Seeing the Big Picture

Today’s Mass is something new, introduced by Pius XI in 1925. We’ve had it on the last Sunday in Ordinary Time since 1970.

Focusing on who and what our Lord is seems like a good way to wrap up the Church calendar. That’s how I see it.

Today’s Gospel reading is Matthew 25:3146. That’s the one starting with “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him….”

It’s an important part of the Gospels, and not what I’ll be talking about today. I’d better explain that.

I’m okay with what the Church says about Mass, including how the annual schedule works. I’m not a religious scofflaw, disdaining the laws of God and man. But I don’t try to coordinate these ‘Sunday’ posts with what happens in Mass.

I figure it’s not a problem, since I’m a Catholic layman — and you’re probably not here looking for a homily.1 Besides, I’ve been itching to talk about what we read on cycle B’s final Sunday. We’ll see it next year around this time.2

Pilate and Bacon

Cycle B’s Gospel for today is John 18:33b-37. It tells us about our Lord’s trial before Pilate.

I don’t see that anyone apart from Jesus came out looking good in that chapter.

Malchus, maybe. He seems to have been mostly guilty of being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Peter, too, for prompt response before our Lord told him to stand down.

Living two millennia later, knowing what’s happened since the Golgotha incident, Pilate’s decision was obviously a mistake. A miscarriage of justice, at any rate.

But looking at it from Pilate’s perspective? I don’t feel like giving him a posthumous tongue-lashing. Or would that be type-lashing, since this is a virtual printed document?

Tongue, type, or whatever: I won’t follow Francis Bacon’s lead, and talk about “jesting Pilate.” Bacon was quite a few things, including England’s Attorney General and Lord Chancellor. He also added this to my culture’s heritage:

“What is truth? said jesting Pilate, and would not stay for an answer….”
(“Of Truth,” Francis Bacon (1625) via Bartleby.com)

Bacon was a smart man, and had some — interesting — things to say about truth.

He wrote quite a bit, and maybe could have written Shakespeare, but I don’t think so. Delia Bacon popularized the ‘Bacon wrote Shakespeare’ notion in the 19th century.

The 19th and 20th centuries are among Western civilization’s more colorful, I’m glad they’re behind us — and that’s another topic.

More to the point, I don’t think Pilate was joking when he asked “are you the King of the Jews?” Let’s remember who Pilate was.

Pilate was one of the Equites. It was sort of like being a knight in late medieval Europe. He was a step above commoners, but below Patricians. Think of him as ‘middle management.’

And he was in a very uncomfortable spot.

A Prefect’s Perspective

When we meet him in John 18, Pontius Pīlātus is prefect of Judea. The job came with a little authority. Also responsibility. Lots of responsibility.

Judea was a strategically important Roman border province.

It helped keep Rome’s land route to Egypt’s agricultural resources secure, and was a buffer between the Roman and Parthian Empires.3

Like I said, Pilate was a prefect or maybe a procurator or promagistrate. Either way, he was in charge of a volatile border province. If — make that when — something went wrong, his bosses would want to know why.

On top of that, he didn’t have the authority and influence a Patrician would have had. Being a Roman aristocrat wasn’t all beer and skittles. Or wine and expulsim ludere. My guess is that Romans didn’t care much for the northern European brew.

I don’t know why Pilate focused on the third charge listed in Luke 23:2: that Jesus claimed kingship. Maybe it was the charge that might be important. From Pilate’s viewpoint.

It would have been a clear challenge to Roman authority, something Pilate couldn’t reasonably ignore.

Opposing Roman taxes, the second charge, was a challenge too. Of sorts. But the Empire didn’t get much from Judea. Pilate probably realized that nobody except tax collectors and the Roman Senate liked taxes. Times change, but they don’t change all that much.

About taxes and tax collectors, in Mark 2:14, Luke 19:18 I read that Jesus told Levi to leave his post, influenced Zaccheus — and I’m drifting off-topic.

Questions

Pilate’s interview with our Lord isn’t as random as it might seem.

