First Reading: Daniel 7:13-14
Responsorial Psalm 93:1, 1-2, 5
Second Reading: Revelations 1:5-8
Gospel: John 18:33B-37
For those of us from the United States, the language of king and kingdom fly in the face of our treasured democracy. Annually on July 4, we proudly celebrate our embrace of representative government and our break from the rulership of a king. So today's feast of Christ the King requires some explanation, lest it raise our democratic hackles. This Sunday culminates our lectionary cycle, closing Ordinary Time for Year B and preparing us for the coming season of Advent. Think of Christ the King as our liturgical New Year's Eve. We stand at the end of another year of worship. Today's readings remind us of some significant aspects of our belief about Jesus as the Christ and what effect His kingdom will have.
As the Scriptures describe, Israel had a tenuous history with kingship. Despite divine protection, the people clamored for a king so as to be like the other nations (1 Sam 8:4), but they soon recognized the "evil of asking for a king" (1 Sam12:19). They failed to accept that God was the great king above all gods (Psalm 95:3) and of all the earth (Psalm 47:7). In Christian understanding, "the kingdom of God is not a matter of food and drink, but of righteousness, peace, and joy in the holy Spirit" (Rom 14:17).
The first reading for this Sunday from the Book of Daniel envisions a new kingdom. Prior to the passage that we read today, Daniel had seen four different beasts emerge from the sea (Dan 7:3). Representing the Babylonian, Median, Persian and Greek kingdoms, these beasts hold sway until the heavenly court intervenes (Dan 7:10-11, 26). Then "one like a son of man," descends from heaven and receives dominion, glory, and kingship from the Ancient of Days (Dan7:14). The worldly kingdoms are depicted as terrifying beasts, while the true king is envisioned in human form as a "son of humanity." The evangelists and other early Christians understood Jesus as the embodiment of this "son of humanity" and it seems to be the title Jesus most frequently used for himself (Mark 2:10, 8:31, 14:62).
Daniel's vision is likely the backdrop for the imagery used by the author of Revelation, when he describes Jesus Christ as "coming amid the clouds" (Rev 1:7). Like the Book of Daniel, Revelation is written out of an experience of persecution. John, the visionary, who is directed to "give witness to the word of God...by reporting what he saw (Rev 1:2), has been exiled to a penal colony on the island of Patmos. His writings reflect the eschatological belief that Jesus Christ would return and defeat Satan's kingdom, ushering in the reign of God.
In the Gospel, it is not Jesus who calls himself a king, but the imperial representative, Pilate. Jesus is arrested on theological grounds (John 18:19) and charged with political machinations (John 18:33). Likely having been informed by the Jewish opponents (John 18:34), Pilate asks if Jesus is the king of the Jews. Jesus doesn't answer directly ("You say I am a king," John 18:37). The kingdom of the Johannine Jesus is not of this world (John 18:36). It is the kingdom of truth, and its citizens are those who listen to Jesus' voice (John 18:37). Jesus' very incarnation ("For this I was born," John 18:37) was in order that he might testify to that truth.
Throughout the liturgical cycle we have followed that "truth" as depicted in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus not simply because it's a great story (it is!). We read, remember, and ponder the Scriptures because they are our story. We are meant to see ourselves among those clamoring for a king because we fail to trust fully. Like the suffering of Daniel's day, we, too, are filled with terror in the face of violence and destruction. We need only to pause and to remember that in 24 hours last week 43 people were killed in the twin bombings in Beirut, 18 people by a suicide bomber in Bagdad, and 129 people in multiple attacks in Paris. We witness the waves of weary immigrants literally crashing onto the shores of Europe begging for life and hope. We see our own cities beset by senseless violence, particularly perpetrated on the young and the poor. Like the oppressed Jews of Daniel's day and the people of Israel in Jesus' time, we long for "one like the son of humanity" to descend and usher in this new age of God's reign. Come Lord Jesus. Come NOW! Be our savior and righteous king.
But while end-time-themed Scriptures often advise us to be "sober and alert" (1 Peter 5:5) and "watch" (Mark 13:37), we are also to be prepared (Matt 25:1-13) and make good use of this time (Luke 19:12-27). How are we doing our part to prepare the reign of God? What peaceful, reconciling actions can we initiate in our own homes, offices, classrooms? Here's one timely suggestion. As the holidays near, our daily mail will be stuffed with myriad invitations from worthy charities. Will we simply recycle their requests, unopened? Or might we at least consider reading their appeal? Not everyone will be able to benefit from our limited financial generosity, but all can drink from our infinite well of prayer and compassion.
Since this is our liturgical New Year's Eve, we might do well to reflect on how we have helped or hindered the building of the reign of God. Is Jesus our king, or to use a less political term, our source and center? Or have we enthroned other powers and principalities to rule over us? How much of our time and energy is spent in seeking our own success at the expense of personal holiness and communal action for justice? Perhaps this feast offers us an opportunity to make a few New Year's resolutions for the sake of our faith. In anticipation of the full realization of God' reign, how might we prepare our hearts and minds for "the one who is and who was and who is to come" (Rev 1:8)?
Sister Laurie Brink, O.P.
Associate Professor of New Testament Studies