament. Not to know the Scripture is simply not to know Jesus, as St Jerome said a long time ago.
Finally we believe that Jesus is not only the King of Christians but Lord of the whole universe as the second reading tells us. But he is a very special kind of Lord. It is the responsibility of each one of us to get to know him better and to help others to know him better:
- a King who loves unconditionally
- a King who wants to be reconciled with the sinner
- a King who wants to help and heal the sick and the weak
- a King who is humble and not proud
- a King who wants to share his life with us – forever
“Lord Jesus, help us to allow you to be truly king in our own personal lives. Amen”
Fr. Jim Kirstein, SMA