‘Circuitous’ may feel ‘ambiguous,’ at least to an American. But it’s not. Not, I think, in this case.

“So Pilate went back into the praetorium and summoned Jesus and said to him, ‘Are you the King of the Jews?’
“Jesus answered, ‘Do you say this on your own or have others told you about me?’
“Pilate answered, ‘I am not a Jew, am I? Your own nation and the chief priests handed you over to me. What have you done?’
“Jesus answered, ‘My kingdom does not belong to this world. If my kingdom did belong to this world, my attendants [would] be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Jews. But as it is, my kingdom is not here.'”
(John 18:3336)

“Are you the King of the Jews?” was a reasonable question. So was our Lord’s response, although Pilate may not have seen it that way.

Different folks saw, and see, our Lord different ways.

The Sanhedrin probably saw Jesus as a political threat: someone who wanted their political, social, and economic status.

Matthew 27:18 and common sense say that Pilate understood their motives.

I don’t know what he thought of his wife’s urgent warning. That’s in Matthew 27:19. Given his culture’s view of dreams, her warning may have encouraged Pilate to literally and figuratively wash his hands of charges against Jesus.

I’ve wondered if our Lord’s question, “do you say this on your own?” was giving Pilate an opportunity to see what was really going on. Maybe Pilate saw, maybe not.

“Another Kind of Kingship”

What Pilate did was state the obvious: that he wasn’t a Jew. He said that Jesus had been handed over to Imperial authority by “your own nation and the chief priests.”

I don’t know how reality looks from the Second Person of the Trinity’s viewpoint. But I ‘hear’ a trace of exasperation in our Lord’s response: “My kingdom does not belong to this world….” (John 18:36)

Think about it: Jesus had been accused of trying to be king of a smallish border province. It’s like asking the American president if he’s some sort of shift supervisor.

The Apostles weren’t all that quick on the uptake, either.

After our Lord had been executed, stopped being dead, and had finally convinced them that they weren’t seeing a ghost — they asked “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?” (Acts1:68)

Even after the reality check that followed, it took two angels to get their attention focused on the job at hand. (November 27, 2016)

That was two millennia back now.

Some of humanity’s best minds have been looking at who and what Jesus is, and we’re a trifle less clueless.

Those of us who pay attention.

Jesus is a king, the king; but not a political leader. Nothing that penny ante. Our Lord’s kingship is what St. John Paul II called “another kind of kingship, a divine and spiritual kingship.”1

Our Lord’s kingdom is everybody “who belongs to the truth:” in Palestine; in the Roman, Parthian, Kushan, and Han empires: and beyond. (John 18:37)

We’ve been learning that there’s a whole lot of “beyond,” and that’s yet another topic.

We call today’s feast the Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe. I put a few ‘background’ links at the end of this post.4

Our Lord isn’t just king of this universe, though.

He’s part of a really big picture. (August 20, 2017; March 12, 2017; December 11, 2016)

Jesus, Truth, and the Best News Ever


(From Piero della Francesca, via Wikimedia Commons, used w/o permission.)

Recapping, Jesus was tortured, executed, and buried. A few days later our Lord stopped being dead. The 11 surviving apostles eventually realized they weren’t seeing a ghost. (John 20:2627; Luke 24:3043)

Then our Lord had a final meeting with the 11, gave them standing orders, and left. That’s in Matthew 28:1820 and Acts 1:611.

They started spreading the best news humanity’s ever had.

God loves us, and wants to adopt us. All of us. (John 3:17; Ephesians 1:35; Catechism of the Catholic Church, 52, 1825)

I accepted God’s offer, so I try acting like I’m part of the family.

It’s pretty simple.

I should love God, love my neighbors, see everybody as my neighbor, and treat others as I want to be treated. (Matthew 5:4344, 7:12, 22:3640; Mark 12:2831; Luke 6:31, 10:2537; Catechism, 1789)

I said simple: not easy.

I also try to act like truth matters.

