Sunday, November 21 2021, Thirty-Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe
(1) Daniel (7:13-14)
Glorious vision of the Son of Man
As I watched in the night visions, I saw one like a human being coming with the clouds of heaven. And he came to the Ancient One and was presented before him. To him was given dominion and glory and kingship, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that shall not pass away, and his kingship is one that shall never be destroyed.
Responsorial: from Psalm 93
R./: The Lord is our king, robed in majesty
The Lord is king, he is robed in splendour;
He us robed and girded with strength. (R./)
The Lord has made the world firm,
not to be moved.
Your throne stands firm from of old;
from everlasting you are, O Lord. (R./)
Your decrees are worthy of trust indeed;
holiness befits your house,
O Lord, forevermore. (R./)
(2) Revelation 1:5-8
The firstborn of the dead will be ruler of the kings of the earth
Jesus Christ, the faithful witness, is the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth. To him who loves us and freed us from our sins by his blood, and made us to be a kingdom, priests serving his God and Father, to him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen. Look! He is coming with the clouds; every eye will see him, even those who pierced him; and on his account all the tribes of the earth will wail. So it is to be. Amen. “I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.
Gospel: John 18:33-37
Pilate questions Jesus about kingship
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. Whoever belongs to the truth listens to my voice.”
Whoever belongs to the Truth
Is the notion of kingship of any value to us, as democrats and republicans? Democracy, with all its complexities, is our preferred form of regulating society, business, law and order. Except in figurative phrases like “king of the road,” words like royalty and kingship, implying an absolute demand for respect and subservience, evoke a bygone structure of inherited privilege and power. The so-called “divine right of kings” sustained this structure and favoured the suppression of individual rights. So if kingship is an unsuitable image for our times, how do we explain today’s feast, celebrating Christ as our king?
Does he demand our service and submission? Would he suppress our right to self-expression and all other rights? When faced by Pontius Pilate, Jesus says clearly what kind of king he is. He tells the Roman Governor, “My kingdom is not of this world.” His rule is far removed from a dictatorship. This noble prisoner, robed in purple and crowned with thorns as a mock king before this ruthless Roman judge, claims a spiritual authority that has nothing to do with the power to compel by force. His authority is the authority of truth. He is our king, with authentic authority, because he lives the truth and has the power to lead others to the truth — the truth that can save them to eternal life: “for this I was born and came into the world, to bear witness to the truth. All who are on the side of truth listen to my voice” (John 18:37.)
Christ lived by the truth and he died for it. His true followers continue to commit their lives and even risk their all for loyalty to him. In him the Son of the Eternal God, who reveals the Father of life and truth, millions find the inspiration for their lives, the truth which makes them free. His life and teaching give us the clearest kind of truth.
The truth of Christ blends word and action, in perfect harmony. Truth was vitally important to him, who hated all sham and pretence. To get deeper in touch with the truth demands our attention and maybe some change in our lifestyle. It needs periods of quiet, even spending some time with him in personal prayer. Truth cannot really mark our lives without the inspiration which comes from Christ its source. It has to flow from prayer to life, and back into prayer again. A new commitment to the truth can give us a new vision of life. And far from oppressing us, Christ the King of truth will be the one to set us free.
To get deeper in touch with the truth demands our attention and maybe some change in our lifestyle. It needs periods of quiet, even spending some time with him in personal prayer. Truth cannot really mark our lives without the inspiration which comes from Christ its source. It has to flow from prayer to life, and back into prayer again. A new commitment to the truth can give us a new vision of life. And far from oppressing us, Christ the King of truth will be the one to set us free.
Two standards of judgement
A random act of kindness, a glass of water given out of goodness, seems like a very low threshold for a personal friendship with Christ. Christians have always had a strong trust in Christ’s humanity; he was like us in every way except that he did not sin. Although this Sunday portrays him returning in regal splendour, the judgments of Jesus are not like ours either. He seeks good among the ordinary and the bad alike; too often we seek bad among the ordinary and the good alike. For Jesus, the sinner who does a single act in kindness can be saved. For the rest of us, the saint that does something wrong is tarnished forever.
His hands stretched out in forgiveness to those who had nailed them down. Ours stretch out to point in criticism at the wrongdoer. But we have a dominant image of what a judge is like and how a judge should act. It is not surprising that the image of Jesus as a fair but stern judge is deeply set with many Christians. There are even some who delight in the idea of bad people getting their just deserts.
Just as Jesus told the soldiers arresting him that his kingdom was not of this world; his standard of judgment is not of this world either. That should be good news, although not everybody sees it that way.
“Vengeance is mine,” said the Lord. Traditionally Christ has been represented as coming in majesty and power. From Michelangelo’s ceiling of the Sistine Chapel to the mosaics in many a church apse, that image is prominent in western art. It is familiar because it is like what we do in every way, except that we don’t forgive. The classic picture includes tormented souls being dragged off to eternal flames.. It is likely that almost all of us have an idea of some of the people who should be in that category.
In the 1970s musical Godspell, Stephen Schwartz recreated that judgment scene. Only, this time, Jesus has second thoughts and brings the damned along too. They had sung a song asking for mercy and they received it. That is an image which is very much in keeping with the words of Christ the King: “Judge not and you will not be judged. Condemn not and you will not be condemned. Forgive and you will be forgiven.”
He brings a different kind of rule, a rule where boundless mercy trumps self-righteous justice. (Fergal Mac Eoinin)
King of Justice, Love and Peace
Paul speaks of Jesus Christ at the end of time handing over the kingdom to God the Father. Today’s Preface repeats this, describing Christ’s kingdom as one of truth and life, of holiness and grace, of justice. love and peace. This ideal is not to be merely a future hope but is to be worked for in the present. The kingdom is our hope, but somehow it is also in our midst, in the process of becoming. The gospel tells us how we are to promote the fuller coming of God’s kingdom among us. It comes whenever justice is done for the hungry, the thirsty, the naked, and the oppressed. To behave in this way is to imitate the Shepherd-King himself who is presented in our Gospels as one who rescues from situations of alienation, who feeds, gives rest, heals and makes strong. Among his final words was a promise to the thief being crucified at his side, that he would be enfolded by the eternal love of God, in paradise.
The best way to honour Christ our King is to work to make his kingdom a reality among us. Anything we do for the relief of the deprived and underprivileged is also a service to Christ, because he identifies himself personally with people in need. The disciple of Christ the King cannot afford the luxury of comfortably keeping myself to myself or “Well I do harm to anyone.” To be deaf to the cries of the neighbour in need is to close our ears to Christ. To be blind to the anguish of the dying is to shut our eyes to him. If we follow Jesus Christ as our Shepherd-king we must in some way be shepherds ourselves, for his sake.