This Sunday gives us the feast of Christ the King, which closes off the Church’s liturgical year. The readings for the Mass cause us to reflect on what kind of king Jesus is, and what kind of kingdom he is bringing in.
Although Jesus began his public ministry proclaiming that “the kingdom of heaven is at hand ” (Matthew 4 : 17) and referred frequently to the Kingdom in conversation and parables, he was very careful to never directly claim kingship (in fact the one time the people wanted to take him and make him king, after his miracle of feeding the 5000 in John’s gospel, chapter 6, Jesus flees into the mountains). Jesus’ opponents believed Jesus was indirectly making a claim to kingship in his preaching, but they lacked the clear evidence needed to convict him. Many others apparently interpreted Jesus’ message in the same way.
As an astute political leader, Pilate gets right to the point in our gospel this Sunday by asking Jesus: “Are you the King of the Jews?” Those bringing Jesus to Pilate had not mentioned any such claim for doing so, but, as Jesus intimates in his response, others had told Pilate about Jesus’ teaching about a kingdom. Pilate had already given thought to whether this was a purely religious issue or if it had political ramifications which would demand his attention. In the ensuing conversation, it quickly becomes clear to Pilate that there is no political threat. “I find no guilt in him” he informs the Jewish leaders, not once, but three times!!
In Mel Gibson’s movie “The Passion”, four languages are spoken at different times in the dialogue. Aramaic and Hebrew, the two common languages of Jesus and his followers, are the most frequently spoken. There is also Greek, the language of the common person throughout the Roman Empire, employed in conversations of Pilate with his soldiers and other non-Jews. In this conversation regarding Jesus’ kingship, however, Pilate addresses Jesus in Latin, a language which at the time was spoken only by the elite of the Roman world, the educated and royal class. Jesus’ response in perfect Latin was one way Pilate was given to recognize kingly qualities in Jesus. This leads him to have affixed to the cross of Jesus the sign “Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews” in Latin, Greek and Hebrew, the three languages of the Roman Empire, an action which brings complaint from the Jewish leaders, and Pilate’s emphatic response “What I have written, I have written” (John 19).
What leads you and me to recognize Jesus as King and to place ourselves under the authority of Christ the King?