Homily: A Wise and Loving Reign
The choice of this text from John’s gospel couldn’t be more appropriate for the feast of Christ the King. It’s part of the exchange between Pilate and Jesus during his trial before the Roman ruler in Jerusalem. This scene reveals John’s concept of the central issue in the life and ministry of Jesus.
When Pilate and Jesus discuss the question of kingship, it’s clear that Pilate has in mind political and military power. He also knows that he possesses this kind of power in fullest measure. He lives in a palace and has access to the finest military forces of those days. By contrast, Jesus stands before him as a shackled and helpless prisoner. The contrast could not be more obvious.
Jesus is present to Pilate as one in charge, as King, if you will. What Jesus offers us, even as he offers it to Pilate, is twofold – how can we conquer our fears, even our greatest fears; and the greatest gift that His kingdom brings to all of us – a sense of belonging and of needing and of being needed by others.
Fear and belonging: these two words seem to run underneath all the talk\of kingdoms and trials, glory and power. These are the realities at stake when we talk of kings and kingdoms. Today is a celebration that combines the great themes of God’s sovereignty in our lives and his call to have us share with one another and with the world that God loves a sense of security and stability and belonging
The most common human response to fear is to run and hide, or to seek the power we need to protect ourselves: seeking power, keeping power, and using power (and sometimes even force) to secure one’s safety and well-being – it really can exhaust a person. The trappings of power might reassure Pilate a bit, but he’s clearly unsettled by a different kind of power that he senses in this stranger from the hinterlands, standing before him.
What does it mean to be “in the world” when we belong to the kingdom of God? Of course, it means our ultimate allegiance and loyalty, and our love and devotion are given to God rather than any other person, thing, or power. This kind of love for God is the opposite of idolatry; one wonders if humans are driven to idols out of fear, out of wanting to belong to something outside themselves. And yet we do belong to a king whose heart is so tender that we might better see him as a good and loving shepherd who calls us to follow; we can only hope that we’ll recognize his voice and respond, as the blind man did, and the sheep, and Lazarus, and Mary Magdalene, later, in the garden.
As Eugene Peterson so beautifully translates the words of Jesus, “Everyone who cares for truth, who has any feeling for the truth, recognizes my voice” The truth is something we have a feeling for, a longing for, and we hope that the powers-that-be don’t block our way to that truth.
There is the truth about Jesus, and then there’s the truth about ourselves that we have to face. Our church community offers a place of nurture and honest but loving encouragement to grow deeper in our faith, to immerse ourselves more deeply in the grace of God, to listen more closely to the call of the Stillspeaking God in each of our lives. At the heart of things is the fear people feel in their lives, the feeling of being trapped, in spite of, or perhaps because of, an excess of material possessions, or their place in society, their security: are they not truly free after all to be their true selves, to share their vulnerability, their deepest hopes and fears?
Ironically, Jesus offers this same invitation to Pilate himself, to free himself from his fear and his need for power and security, ’to utter the truth of his own life’, like the woman at the well.. The woman at the well, who had so little to lose, experienced her life transformed. But Pilate, we suspect, will remain trapped by his worldly power; he has so much to lose, it seems. The woman at the well could hear the gentle shepherd’s voice, because other things were not drowning it out.
We can comprehend and trust this teaching only by the gift of faith. But we have to remember also that this precious gift of being part of the Kingdom — of being free from fear and of having this wonderful sense of belonging.–is offered to everyone by the love of God. Accordingly, we need to be open to all the many ways in which God’s love is made available to us–through contact with God in prayer, but also through the love of other good people. It should also bring us to a greater awareness of this beautiful world we live in ‘the kingdom of God, if you will – and as we vow to care for it as stewards of the kingdom..
As we gratefully embrace this goodness in life, in spite of much evil there also, we will gradually become free enough to dare to trust the power that is in our unconditional loving. We do not need to live in mansions or command armies or be endowed with special gifts in order to be a loving presence in our world. Yet we can be certain that such loving has the potential to transform the universe. Jesus is indeed the King of kings and Lord of lords, but only because of his great, great love of us. Demetrius R. Dumm, O.S.B. & Kathryn Mathews Huey