Theme: He reigns forever
A good number of us may have limited experience of kings, queens and royals. Most countries in this world are no longer governed by monarchs and where royal families continue to perdure, their roles are simply ceremonial. In the 1970’s, Juan Carlos is king in Spain since 1970, Elizabeth II has been Queen of England since 1952.
Japan still venerates an Emperor; Buganda has the Kabaka while Swaziland has Muswati II. Of the world’s twenty-six remaining monarchs, none has relevant political authority. In complete juxtaposition to these earthly sovereigns, only Jesus’ reign is forever and absolute. To sustain this, Jesus taught his disciples to pray for a kingdom that would gather all peoples under one dominion. In one way or another, this has been sustained for two thousand years. The Church continues to represent Jesus’ kingdom through governing, teaching, serving and healing ministries. This is the Kingdom we celebrate today.
First reading: Daniel 7:13-14
Having been initiated into the world of Prophet Daniel last Sunday, today we are invited to travel with him further into the realm of visions and dreams. As noted previously, apocalyptic literature was borne out of suffering and crisis intended to strengthen the persecuted with assurance that evil would not triumph over good, nor would God ever abandon those who remain faithful. Through visions and dreams, Daniel offered a solid interpretation on the unfolding history of his people. Today’s first reading is an exposition representing a dramatic scenario where evil is defeated. Earlier on in Daniel 7:1-8 we find rulers depicted in animal language. The first beast, a lion with eagle’s wings and a human heart represented the Babylonian empire that had plundered Judah exiling its elite in the 6th C B.C. After this, appeared a bear with three ribs hanging garishly from its teeth representing the Medes. Soon, the bear was replaced by a leopard with four heads and four wings representing the Persians. Finally, a fourth beast with iron teeth and great feet representing the Greeks made a terrifying entry; that no creature could serve as its symbol.
Suddenly, as Daniel watched, the scene shifted to a celestial court cf. Daniel 7:9-14 where one of great age, the Ancient One sat enthroned in the company of tens of thousands. As witness to all of human history, the Ancient One could pass judgment on all that had transpired. After the books of human words and works were opened and read, sentence was passed. The fourth beast was executed and the others rendered powerless. With this vision, Daniel’s contemporaries were assured that their oppressors would one day be vanquished. The vision continued; one like a son of man appeared on the clouds of heaven. Upon him, the Ancient One conferred the sovereignty and glory that had been shared by each of the beasts. Unlike the beasts who emerged from the abode of evil, the one like a son of man came from heaven, meaning, from God, the source of all goodness. Whereas the beasts had been abusive of their power and the people over whom they ruled for a limited period of time, the son of man was to rule in glory over all people for all ages. As subjects in his present and future dominion, we are assured that the new era of peace is ours.
Second reading: Revelation 1:5-8
Using prophet visions and dreams, Prophet Daniel succeeded in encouraging his second century B.C. contemporaries never to give up their faith and traditions no matter what. Those who thought their suffering was intolerable were heartened that all would end well. Following in the same footsteps, John of Patmos applied similar literary tools of apocalyptic literature to encourage his people never to give up their faith values even when stretched to the end. We can deduce that John lived and wrote during the reign of dreadful Roman emperor Domitian a brother of Titus and son of Vespasian who ruled between 81-96 A.D. Domitian dictated an edict that he should be universally revered as Dominus et Deus Noster/our lord and god. He ordered that statues to be built in his likeness and be erected throughout the empire. When Jews and Christians refused to burn incense before them, they were persecuted with the full clout of Roman might. Aware of their desperate circumstances, John hid at the Island of Patmos and continued to encourage the young Church to stand firm and proclaim their loyalties to a greater king Jesus Christ the “ruler of the kings of the earth” Revelation 1:5. Similarly, he reminded them that they are members of a far more prestigious and royal household than that of imperial Rome since as believers, then and now, are a “royal nation of priests” Revelation 1:6.
Gospel: John 18:33-37
Of all the thousands of officials who wielded some measure of power during Rome’s half-millennial rule, only one name has continued to be spoken for centuries. In the gospels and in the creed by which millions of Christians profess their faith, Pontius Pilate is memorialized. The Nicene Creed states that ‘he was crucified under Pontius Pilate’ while the Apostles Creed, says ‘he suffered under Pontius Pilate’. This mention of the Roman prefect is not an effort to exact blame on him but to firmly establish that this Christ event was a reality. The statement that he was crucified by the way of nails makes a revelation to history that the creed formulation about Jesus was not out of ‘religious myth’ but a fact that was firmly witnessed by living people with flesh and blood, in time and space, thus living an indelible mark that is existing in human history until now. In addition to providing this set of truth in history for the sake of salvation of many, St. John the evangelist used the personality and authority of Pilate to narrate the interchange between him and Jews to clarify the doubts about who truly Jesus Christ was, which are:
1-that Jesus was indeed a king,
2-that his reign and authority were divine in origin
3-that those who should have recognized the truth about Jesus but refused to do so were culpable.
As the dialogue between Jesus and Pilate unfolded, the non-political, non-partisan and non-parochial character of Jesus’ royal reign was gradually clarified. While he tacitly accepted the title of king, Jesus reinterpreted what his kingship and kingdom truly signified. Just as the incarnate word of God was not “of the world” John 1:10 and just as Jesus’ disciples were not to be “of the world” John 15:19; 17:14; so Jesus’ kingdom was “not of this world” John 18:36. Recall that John gospel’s distinction between world as the created universe and world as that element which is hostile to truth and light. Perhaps both degrees of meaning were implied by Jesus’ qualification. Not of the world, meant not created. Jesus and the kingdom are divine in origin. This kingdom is to be established not by human devising or ambitious political machinations but by God alone and through the one whom God has sent, Jesus.
Born into the world by God’s will to witness to the truth, the presence of Jesus extends to all humankind the challenge of accepting that truth cf. John 18:37. Those who open themselves to the illuminating power of the truth and who respond faithfully to its demands will be saved by God in the person and mission of Jesus. The recognition of that presence is an experience of the kingdom that has already begun and will forever continue until its climactic culmination. For those whose democratic sensibilities cause them to shy away from the notion of kings and kingdoms and to regard today’s feast as an indication of mysterious theology, I suggest to them that time is now to we get beyond the title and understand the reality of what the Church is celebrating today. Like St. John Paul II we need to say…..Totus tuus! Totally yours!
Today, as we celebrate the unique and distinctive sovereignty of Jesus, we affirm the fact that he exercises a supra-political, spiritual and life-giving authority over every aspect of the human experience. Unlike earthly kingdoms that stop to exist when the earthly rulers die and none accedes the throne without struggling for it; with Jesus the kingdom (basileia) continues even after he has been crucified and pronounced dead. The reason why this is kingdom to opt for is that we are simply told to pray for it and in will come any where to every one who believes. This kingdom is Good, timeless and forever present because it originates from the real source of all that is permanent. Like before, also today Jesus is sayings, “the kingdom of God has come upon you and….. is in your midst” Luke 17:20-21. This is the Kingdom is meant for us and the better option is to belong in it.