Solemnity of Christ the King – Year B

Andrés G. Niño, O.S.A.
Cambridge, Massachussetts

Dn 7:13-14
Ps 93:1, 1-2, 5
Rv 1:5-8
Jn 18:33b-37

All journeys have a beginning that keeps in its incipient events the meaning that will unfold from there. This is true of the story of Jesus, the Son of Man, who appeared before the crowds as a prophet, a healer, and a revered teacher who spoke with authority. He was sought after, loved, acclaimed and followed by many. It was good to be with him and feel the breath of his wisdom awakening the mind, the comfort of his compassion and the warmth of his gentle heart. People once said, “He has done everything well” (Mark 7:37), and they came to believe he was the “Son of God” (John 1:49). His disciples eagerly wished his story would continue and end with the glow of a sacred mission fulfilled.

Time, however, casts shadows on all narratives. People tend to forget an old prophecy about Christ as “a sign of contradiction” (Luke 2:33-35), an omen of suffering followed by dire predictions nobody wanted to hear or think about.

The story of his journey went on, as we remember it now through the Sundays of our lives, to reach this point at the end of the liturgical seasons. The Gospel of John marks a moment of truth in the last events of his redemptive mission. We all can see him and hear his words in the most dramatic dialog of the narrative (John 18-19:16). He stands fragile and wounded, facing the dominant figure of one who is about to hand him over to a frightening crowd saying: “ecce homo,” here is the man. But who is he? … “Are you a king?” His appearance deceived the eye. The Christian faith that transcends what we can see confirms the answer he gave: “I am a king.” It is a statement rising from the core of a timeless anointment revealed to the incredulous, friends and enemies alike.

Yet, as Augustine notes, “Because not everyone has faith, Christ said ‘I give testimony of the truth and everyone who is of the truth hears my voice’ … with interior ears and believes me. Therefore, when Christ bears witness to the truth, he is in fact bearing witness to himself” (Homilies on John, 115). And anticipating the drama that followed, clarified:“My kingdom is not of this world.” If such proclamation is mocked by this crowd it shatters the dreams of many others as well. In a sentence he established his whole life and ours in the proper context. And in so doing, he urged us to reflect on the meaning and implications of his words.

We ought to remember the suggestive parables about the Kingdom of God that unveiled the deep meaning of a way of life liberated from the powers that had thrown humankind into darkness and the slavery of sin. He was helping his audience to see him in reference to that spiritual reality. He declared that he came into the world to bring light and redemption and gave testimony of the fulfilment of that mission in words and deeds. All was done in order to proclaim God’s love for the world and kindle true hope in the heart of human beings.

It was predicted, however, that some would be reluctant to accept him. Among them, the great Augustine who early in life experienced the restlessness of spiritual ignorance and the darkness of sinfulness. He was unable to understand what he could learn from this King, disrobed and humbled, until he read St. Paul’s letter to the Romans. The text – he thought it was written for him – urged to change and renewal of his old self and life in accordance with the truth of Christ’s teaching (Rom 13:13-14; Confessions, VIII.12.29).

Only those who have come to this point of inner conversion understand the tension between the old and the new in that experience. Augustine explains it saying there are two conflicting loves in the human heart that build different worlds. One is ruled by the craving of power, riches and a myriad of desires that lead humans to seek happiness in the present time. The weight of this love drags humanity down into frightening depths of violence, injustice, poverty and countless disorders that affect individuals, the entire society and the physical earth which is becoming an endangered habitat. Christ’s kingdom is not of this world.

The other love “bears us up by the Spirit” (Confessions, XIII.9.10) towards peace, justice and fraternity. However, the coexistence of the two loves inside of each human being sets in motion a cosmic struggle of dire consequences. As St. Paul observes, “The whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time” (Rom 8:22).

We are indeed witness to that reality even in these postmodern times. Our technological capacity bring its manifold complexity before us in a constant flow of news piercing our senses and conscience. The afflictions of the crowds are the “needs of the journey” (Confessions, XIII. 17.21; 34.49), as Augustine calls them that resound in the compassionate heart of the King. They are happening now and must be attended.

The question is: what shall we do? The task is immense and never ending. Yet, Christ challenges his followers not only to pray for the coming of his Kingdom but to engage in its realization as well, here and now (Matt 20:1-16). The Second Vatican Council delivered the message: “the joy and hope, the grief and anguish of humanity must also touch the Church” (Gaudium et Spes, 1). We are the Church and ought to respond like those “who have ears to hear” (Matt 11:15). We should get involved in building Christ’s Kingdom of care through humble service, imitating him who came to the world to be a servant to all (Matt 20:20-28). And if this “Lord and servant” went to the extreme of laying down his life for us and dying in a cross (Phil 2:8), we should stand by him there with all our heart. And we shall have a chance to whisper in his ear, “Lord remember me when you come into your kingdom” (John 15:3; Luke 23:42).

It is a vision imagined by the master builders of our medieval cathedrals, who carved in the tympanum above the front doors a triumphant Christ King surrounded by his angels, waiting to greet the faithful on their arrival. Augustine’s unquenched desire was to find rest in their company:

“There, above my soul, is the home of my God; there he dwells,
from there he looks down upon me,
from there he created me,

from there he governs me
and takes thought for me,
from there he arouses me,
calls me, guides me and leads me on,
and from there he will lead me to my journey’s end.”
(Exposition of the Psalms, 41, 5.8)

At present, we are still pilgrims on a narrow road but we hope that, after our good work is done, we shall arrive there at that home. The Son of Man, from his glorious throne, will say to us, “come you blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you” (Matt 25:30, 34). It is a promise that spurs us now to proclaim: “we believe that his kingdom will have no end” (Nicene Creed).