SCRIPTURE NOTEBOOK Sunday November 20, 1988 Christ the King Readings: Daniel 7.13-14 Apocalypse 1.5-8 John 18.33-37
THE Feast of Christ the King is a relatively recent tradition in the Church, a matter of 60 years or so. It has come to replace the last Sunday of the Church's Year and so it provides a special focus on Jesus as Lord, as Alpha and Omega, the fulcrum of all time, gathering all the strands of the gospel into Him. It inspires our personal devotion to Him, and so is a development of the cult of the Sacred Heart of Jesus as "king and centre of all hearts".
It also enables us to celebrate His kingship over the nations of this earth and urges us to work according to His teaching to bring about "a kingdom of truth and life . . . of holiness and grace . . . of justice, love and peace". Such a kingdom begins in this world and is completed in eternity. So the feast is important for the social dimension of our faith as well as its personal interior commitment.
Both aspects appear in the readings. The first two are apocalyptic visions. The vision from the prophet Daniel shows in pictorial language how "one like a Son of man" (the Messiah) is led into the presence of "one of great age" (God in His eternity and infinite wisdom). This sovereignty, though eternal, is concerned with the circumstances of this world: "men of all peoples, nations and languages became his servants". The passage from the Apocalypse (or Revelation) calls Jesus "the faithful witness". Through His fidelity to the Father He has been raised from the dead and is First-born of the kingdom. Through His death and resurrection (which have "washed away our sins with his blood") many others, brothers and sisters, will share His divine life. He is the first of many brethren. All power is given to Him as "Ruler of the kings of the earth".
We, His followers, will share in that spiritual power. For He has made us "a line of kings, priests to serve His God and Father". It is a power, we note, which lies in service.
In contrast with these visions is the stark simplicity of John's Passion narrative. Jesus stands a captive before Pilate, representative of the Roman power. Pilate asks: "Are you the king of the Jews?". His subsequent question shows derision, contempt for the people to whom this prisoner belongs, the people who have handed him over.
Jesus replies with great dignity: "Mine is not a kingdom of this world". If it were, His followers would have fought to prevent His being surrendered to the Jewish leaders. He has allowed Himself to be taken.
By this we are not to understand (as many Christians tend to do) that His kingdom is otherworldly and nothing more. Through a deeper study of Scripture and the developing social teaching of the Church we have come to grasp that His kingdom is not only concerned with the hereafter, but that in this world it should not employ worldly methods of calculating power.
The kingship of Jesus is that of one who serves, of one who gives Himself for others, of one who is obedient even to laying down His life for His friends. And this is the way His followers and friends must go. He gives them the direction and the assistance for that difficult journey. "I was born for this, came into the world for this: to bear witness to the truth." That truth is more than intellectual understanding or a set of doctrines, however compelling. It is faithful witness to the sovereign rule of His Father over every aspect of life and death. Jesus witnesses to this by living it and loving His own to the end.
Anthony Nye SJ