Homily for the Solemnity of Christ the King, Year B
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.”
So Pilate said to him, “Then you are a king?”
Jesus answered, “You say 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.”
A just judge being judged: quite a scene. We saw it recently at Senate hearings. This is not to compare a sinner with the Savior by any means, but those confirmation interrogations gave us a clear picture of what a trial by clever opponents in the presence of screaming fanatics can look like.
Our Lord was the object of such a trial. Now, this may seem strange to the reader, but I say it anyway, since it is true: the one serious and basically responsible and just one in Our Lord’s trial was Pontius Pilate. St. Thomas Aquinas, following Blessed Alcuin, makes this amazing statement in commenting on this passage:
Pilate since he was a just judge and dealt with everything with exquisite care did not immediately give in to the accusation of the high priest.
Instead, St. Thomas goes on, Pilate took Our Lord “into chambers,” as we would say, to question him in tranquility away from the mob. These exchanges are among the most poignant of the whole the Gospels, on a par with Our Lord’s conversations with Nicodemus, or the rich young man, or with St. Martha of Bethany.
Finally, as we all know, Pilate decides to follow the usual Roman practice, which gave maximum discretion to the leaders of the Jewish people, and hands him over to his own, all the while clearly showing his dramatic disgust at their insistence on condemning an innocent man.
Small wonder that some churches of the Christian East venerate him as a saint who converted to Christ by the influence of his wife. In the Ethiopian Church his feast is on June 25.
Now, we know from the letter to the Hebrews that from the moment he came into the world Christ offered his body as a sacrifice for the fulfillment of his Father’s will in the salvation of the human race. Why then was it necessary for him to undergo a legal trial? There are several points in the Gospels wherein he might have been killed and so have offered his body for us, but he awaited this moment before Pilate and the chief priests of the Jews.
The reason for this has everything to do with today’s Solemnity of Christ the King.
You see, Christ was crucified precisely because he claimed to be a king. This was the inscription over his head giving the legal reason for his execution. Pilate himself wrote this out before he handed the Savior over to the Jews, and he said “What I have written, I have written.”
Of course the Lord was a king by nature, being the most eminent of men, the God-Man who by his incarnation became the head of the whole human race. He was king even before he was born, from the moment of his conception. But he determined in his wisdom and in following his Father’s will that he should be a king not only by nature and birth, but also by conquest, since in human terms, even those of the Bible, the kingly title requires the undergoing of a struggle.
Not only this, but the struggle needed to be legally legitimate. The Savior claimed his title as king, a title we see on almost every crucifix, as it was given him by Pontius Pilate, the representative of legitimate authority. Thus in every form of the creed we not only profess that Christ is king because he is “God from God and Light from Light, True God of True God, of one substance with the Father, who for us men and for our salvation came down from heaven and was incarnate,” but also because he was “crucified under Pontius Pilate.”
His Father and their Holy Spirit gave him his kingship by nature, but Pontius Pilate gave him, as the legitimate ruler, his claim to kingship by conquest by making the Jews crucify him as their king!
That is why there is a certain delicacy in the continuous remembrance of the Roman procurator in the Church’s liturgy, which can remind us that the power of God, and rule of his divine Son are able to make use of all the twists and turns of human history to accomplish nothing short than the kingdom of the crucified, and as we say in the creed “of his kingdom there will be no end.”
So let us not fear too much our own unjust judges and trust that just as the Father used sinful human instruments and secular powers to fulfill his will in the saving death of his son, so too, whatever trials we, or supreme court candidates, or Christians suffering for the faith in any place, have to undergo, it will all end in one great celebration of an endless feast of Christ the King.