Christ the King
by Rev. Jerry J. Pokorsky
Reprinted with permission of "The Arlington Catholic Herald"
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John wrote to show that Christ was
the Messiah, the Divine Son of God.
Pilate said to Jesus, "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." 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."
The desire to be king – or even to accept the office of king - is a curious thing. What kind of person would want to be in charge of an entire nation or people? What kind of man would want to be in control of anything other than his own affairs? Some people consider kingship a “prize” or a reward. Others, especially those who inherit or are elected to the office, more soberly consider it a burden or a grave responsibility. (Pope Benedict XVI, after being elected pope in 2005, joked that he felt like a guillotine was falling on him.) But motives for seeking the office of king probably include all the virtues and vices known to man.
There are many examples of powerful rulers who were very bad men. The 20th century has a notorious history of tyranny rivaling every other epoch. Some rulers were ruthless thugs or gangsters, such as Joseph Stalin, the Soviet dictator, who committed mass murder (50 million people is a number historians seem to agree upon) to protect his turf against encroachment. Others were ideologues who killed for some great cause. Mao Zedong in China rivaled Stalin in mass murder in the name of a “classless society.” Adolph Hitler was a relatively minor tyrant with “only” 12 million murders to his credit. A master race needs to be purified from time to time.
This is not to suggest that all desires to be king are necessarily bad. With pure motives rulers may be in a position to truly serve their subjects. The church has canonized several kings and queens for their sanctity, proving it is truly possible, after all, for a ruler to enter into heaven. The Catholic Encyclopedia, for example, tells us of the 13th-century St. Louis VIII of France: “St. Louis led an exemplary life, bearing constantly in mind his mother’s words: ‘I would rather see you dead at my feet than guilty of a mortal sin.’ His biographers have told us of the long hours he spent in prayer, fasting and penance, without the knowledge of his subjects.” Indeed the court of justice established by King Louis influenced the judiciaries of all of Christendom.
All great men need to be reminded of a fundamental truth about authority and power. During the trial of Christ, Pilate threatens Him: “Do you refuse to speak to me? Don’t you realize I have power either to free you or to crucify you?” Jesus answers with a truth that echoes through the ages: “You would have no power over me if it were not given to you from above” (Jn 19:8-11). All kingly power, all power of office or any position of authority is granted by God, for us to use or abuse. Even petty tyrants like Pontius Pilate and King Herod have a legitimate authority granted to them by God Himself in His Providence. But those who aspire to kingship or hold any position of authority are true kings only to the extent that they, with humility, participate in the kingship of Christ.
In this Sunday’s Gospel, Christ acknowledges He is a king, but not of this world: “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.” This does not mean, however, that his nonviolent kingship has no influence on earthly affairs. Quite the contrary. The divine kingship of Christ is the absolute measure of worldly kings: “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.”
is an amusing G. K. Chesterton poem depicting a donkey delighting in the
adulation he received in a procession. It concludes:
“For I also had my hour, / One far fierce hour and sweet: / There was a shout about my ears, / And palms before my feet.”
The donkey, of course, is the one carrying Christ, the King of Kings into Jerusalem of Palm Sunday. The donkey is not the subject of the adoration of the crowds; Christ is. A wise ruler will not permit praise and admiration to become a narcotic of vainglory. Every king – in the family, in civil society, in the church – serves under the authority of God. He belongs to Christ the King and will be judged by the truth of Christ.
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