Just as the feast of Christ the King is the climax of the Church’s year, so the scene of Jesus’ trial before Pilate can be understood, in some sense, as the climax of John’s Gospel narrative.
The term “kingdom” has only appeared (twice) already in the Gospel according to John, during Jesus’ nocturnal discussion with Nicodemus: there Jesus tells his visitor that unless a person is “born through water and the Spirit”, they “cannot enter the kingdom of God”. This theme returns in Jesus’ final exchange before his crucifixion, during the trial before Pilate. Throughout the narrative, Jesus has been challenging people to decide about himself and the message he brings. The last person to be so confronted is the Roman governor, who dismisses Jesus’ offer in the words which immediately follow today’s reading, when he asks, “Truth? What is that?”
Jesus does not talk to Pilate about himself, but rather about the kingdom (or his kingship). It is not “of this world”, but it is in the world in the community of disciples who have accepted Jesus and his teaching and ratified this publicly by being baptised. Jesus’ explanation of his being a king is very like the example of the shepherd and the flock and “listening to his voice”. His kingdom is one of authority rather than power. His exercising of this authority has been in making God known to the world and drawing all those who accept the truth into God’s kingdom. It is when Jesus is lifted up on the cross, revealed as king and priest at the crucifixion, that he will draw all people to himself.
The feast of Christ the King was instituted in 1925 by Pope Pius XI when nationalism was on the rise in Europe and societies were deeply marked by class divisions. True peace, he wrote, could only be found under the rule of Christ, the Universal King, the Prince of Peace.
The notion of kingship or queenship is a difficult one in this more democratic age. This can make our understanding of Christ as king problematic. Pilate got it right when he had a universal proclamation fastened to the cross of Jesus, which read “Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews”. But Jesus’ throne is a cross; his crown, one of thorns.
Although Jesus’ kingdom (or kingship) does not originate from this world, it is present in the world. This might cause some people to think that the kingdom and the Church are the same thing: missionary work is sometimes understood as “spreading the kingdom”. However, the kingdom is greater than the Church: wherever the values put forward in the Bible, the word of God, are being put into practice, we could say that the kingdom is present.
- The feast of Christ the King was instituted by Pope Pius XI in 1925.
- This was a time of rising nationalism in many countries in Europe.
- Pius said that although war had ceased, peace had not been established; he hoped that this feast would promote people’s allegiance to Christ as Universal King and Prince of Peace.
Make the Sign of the Cross with holy water and renew your baptismal promises to live as best you can as a true member of the community of Jesus’ disciples.