My friends, as you know, this feast brings us to the official end of the current Church Year with next Sunday beginning the new one and the holy season of Advent—a time of expectant waiting. If we were simply to take a cursory look at the chosen readings for today, you would think we are celebrating, “kingship,” as we humans understand that— “a lording over others.” But a deeper look really does say something more.
The reading from Daniel is probably closest to this human definition of being “a king” in that it places, “this One” in a “power over” position, saying that this is an “eternal” condition. It would seem the question we need to ask is, “What is it that designates the ‘rightness’ of this ‘power over’ by Jesus?” It seems that the other two readings give us our answer.
The reading from Revelation speaks of Jesus, the Christ as “sovereign of the rulers of the earth.” This writer, whom it is thought to be, John the apostle, further speaks of, “Christ—who loves us,” and goes on to say that “he freed us from our sins by shedding his blood.” I would submit the part that makes Jesus, the Christ, “sovereign” is that [he has loved us.] Let me say that again, perhaps in a bit different way: Jesus, the Christ is “sovereign,” not because he has “died” or “saved us from our sins,” but primarily, and for no other reason than that, “he has loved us!”
Finally, the gospel of John confirms this notion. Pilate asks Jesus if he is, “King of the Jews.” Jesus’ response seems to come from a man exasperated once again that the message of his life has been misconstrued. It is almost as if he is saying, “If you want to think of me, as a king, so be it, as I can’t seem to convince you otherwise.” But then, Jesus gives us the clarification; “I came into the world, to bear witness to the truth,” [and] “everyone who seeks truth hears my voice.” And we do have to give Pilate credit, because if we read further in the Scripture story, we see that he asks Jesus, “And what is the truth?” We see that Jesus isn’t going to answer Pilate’s question because his whole life had already given the answer.
And friends, we know that the “truth” is about God loving us so much so as to become one of us. Paul states in Philippians 2, “His state was divine, yet he did not cling to that, but humbled himself and became like humans are.” And we know that his most remarkable life was all about showing his human sisters and brothers, the way to live and to love, which is really the “truth” that Pilate was asking for but didn’t realize at the time.
So if that was God’s intent, to be one of us and with us, why did the Church inaugurate this feast that really removes Jesus, putting him on a pedestal away from us, rather than with us?
Upon checking, we see that this feast is only a little less than a hundred years old being proclaimed by Pius XI in 1925. It was a time in our Catholic history when Church fathers feared that God wasn’t being given due respect, so it seemed to them appropriate to inaugurate such a feast. Too bad they didn’t look back to Jesus’ words to see what God truly wanted from and with humans—not a top-down relationship, king to subjects, but a “one-with” relationship, friend to friend. So, it is for that reason that I suggest the name of this feast be changed to Jesus, Our Brother and Friend.
When we pick up on the discussion between Jesus and Pilate in today’s gospel and realize that Jesus isn’t about being a “king” and claiming an earthly crown, but about sharing the “truth” with us humans that we are loved by our God, nothing more, nothing less, then we can come to the truth that this feast is all wrong!
In truth, this proclaimed feast is really more about whom we as humans are—concerned with power, than whom our God is. Further, and more distinctly, this reflects who Church Fathers are more than who God is!
So, my friends, seeing where this feast came from in our Church history and with my suggestion that our brother Jesus might want us to have a different view of why it is appropriate at the Church Year’s end to celebrate him, let’s refocus then on our present day, facing our world as he did his, not with a notion of “power over” as in “kingship,” but as in, “one-with” others, represented by, “kin-ship,” as in “brother/sister/friend.
In my years as a chaplain, I was often in the position of facilitating a “Celebration of Life” for those who had died, and I always reminded families that they could best remember their deceased loved ones by emulating their good qualities in their own lives going forward. In other words, if their deceased loved ones “showed love” by spending time cooking, playing with family members, teaching a skill, whatever it might be, then we would best emulate them by doing the same in our lifetimes. And it would be the same with our brother Jesus.
Jesus-with-us, Emmanuel, as we will celebrate in a few short weeks calls us to truth, justice, mercy, and compassion. Sometimes, to act thusly can bring us upset and fear that we stand alone.
At that time, we must remember the messages coming from the 1st and 2nd readings today—basically that Jesus, the Christ, our brother, and friend in our humanity is eternal, is forever! Also, that this eternal brother and friend sends us grace and peace through the Spirit of God to do that which we must do.
So friends, as we move toward the beautiful and holy season of Advent beginning next Sunday, let us focus on the One who came to be one-with-us, keeping our eyes on him and receive the strength we need to be his true followers, not as people who, “lord it over others,” but as ones who, “walk with others” in what life brings!
Psalm 93 gives us perhaps a final idea on the theme of, “reign.” The psalmist says, “holiness adorns your house.” Perhaps “holiness” which comes from being people of justice, mercy, compassion, and love, is more of a reason than, “power over” others to celebrate Jesus, on this last weekend of the Church Year. Amen? Amen!