THE KINGSHIP OF CHRIST IS BOTH ABSOLUTE AND UNCORRUPT
SCRIPTURE READINGS: [ DAN 7:13-14; PS 93:1-2, 5; REV 1:5-8; JN 18:33-37 ]
Today, we celebrate the Feast of Christ the King. This feast is placed on the last Sunday of the liturgical year. It is the Church’s way of declaring that Jesus is the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end of history. It was God’s plan and our hope that Christ would establish His kingdom on earth and be the Universal King of all creation and humanity. As the first reading prophesied, “On him was conferred sovereignty, glory and kingship, and men of all peoples, nations and languages became his servants. His sovereignty is an eternal sovereignty which shall never pass away, nor will his empire ever be destroyed.”
Indeed, in the gospel, Jesus identified Himself as King. When asked by Pilate whether He claimed to be King, He affirmed, “Yes, I am a king. I was born for this.” In the book of Revelation, St John described Jesus as “the faithful witness, the First-born from the dead, the Ruler of the kings of the earth.” However, immediately, Jesus qualified His kingship. He said, “Mine is not a kingdom of this world; if my kingdom were of this world, my men would have fought to prevent my being surrendered to the Jews. But my kingdom is not of this kind.” This qualification made Him different from all other earthly kings.
Just as Pilate misunderstood the Kingship of Christ, many of us also do not truly understand what we are celebrating today as well. In fact, sometimes, I wonder whether this Feast of Christ the King is so archaic that many of us today cannot identify with this feast. Many of us live in democratic country, ruled by an elected government. In many places, the President of the country is only a figure head, like those countries with a constitutional monarchy. So the kind of kingship that we understand today is that of a constitutional monarchy.
But what was the world’s notion of kingship in ancient times until the late 18th Century? The king was certainly was not one who carried out the orders of a government. He was the ultimate power. His power was absolute, binding and not open to question or dissent. He was totally in charge and all had to obey him or risked execution. The King held not just political power but also military and spiritual power. When Pilate asked Jesus about His identity as King, he had in mind the Roman Emperor Caesar. He was a king not by election but by force and power because he was a great military warrior who conquered and subdued many nations. He held not just political power but also spiritual power because he was worshipped as a god. Indeed, in ancient times, even in the Old Testament, the King was also seen in this manner. King David was a military and political leader, but he also held spiritual powers, and was considered the “anointed one” of God, the “son of God”, although not professed as God. Because the ancient kings held all these three powers, they became absolute. The people feared the kings and they rendered submission willingly and totally.
However, it is said that absolute power corrupts absolutely. Indeed, human beings are weak and ignorant. They are insecure and defensive of their own interests. Very often, absolute monarchs, including dictators, abused their absolute powers. Instead of serving the interests and welfare of the people, they robbed them of their property. They hoarded riches for themselves. They spent the country’s wealth on luxurious and extravagant living for themselves and their loved ones. They used their power to control and manipulate the lives of others. They killed anyone who opposed them and criticized them. They deprived the people of justice and taught their officials to behave like them, making use of others for their wealth. It was the abuse of such dictatorial authority that gave rise to democratic leadership, leaders that were elected by the people. The weakness of the democratic system however, is that the leader no longer leads the sheep but it is the sheep that leads the leader. A democratic leader today is one who builds consensus rather than one who shows the way and walks the way.
But isn’t this the way we regard the kingship of Christ too? Although we accept Him as King, we act as if we are the absolute king. We are happy to have Christ as our nominal king, but we do not want Him to have a say over how we live. We manage our own lives. He has no control over our lives. We act as the real king; the one in the driver’s seat. We rule our own lives. We decide what is true or false, right or wrong. We have no qualms about choosing those scripture texts that we agree with and leaving out those that we do not agree with. It is a selective reading of the bible. Those scripture texts that we do not agree with, we dismiss it as principles only, for that time and that context. But the world is changing and so such principles do not apply, whether it concerns abortion, euthanasia, killing, same-sex union and divorce. When it comes to moral issues, we act as if we are the absolute measure of truth.
