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.
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
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.
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.
‘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.'”
“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 in 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.
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?” (Acts1:6–8)
Even after the reality check that followed, it took two angels to get their attention focused on the job at hand. (November 27, 2016)
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
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.
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 20:26–27; Luke 24:30–43)
They started spreading the best news humanity’s ever had.
I accepted God’s offer, so I try acting like I’m part of the family.
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.
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, 238–248)
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….'”
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.'”
Meanwhile, we have a big job.
‘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.”
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, 1928–1942)
I can also keep suggesting that preserving what is good, and changing what is not, 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))
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.
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:
- “Still Rejoicing”
(July 2, 2017)
- “We are Many, We are One”
(June 4, 2017)
- “Emmaus: Looking Back and Ahead”
(April 30, 2017)
- “The Eighth Day: Two Millennia and Counting”
(April 16, 2017)
- “Epiphany Sunday”
(January 8, 2017)
- “Holy Mass for the conclusion of the Year of Faith on the Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe”
Francis (November 24, 2013)
(From w2.vatican.va/content/francesco/en/homilies/2013/documents/papa-francesco_20131124_conclusione-annus-fidei.pdf (November 21, 2015))
- “Feast of Christ the King”
Pope St. John Paul II (November 23, 1997)
(From w2.vatican.va/content/john-paul-ii/en/homilies/1997/documents/hf_jp-ii_hom_23111997.pdf (Nov. 31, 2015))
- Questions about the Scriptures used during Mass
- Directory on Popular Piety and the Liturgy, Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments (December 2001)
- Feast of Christ the King
- Feast of Christ the King
- “Importance and current validity of the document”
Joachim Card. Meisner; Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (November 24, 2002)
- “Quas Primas”
Pius XI (December 11, 1925)
(From w2.vatican.va/content/pius-xi/en/encyclicals/documents/hf_p-xi_enc_11121925_quas-primas.pdf (November 21, 2015)