The verdict

Who are you? Where do you come from? What do you know? What have you accomplished with your life? Those are more or less the questions one is supposed to answer on a résumé. Although some are tempted to creatively enhance the narrative, in the end it's vital that the person described by the responses be recognizable as the one whose name is at the top of the page.

CEL_Nov222015.jpgThose questions are also pretty much the ones Pilate put to Jesus when he had him on trial. Pilate's questions aimed to find out if Jesus pretended to be a king, and therefore whether he was a threat to Rome's sovereignty.

Solemnity of Christ the King
Daniel 7:13-14
Psalm 93
Revelation 1:5-8
John 18:33b-37

Pilate apparently asked his questions out of ignorance. As he pointed out, he was no Jew. The implication was that he didn't know what the fuss was all about but he was magnanimously offering Jesus the opportunity to explain himself. He got more than he bargained for -- more than he wanted to comprehend.

There's the rub. Pilate thought he was the judge, but Jesus turned the tables. Standing there, apparently powerless, Jesus brought the powers to trial. "Are you a king?" Pilate asked.

"What makes you ask?" Jesus answered.

Jesus' reply questioned the concept of kingship itself. What does it mean to be a king? In Pilate's world, it meant to be sitting proudly on a throne, liable to attack from every side, always fearful and vulnerable to anyone who could muster greater power. "If my kingdom were like that, we'd be involved in a battle," said Jesus, "but as it is, I am not that weak."

Pilate got it. He didn't miss the insulting implication that his power was paltry and his position provisional. So he came back at him: "Aha! You do think you're a king!"

Jesus replied, "For this I was born, for this I came into the world."

Who in their right mind could make such a statement? It's one thing to guess or discern, to take a gamble on the meaning of your life and say, "I was born for this." But who claims to have made a decision to come into the world?

Without asking for it, Pilate was drawn from the plane of the political to the theological. Pilate was asking about coercive power, about whether Jesus wanted to use the potentate's prerogative to manipulate circumstances to get whatever he wanted. Jesus shifted the conversation to another level of reality, the level at which truth is the only operative force.

Jesus replied that his kingdom is one in which people are convinced by truth; they hear his voice and follow freely. On that plane, coercive force is rendered powerless, and thus all threats are void. Jesus' dialogue with Pilate transposed their positions. Pilate's questions put his kind of power on trial, and because he could not coerce Jesus, the powerlessness of his rule became obvious.

In 1979, Bob Dylan wrote the song "Gotta Serve Somebody," promulgating the idea that whether you were rich or poor, doctor or chief, "It may be the devil or it may be the Lord/But you're gonna have to serve somebody." A year later, John Lennon parodied that song in one titled "Serve Yourself."

Both songwriters aimed at telling their version of truth: One said that everything we do serves a purpose beyond ourselves; the other proclaimed the gospel of "Look out for No. 1." John the evangelist would call one song the gospel for the world, the other the gospel of the world.

The readings for the Solemnity of Christ the King put us on the jury at the trial of Jesus. Daniel calls us to remember the vision that guides us. The Book of Revelation proclaims that Jesus, the "firstborn from the dead," reveals the ultimate truth about power and glory. The Gospel calls us to decide who we think is right and to live according to our best judgment about power and truth.

Pilate asked political questions, and Jesus took the conversation to the theological plane. The proclamation of Christ as king is actually both theological and political because theology must be lived out in the polis, the day-to-day of human relationships.

We know Jesus' responses to Pilate's questions. He admitted being the king who decided to come into this world to be for it but not of it. He understood the truth about God's love and came to make it known in word and deed. He left the rest in the hands of every one of his servants whom he called to become a kingdom of priests.

We are those priests, ordained and sent to implement the vision, to give living witness to the freedom that comes from real power. We are called, like Jesus, to be signs of dangerous hope for God's world.

[Mary M. McGlone is a Sister of St. Joseph of Carondelet. She is a freelance writer and executive director of FUVIRESE USA.]

Join the Conversation

Send your thoughts and reactions to Letters to the Editor. Learn more here