Today is what the church celebrates as ‘Christ the King’ and is the last week of the church year, partly to reflect on the end times when every knee shall bow before Jesus. The church year comes full circle: we began, like we will next week, on Advent Sunday by preparing ourselves for the coming of Jesus at his birth into our world. We also looked towards the second coming and then, throughout the year, have walked with Jesus with our understanding of him being transformed not only by his life and teachings, but also by hearing of his death, resurrection and ascension.
If we were to be strictly theological about this, then Christ the King ought to be celebrated at Ascension as Jesus does not become King at the end of time. The Kingdom of God is present now. Our prayer of “Thy Kingdom Come” is not just a futuristic dream, but a present hope and reality.
Christ the King was a festival instigated by Pope Pius XI in 1925 to emphasise Christ’s non-violent Kingship and rule, whilst suffering under the violent rule of Mussolini’s fascism. The Daniel of our first reading served under despotic and ruthless rulers such as Nebuchadnezzar. Christians, prior to their religion being accepted and adopted by the Roman Emperor, Constantine, were often persecuted by the Roman Emperors of their time. Roman Emperors viewed themselves not only as Kings but also being divine. Emperor Domitian often liked to be claimed as ‘Our Lord and Our God’ by his people. Does that not sound rather similar to what the disciple referred to Jesus as after meeting him in his resurrected flesh?
Christians were often forced to take part in a ritual where they had to profess the Roman Emperor as being divine. Their persecution was often followed by a refusal to do this, believing only in the one true God. Jesus is often presented in the bible as the King of Kings and Lord of Lords and as God, the Alpha and the Omega, to counter the Roman’s claims of the divine nature of their Emperors. Here lies a clash of empires, that or Caesar or that of Christ.
Pontius Pilate is portrayed fairly favourably in the bible with the real blame being landed upon the Jewish leaders. In today’s Gospel reading, whilst Jesus and Pilate were inside having a private meeting, the Jews were outside, during the time of nationalistic tensions because of Roman, foreign rule, denouncing their royals and priesthood as God’s chosen nation in favour of tactically acknowledging Caesar as King. In doing so, they also denounced Christ as their King.
Pilate did not understand though; he questioned Jesus whether he was the King of the Jews and, by doing so, was narrowing Jesus’ Kingship. Jesus’ Kingdom is not from this world; it holds no geographical boundary or a boundary of time. Jesus’ Kingdom is everywhere for eternity.
We probably fail to understand what it means for Christ to be our King today; it is not as if our very lives are threatened by submitting to Jesus now. This reflects that we are not under threat from out present constitutional monarchy. It is not as if Queen Elizabeth II will order for our heads to be chopped off if she did not find favour with us, but to be someone’s subject is to submit to their will and demonstrate our complete loyalty.
Do we submit totally without qualification to Jesus? Is Christ our King? How do we know? There is a story of someone praying to Jesus, ‘Lord, I submit myself to you, I will do whatever you want me to do.’ Jesus responded, ‘Sell all that you have to fund your travels to the poorest part of the world to stay there for the rest of your life serving me by serving the poor.’ The person then said to Jesus, ‘Err, thanks Jesus, I was just testing’ in which Jesus responded, ‘So was I!’
How do we know that Christ is truly our King? Well we can only ever know when Jesus asks us to do something that we don’t want to do. We live most of our lives either seeing out our days without even asking Jesus what he would like us to do or by actually following Jesus in a way that equates to doing what we are happy doing. It is only when Jesus asks us to go in one direction when we want to go in another direction that we know whether Christ is our King. Do we follow our own desire or the desire of our King?