“Do you remember?”
I recall hearing my parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles ask this question at family gatherings during Thanksgiving and Christmas. They were remembering people, events and even buildings from the past and recollecting most times with fond memories.
Almost four years ago, as many Philadelphians will recall, the Eagles won the Super Bowl. The long wait for fans was over. There was an excitement in the air as the clock ticked away. Once the win was secure, the city and suburbs erupted in a great party which lasted weeks. For local fans, having the underdog come out on top just added to the celebrations. The longed-for victory had finally arrived and now it was time to celebrate.
Some of that experience might be translated into what we celebrate today. This Sunday marks the close of the liturgical year with the Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe. The feast celebrates Christ’s victory over death and his being seated at the “right hand of the Father.” It also looks forward to his return to earth in triumph as the King of Kings.
The Gospel today recalls Jesus’ trial before Pilate, in particular the interrogation by Pilate about Jesus’ kingship. Notably, Jesus tells Pilate, “My kingdom does not belong to this world.”
When Jesus uses the term “world” (particularly in the fourth Gospel), he means anything that is not in the realm of God. By saying that his kingdom does not belong to this world, he indicates his kingdom is of the Father, the kingdom of God. Now, that kingdom is one in which God’s plan for the entire world comes to fulfillment. It is made visible, not in sign or anticipation nor in some limited way, but completely. This is the kingdom of love and mercy, where no trace of evil or imperfection remains.
So as Jesus is on trial by the rulers of this world (Pilate was an official of the Roman Empire), the contrast between the kingdom of God and the “world” is brought to the forefront. Many of us can relate to this contrast. We regularly witness or encounter the imperfections of this world, whether it is in the presence of evil or violence, in strife or anger, in injustice or prejudice or even in the simple struggles and frustrations that come with seeking to do good.
As the interchange with Pilate continues, Jesus speaks of his mission, saying: “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.”
Jesus is the authentic witness to the kingdom of God. He is Truth. It is in and through him that the kingdom becomes manifest and all are invited to citizenship. In this kingdom is life, eternal life. Earlier in the Gospel, Jesus said: “I have come that they might have life and have it more abundantly.”
The contrast between the “world” and the “kingdom” continues with Jesus’ being crowned not with gold or silver nor of palm or olive branches, but with thorns. The “world,” and in this case the forces of evil, make a mockery of the King and the “Kingdom.” The cross becomes the throne.
Love drove Jesus to the cross. His unconditional love of the Father, expressed in faithfulness, moves him forward. The forces of the “world,” also referred to as “darkness,” try to stop him but are unable.
The contrast is now brought to completion. Jesus’ victory is cemented in this love. Now everything is transformed. The cross, an instrument of death, now becomes the sign of victory and, with the Resurrection, life. Jesus is King, as Pilate unwittingly notes in the sign he orders for the cross.
The hymn in the second reading (taken from The Book of Revelation) speaks of Jesus as the “faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead and ruler of the kings of the earth.” He is the one who “loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood.”
Today we celebrate Jesus’ kingship, and we look forward to his return when the victory will be brought to completion and celebrated in full. Daniel forecasts the triumph: “When he reached the Ancient One and was presented before him, the one like a Son of man received dominion, glory and kingship; all peoples, nations and languages serve him. … His dominion is an everlasting dominion that shall not be taken away, his kingship shall not be destroyed.”
Revelation also speaks of his return, when the Lord God says: “I am the Alpha and the Omega” — the first and last letters of the Greek alphabet, symbolizing whole, entire, complete, and perfect — “the one who is and who was and who is to come, the almighty.”
The celebration today of Our Lord Jesus Christ, the King of the Universe is one of victory. Jesus conquers the power of this “world” on the cross. He did so for us. When the forces of the “world” — whether they be pain, suffering, grief, persecution or anything related — weigh us down, we turn to the Lord of life who has already robbed them of their power. We renew our faith in his triumph and are lifted up in hope that he will again return and lead us all to his kingdom.
Msgr. Joseph Prior is pastor of Our Lady of Grace Parish, Penndel, and a former professor of Sacred Scripture and rector of St. Charles Borromeo Seminary.
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