Veronica M. Lawson RSM
The liturgical year always ends with the celebration of the Feast of Christ the King. The gospel reading for Year B is from John’s gospel where the notion of God’s kingdom or reign or empire features only twice in contrast with its frequent appearance in the other gospels, especially Matthew. For readers in a Western society where democratic rule is valued and promoted, the whole notion of kingship poses some difficulty. We need to put the exchange between Jesus and Pilate into the political context of Roman-occupied Judea of the first century.
Rome was the dominant world force. It had the economic and military strength to maintain its power over the whole Mediterranean world. When Jesus tells Pilate that his kingdom is not of this world, he is not pitting the created world or cosmos over against a purely spiritual world. He is referring rather to the world and values of the Roman Empire and the destructive values that are sometimes espoused by his followers. The term ‘world’ is used in two different senses in John’s gospel. On the one hand, it is the world that came into being through the Word (1:10), the beautiful cosmos or world that ‘God so loved’ (3:16). On the other hand, it is a ‘world’ that rejected the light (1:10-11), a sinful world in need of the saving power of God (3:17).
Jesus, as king, does not claim the sort of overbearing political, military, or economic power that Pilate exercises on behalf of the Roman emperor. His authority has nothing to do with power over or domination of others. It is grounded in truth (1:18) or, in other words, in the revelation of God. Jesus is ‘the way, the truth and the life’ (14:6) and his mission is to testify to the truth. The path to freedom and life lies in acceptance of the truth (8:32). To celebrate this feast, then, is to move in the direction of peaceful and honest solutions to the conflicts in our world and away from the paths of violence, domination, and spin. It is to seek the truth in dialogue and to respond to the voices of those who suffer the pain of hunger and of loss. It is to look again at how we inhabit our world and to change our ways for the sake of truth and life, the life of our beleaguered planet and of all that dwell therein.