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The Gospel-Feast of Christ the King, Year B (John 18:33-37)
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 or monarchy poses some difficulty. We need to put the exchange between Jesus and Pilate into the political context of Roman occupied Judaea of the first century.
Rome was the dominant global force at that time. 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 planet Earth or the 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. Jesus’ way of being in the world stands in stark contrast with the expansionist and frequently destructive ways of Roman rule.
The term “world” is used in two different senses in John’s gospel, both literally and metaphorically. 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 over-bearing 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 (1:17) 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): “If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples; and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.”
To celebrate this feast, then, is to move in the direction of peaceful solutions to the conflicts in our world and away from the paths of violence and domination. It is to seek the truth in dialogue and to respond to the plight of those who suffer the pain of hunger, of persecution and of loss. It is to rule as God rules and not as Rome ruled. It is to look again at how we inhabit our world and to change our ways for the sake of truth and life, the present and future life of our beleaguered planet.
Sr Veronica Lawson RSM