Worst of all, we act as despots in the way we manage our lives. We are the Alpha and the Omega. Everything is about ‘me’. It is my life, my desire, my wish and my preference. We are advocates of relativism of truth. We use powers for ourselves, like the dictators of the world. Power for us is for the acquisition of wealth and to put people under our control. We want to enjoy all the good things in life. We want to be served and honored. We want to be recognized and worshipped as if we are gods. This is the kind of kingship that we seek for ourselves. It is for oneself, not for the people whom we govern. They are meant to serve us and not we serve or protect them.
What was Jesus’ idea of kingship? His idea of kingship was not of the world. Firstly, it was not in terms of territory. It was not about the conquest of lands but of hearts and minds. He had come to win over our minds and hearts to the gospel values of the Kingdom, which is of peace, love, joy and justice. He wants to live in us and dwell in us. This is made possible when His Spirit is given to all His disciples at baptism and confirmation. He comes to reign not over land but over peoples. That is why “His sovereignty is an eternal sovereignty which shall never pass away, nor will his empire ever be destroyed.” This is because the kingdom that Jesus came to establish is concerned with values and virtues that transcend time and space. It is not material, physical or territorial. It is primarily spiritual.
Secondly, His kingship was to serve justice and truth. Jesus told Pilate, “I was born for this, I came into the world for this: to bear witness to the truth; and all who are on the side of truth listen to my voice.” Jesus came to lead people to His Father by helping us to confront the truth about ourselves and the sins that hold us in bondage. In speaking the truth, He suffered misunderstanding, opposition and ridicule. This is the price of leadership. No leader wants to be unpopular but if one wants to be a good leader, one must follow Jesus and seek to work for the good of all in love and in truth. This means that a good leader must be one who is honest and has great integrity in doing the right thing, upholding justice and truth for all. He has no self-interests except the interests of the people he serves. This requires that he is clear of the truth and is honest with himself. This explains why when there is a conflict of interest, a leader must step aside so that he would not be embroiled in making decisions that are bent towards his interests. Transparency and objectivity is necessary in serving the truth.
Thirdly, His kingship was not about being served but of service to the people. To be a king is to be a servant-leader. He leads by serving and bringing others to serve with him. “On him was conferred sovereignty, glory and kingship, and men of all peoples, nations and languages became his servants.” He told His disciples, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them. It will not be so among you; but whoever wishes to be great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be your slave; just as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.” (Mt 20:25-28) We become His servants not to serve Him but together with Him to serve each other, especially the poor and the weak, regardless of race, language and religions.
Finally, the power of His kingship lay not in domination through force but love and mercy. “It is he who is coming on the clouds; everyone will see him, even those who pierced him, and all the races of the earth will mourn over him.” The throne of Jesus was not the throne of Kings but the cross. On the cross, He was enthroned as the Crucified Lamb of God that brought salvation to the whole world and the symbol of God’s unconditional forgiveness. Indeed, Jesus “loves us and has washed away our sins with his blood” by His death on the cross. He is the Suffering Servant of Isaiah. “See, my servant shall prosper; he shall be exalted and lifted up, and shall be very high.” (cf Isa 52:13-15)
Today, we are all invited to be true kings for we read “Jesus Christ is the faithful witness, the First-born from the dead, the Ruler of the kings of the earth. He loves us and has washed away our sins with his blood, and made us a line of kings, priests to serve his God and Father.” We are called to share in His kingship for the service of His Father and His people. If we want to be true kings, then today we must come to Jesus who bears witness to what true kingship is all about. To listen to Jesus and follow Him in servant leadership will help us to be true kings in Christ the King of kings. This means accepting all that Jesus taught us through the scriptures and His Church without compromising our values and the truth of life and love.
Written by The Most Rev William Goh, Roman Catholic Archbishop of Singapore © All Rights Reserved
Best Practices for Using the Daily Scripture Reflections
- Encounter God through the spirit of prayer and the scripture by reflecting and praying the Word of God daily. The purpose is to bring you to prayer and to a deeper union with the Lord on the level of the heart.
- Daily reflections when archived will lead many to accumulate all the reflections of the week and pray in one sitting. This will compromise your capacity to enter deeply into the Word of God, as the tendency is to read for knowledge rather than a prayerful reading of the Word for the purpose of developing a personal and affective relationship with the Lord.
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