Well, here we are at the end of another year–at least as far as the lectionary and Christian calendar are concerned. The first Sunday of Advent is but a week away, while here in the USA the majority of us are eagerly looking forward to some form of turkey gluttony. As such, it’s easy to skip over this Sunday without reflecting appropriately on its importance throughout Christianity.
In many Christian churches this Sunday is known as “Christ the King” Sunday. Rather ironic, of course, considering that Jesus was not much interested in titles. For this week we leave Mark’s Gospel for a foray into John’s very different one, with an excerpt from Jesus’ trial before Pontius Pilate:
Then Pilate entered the headquarters again, summoned Jesus, and asked him, “Are you the King of the Jews?” Jesus answered, “Do you ask this on your own, or did others tell you about me?” Pilate replied, “I am not a Jew, am I? Your own nation and the chief priests have handed you over to me. What have you done?” Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not from this world. If my kingdom were from this world, my followers would be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Jews. But as it is, my kingdom is not from here.” Pilate asked him, “So you are a king?” Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.” –John 18:33-37 NRSV
As the final Sunday in the liturgical year, Christ the King Sunday provides the climax to the entire year’s telling of the story of Jesus. Year C (next year) focuses on Luke 23 with Jesus on the cross, to which the Roman soldiers have nailed a sign: King of the Jews. Year A (last year) focused on Matthew 25 and the parable of the king (“Whenever you did it unto the least of these….”).
In this year’s Gospel lection, the dialogue stops just short of Pilate’s infamous reply to Jesus’ statement, “…for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth”: “What is truth?” For Pilate, of course, truth was merely whatever the Roman Empire said was truth. And because Jesus testified that his “kingdom” was not of this world–a world ruled by corrupt empires, principalities, powers, and institutions–Pilate was essentially clueless to understand what his prisoner was talking about. Those two men were operating on two non-intersecting planes of reality.
So what is “truth” today? How do we, as followers of Jesus Christ, speak to the representatives of “empire” in our era? In a few days America will celebrate two conjoined and characteristically American holidays: Thanksgiving and Black Friday. The day after U.S. Thanksgiving Day has become the epitome of out-of-control consumption and consumerism. No doubt we’ll again see the now-obligatory video reports of mob scenes at Wal-Mart and Toys-R-Us–America’s annual great battle to bring “joy to America’s children on Christmas morning.” True, online shopping has taken some of the drama out of the day, but it’s still a pretty big deal. What does Truth (or, for that matter, a whole lot of other concerns central to Christianity) have to do with all that? While it’s tempting to look down our noses at the misguided masses who succumb to Black Friday craziness, that misses the point.
I’m reminded of the scene in the movie “The Wizard of Oz” where the voice of Oz the Magnificent warns Dorothy and friends to pay no attention to the man behind the curtain. That’s exactly what we Christians must do–Look behind the curtain.
Behind the metaphorical curtain today we’ll discover the manipulative workings of empires and principalities and powers. And in the name of Jesus Christ, we must speak up. This year there is the added urgency of terrorist-fed fears–yet another “empire” seeking to steer the course of human history. There will be, naturally, those who like Pilate two thousand years ago will consider us crazy or foolish or misguided to align ourselves with the Prince of Peace. But it is the truth–and only that–that can set us all free.
*Adapted from an original post on ForeWords in 2012
- Jesus before Pilate: His heroic refusal to name names (mikerivageseul.wordpress.com)
- What Is Truth?? (gracechurchmora.wordpress.com)
- The King of Truth (maryharristodd.wordpress.com)
- If Jesus is King, How Does He Reign? — A Lectionary Reflection for Reign of Christ Sunday (bobcornwall.com)
- What is Truth? (livingontilt.wordpress.com)
- Lectionary Reflection: John 18:28-40: The King of the Jews (michaelkizzia.wordpress.com)