“So you are a king?”

File:Jesus Before Pilate, First Interview.jpg

Watching for the Morning of November 22, 2015

Christ the King:
Proper 29 / Lectionary 34

Year B

“So you are a king?!” Pilate must imagine himself to be immensely clever. He, the shrewd and powerful politician, he the noble and cultured Roman amidst these unsophisticated provincials, has gotten this Galilean peasant to admit his pretensions to kingship. But like everything in John’s Gospel, there are two layers of meaning to this admission. Pilate hears a zealot messiah, someone who thinks he has been granted the kingship of Judea by God. Another of the many such rabble who seem to be roaming these hills. One of the many such deluded crusaders that will bring this nation to destruction thirty years later – just as Caiaphas feared. But what Pilate seems unable to hear is that Jesus’ kingship is unlike the kingships of this world.

Pilate is a Roman version of Nicodemus, who puzzled over the literal and wondered how to get back into the womb. Only Pilate isn’t seeking truth. Pilate just hopes to get out of this rebellious and godforsaken corner of the empire with his career intact. Pilate may be a sycophant, but he understands power. He is a child of imperial Rome. Rule comes from Roman legions. The twelfth legion, in his case.

But here before him is a king unlike the kings of this world. He doesn’t take up the sword; he endures it. He doesn’t take life; he gives it. He doesn’t slay his enemies; he forgives them, reconciles them. His show of strength is hidden in frail human flesh, bleeding. He witnesses to the truth at the heart of the universe.

This Sunday is the feast day of Christ the King. Such a title could lend itself to triumphalism if it were not hidden in the mystery of the crucified.

So we read Daniel, whose vision of four beastly kingdoms rising out of the sea moves towards its climactic vision of God’s judgment of those beastly kingdoms and the arrival of a new kingdom, “one like a human being,” coming “on the clouds of heaven” – from the realm of divine not the primal chaos. And this humane kingdom is eternal.

We hear the psalmist sing, “The LORD is king!” but its exultant cry is shaped by Jesus before Pilate and by John’s witness that it is the pierced one who is ruler of the kings of the earth.

Dominion, true dominion, everlasting dominion belongs to God – a reign embodied in the one Pilate cannot see: The one who does not answer hate with hate. The one who does not answer violence with violence. The one who answers cruelty with mercy, and curses with blessing. The one who answers power with service. The one who answers our deceits with truth. The one who embodies the truth of God.

The prayer for November 22, 2015

Almighty and ever-living God,
source and goal of all that is:
in your Son, Jesus, the world is met by its true king.
Grant us ears to listen to his voice
and ever abide in your truth
through your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord,
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and forever.

The texts for November 22, 2015

First Reading: Daniel 7:9-10, 13-14
“As I watched, thrones were set in place, and an Ancient One took his throne.”
– The prophet’s vision of four beastly kingdoms concludes with his vision of God upon the throne and dominion given to “one like a human being” (a “son of man”).

Psalmody: Psalm 93
“The Lord is king, he is robed in majesty.” – A hymn celebrating God’s reign over all creation.

Second Reading: Revelation 1:4b-8
“Look! He is coming with the clouds; every eye will see him, even those who pierced him.” – The Revelation to St. John begins as a letter with its central theme of the coming of Christ Jesus to reign.

Gospel: John 18:33-38a
“My kingdom is not from this world.” – Jesus stands before Pilate accused of being a royal pretender.

 

Image: James Tissot, Jesus Before Pilate, [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

 

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