What we are really celebrating today is our citizenship in the Kingdom of God
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 to my voice.”—John 18:37
On this last Sunday of the Church Year, we leave behind Mark’s Gospel and turn to that of John. We find Jesus before Pilate, hours before he would be murdered by the Romans as an enemy of the state.
John had explored the theme of Jesus’ kingship, when, after the multiplication of the loaves and fishes, the people had wanted to make Jesus a king. But Jesus used their enthusiasm as an opportunity to try to explain what was at the heart of his ministry: the salvation for the world.
The gift that he offered—the gift of himself—wasn’t what the people wanted. They wanted a king who would restore the fortunes of Israel and who would free them from Roman rule. The people were not able to understand or imagine because, while Jesus was in fact establishing a new kingdom—the Reign of God—it didn’t fit their view of the world. Rather than being a king whose rule was based on power and wealth, Jesus was a king who made himself available to the lowest and least, who washed feet, and offered up his life on a cross for the sake of his people. Moreover, the Kingdom proclaimed by Jesus wasn’t the privileged place of a few. This Kingdom would be home to peoples of every race and nation, to any and all who chose to follow him.
When Pope Pius XI instituted a special feast honoring Christ “the King” in 1925, he lamented a world that had been ravaged by the First World War and which had begun to bow down before “kings” of exploitative consumerism, nationalism, secularism, and new forms of injustice. The old power structures in Europe and the Middle East were fading into memory (including the colonial system that allowed European nations to claim lands in Africa, Southeast Asia, and South America) and a new and uncertain world was rising in their place.
Pope Pius recognized that, for the Christian, those passing empires and colonies did not define who or whose they were. Instead, he reflected that the kingdom to which Christians belong is “spiritual and concerned with spiritual things… it demands of its subjects a spirit of detachment from riches and earthly things, and a spirit of gentleness. They must hunger and thirst after justice and more than this, they must deny themselves and carry the cross” (from the encyclical Quas primas, 15).
Pope Pius envisioned “a dominion by a King of Peace who came to reconcile all things, who came not to be served but to serve” (20). The reign of Christ embraces all people (cf. Daniel 7:14; Revelation 5:9-10).
This is certainly a timely reminder as we confront violence, uncertainty, and questions about what we owe to those who are the victims of terror and oppression.
This Sunday’s celebration of Christ the King—or the Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe, as it is officially called—will find many of us singing great hymns like “To Jesus Christ Our Sovereign King” and “Crown Him with Many Crowns.” But we have to try to keep a broader view, looking beyond just the idea of royal status, because we run the risk of losing sight of what we are really celebrating today: our citizenship in the Kingdom of God. And the message that we hear this Sunday is that we can no longer identify ourselves simply as “American,” “Navajo,” “Italian,” “Chinese,” “Sudanese,” or “Syrian.” Instead, we have been claimed by and for Christ in baptism and our true home is in the Reign of Christ—a reality that is grounded in the truth of God’s Provident love and that surpasses the limits of national borders, ethnicities, and even time itself. We are co-citizens of God’s Kingdom with all of the communion of saints.
As we face the uncertainties of our own time, what does the Reign of Christ mean for you today? What would it mean for you to live as a citizen of the Kingdom of God first and the member of a nation, community, or family second? Jesus told Pontius Pilate that he came to testify to the truth. How do you hear Jesus, our King, speaking to you today? What is he asking of you?
Words of Wisdom: “‘To bear witness to the truth’: this is why Jesus came into the world, and in this way he fulfilled his role as King. And we show our love for him when we listen to his voice and live according to the truth. This was the way to holiness of [the saints]. May we follow their example. By living in truth and love, may we always give praise and glory to God – the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.”—Pope Saint John Paul II