Msgr. Charles Pope is currently a dean and pastor in the Archdiocese of Washington, DC, where he has served on the Priest Council, the College of Consultors, and the Priest Personnel Board. Along with publishing a daily blog at the Archdiocese of Washington website, he has written in pastoral journals, conducted numerous retreats for priests and lay faithful, and has also conducted weekly Bible studies in the U.S. Congress and the White House. He was named a Monsignor in 2005.
User’s Guide to Sunday, the Solemnity of Christ the King
Sunday, Nov. 21, is the Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe. Mass Readings: Daniel 7:13-14; Psalm 93:1, 1-2, 5; Revelation 1:5-8; John 18:33b-37.
On the Solemnity of Christ the King, we are called to acknowledge that Jesus is in fact our King. It is one thing to say that he is our King because the preacher says so, or the Bible says so (yes, faith does come by hearing), but it is quite another for us to personally say that Jesus is our King.
In the Gospel, the spotlight is on Pontius Pilate. The Lord asks the critical question of him. We cannot simply wait to see how he answers; we have to answer. Let’s consider this Gospel in three stages.
With literary artistry, the Gospel vividly depicts the vacillation of Pontius Pilate. In this trial of Jesus, Pilate goes in and out of the governor’s palace seven times: out to talk with the Jewish leaders, in to talk with Jesus. He’s trying to please the crowds. He’s trying to please his wife (who had warned him to have nothing to do with that innocent man (Matthew 27:19). He’s trying to help Jesus. He can’t decide, so in and out he goes!
Faced with a crucial decision, Pilate weighs the consequences that choosing Jesus will have on his career, his family, his duty to Caesar, and his access to power. Don’t we sometimes make compromises with the world for the sake of similar things? How often does Jesus our King take a back seat to career, politics, convenience, and so forth? So easily do many people stay rooted in vacillation, compromise, and indecision.
In the midst of all this indecision comes the question. Pilate begins with his own question: “Are you the King of the Jews?” Jesus turns the tables on Pilate, asking him a crucial question: Are you saying this on your own or have others been telling you about me?” (John 18:34).
The Lord is asking Pilate and us: Do we believe and act as ifChrist is King or do we merely parrot what we’ve heard others say?
What does it mean that Jesus is King? A king has authority. Does Jesus have authority in our life? Do we have the obedience of faith (Romans 1:5) and base our life upon his will? Do we take him seriously and let him actively work in our life? How do we answer? To refuse to answer is to answer.
We have seen how Jesus, who was himself on trial, has turned the tables and put Pilate on trial. Now, another ingenious literary device comes into play. Look carefully at this passage from John’s Gospel and see if you notice anything strange about it.
“When Pilate heard [the continued demands of the crowd], he brought Jesus out, and he sat down on the judgment seat …” (John 19:13). Who exactly is the “he” sitting on the judgment seat? But the text is ambiguous, especially in Greek. Many argue that the text is intentionally ambiguous. From the standpoint of historical facts, it was likely Pilate who took that seat, but from the standpoint of divine justice, it is Jesus who sits there in judgment.
Pilate seals his own fate when he hands Jesus over to be crucified; his vacillation is over. Pilate has made his choice; he has answered the question.
Jesus is not a King who imposes his kingdom. He invites us to enter his kingdom. Ultimately, judgment is about our choice, not his.
Yes, there are implications! Today, the Lord asks all of us if we will let him be our King. Is he really our King?
Think hard about it. There are implications.