Our Lord’s mission was and is “to testify to the truth” — which brings me back to Pilate’s question in John 18:38: “What is truth?” An accurate answer would be not what is truth, but who is truth.

God is truth. God is also love. (John 14:6; 1 John 4:816; Catechism, 144, 214221, 1814)

And more. As a Catholic, my faith is — should be — personal loyalty to God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit: three persons, one God. It is “a free assent to the whole truth that God has revealed.” (Catechism, 150, 233, 238248)

Okay, so I believe in God, and decide to follow our Lord. So what?

In the short run, the outlook is pretty close to Churchill’s “blood, toil, tears and sweat.”

“Then Jesus said to his disciples, ‘Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me….'”
(Matthew 16:24)

Martyrdom is Sainthood’s fast-track option. But missing that opportunity won’t disappoint me. We’ve got many options, none of them easy. (September 4, 2016; August 21, 2016)

In the long run, the outlook’s pretty good for those of us who take God seriously. (Matthew 16:2527; 1 Corinthians 13:12; 1 John 3:2; Revelation 22:15)

That bit in Revelation 22:4, about having a name written on our foreheads, puts me in mind of an over-the-top college party: and that’s still another topic.

I’m looking forward to no more tears, death, mourning, wailing, or pain.

“Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth. The former heaven and the former earth had passed away, and the sea was no more.
“I also saw the holy city, a new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.
“I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Behold, God’s dwelling is with the human race. He will dwell with them and they will be his people and God himself will always be with them (as their God).
“He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there shall be no more death or mourning, wailing or pain, (for) the old order has passed away.'”
(Revelation 21:14)

Meanwhile, we have a big job.

Building a “Civilization of Love”

‘Really believing’ — thinking lovely thoughts, and doing nothing else — isn’t an option. Not a reasonable one. I must act as if what I believe matters.

“Do you want proof, you ignoramus, that faith without works is useless?
“Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered his son Isaac upon the altar?
“You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was completed by the works.”
(James 2:2022)

Part of my job involves truly respecting the “transcendent dignity” of humanity, and each person. It’s not easy. Neither is helping build a better world for future generations.

There’s not much I can do to abolish injustice, end hunger, or even make my nation’s leaders change their minds. But I can do something about me. My ongoing “inner conversion” isn’t easy, either. But it’s a good idea. (Catechism, 1888, 19281942)

I can also keep suggesting that preserving is good, and changing what isn’t, makes sense. So does cooperating with everyone who thinks we can build a better world.

“…The answer to the fear which darkens human existence at the end of the twentieth century is the common effort to build the civilization of love, founded on the universal values of peace, solidarity, justice, and liberty….”
(“To the United Nations Organization,” St. John Paul II (October 5, 1995))

St. John Paul II’s speech is only a couple decades old. The idea that mercy and justice matter is ancient. (February 1, 2017; November 20, 2016)

I think building a rough approximation of St. John Paul II’s civilization of love will take centuries, probably millennia. But I think we can do it, and must try. We’ve made some progress over the last two millennia.

There’s a great deal of the job left for generations who will follow us. (November 5, 2017; August 14, 2017; May 28, 2017)

I suspect we’ll still be correcting injustices and promoting mercy when the 8.2 kiloyear event, Y2K, and Y10K are seen as roughly contemporary.

On the ‘up’ side, we’re already in “the last hour,” and have been for two thousand years. The war is over. We won. This world’s renewal is in progress, and nothing can stop it. (Matthew 16:18; Mark 16:6; Catechism, 638, 670)

More about why I take Jesus seriously:


1 Homilies for this solemnity:

2 Each liturgical year has two cycles: one for Sunday Mass, the other for Mass on weekdays. We’ve got three Sunday cycles and two weekday ones. Happily, I don’t have to keep it all straight:

3 Pilate’s world, a quick look:

4 Solemnity of Christ the King, background:

About Brian H. Gill

I’m a sixty-something married guy with six kids, four surviving, in a small central Minnesota town. I mostly write and make digital art. I’m only interested in three things: that which exists within the universe; that which exists beyond; and that which might exist.

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