We tend to avoid or withdraw from self-negative experiences
Those activities which consistently result in revealing to ourselves and others our human frailties, such as playing golf, dancing, painting, cooking or even figuring out Sudoku, usually move us to find other more interesting and important things to do. Prayer, and the spiritual life in general can seem like a bag of downers and not worth the investment of time. Jesus can seem to us as a someone who is constantly asking, commanding more of us than is possible. We might know persons in whose presence we feel judged, diminished or disregarded. Soon they do not get that chance any more.
Jesus is the “Great Communicator” or the “Gentle Inviter”. It is flattering to be invited and Jesus’ words have the intensity and urgency of someone who wants the very best for the invitees. We can give up praying, because we don’t get what we asked for and so there must be something wrong with how we pray. The Spiritual Life reveals us to ourselves and that can be a little bit of too much. Judging and evaluating is what we do very well and it usually results, when aimed at ourselves, in negativity and withdrawal. Stop that!
We hear a short report of the ending of a long night-dream by the prophet Daniel. He has related in earlier verses the appearances of four terrifying beasts. These represent various foreign kings who have threatened Israel in its history.
In these two verses which form our First Reading we hear a more salvific theme. The “Ancient One” is seated with thousands of “saints” surrounding Him. A “Son of Man” is pictured as presenting himself so as to receive a kingly and everlasting blessing. This term “Son of Man” is a biblical term for a human being of importance. Here it is also a representation of the whole nation of Israel. Mid the dreams of terror and impending domination by other nations, this hopeful picture sets the nation Israel as the one and holy people of God who will rule forever with God’s power and kingly dominion.
For this special feast of Christ the King, the Second Reading is quite beautiful. I hope in your church the Lector reads it slowly, pausing often to allow the words to move your hearts with joy and gratitude. Here is a clear definition of how Jesus is King. He has freed us from the ruler of darkness and blest us all to be “priests for His God and Father” and all because he loves us. He is the One “Son of Man” who has joined us all together to reflect God’s holiness and love.
The Gospel is an account of, not a dream, but the continuation of the saving nightmare. For John, the writer of this Gospel, Jesus has been born for his glorious enthronement upon the Cross. Jesus, as with the “Son of Man” in the Book of Daniel, is being presented to receive kingship on the Cross.
The conversation with Pilate centers around Jesus’ being king of the Jews which would be a fright to the Roman authorities, especially Pilate whose reputation depends on his keeping everything peacefully suppressed in this little fraction of the vast Roman kingdom. To Pilate, Jesus is a quixotic figure who seems to have ideations of grandeur. Jesus stands before this Roman official who, himself has ideations for getting out of Jerusalem and moving up the ladder of power establishing his own part of the kingdom.
Pilate asks Jesus about what he has done that the Jewish people have handed Him over into the Roman power. Instead of answering with a list of things, Jesus tells Pilate that he, Jesus, does not belong to a world of kings and kingdoms. Pilate then makes a question/statement: “Then you are a king?” or “Then you are a king!” Jesus affirms the statement. Then Jesus makes his own strong statement that the truth is that the Roman kingdom, as large as it is, is as small as Israel in the mind of God. The “truth” is that Jesus was born to announce a larger and eternal kingdom. The “truth” about this world, like the Roman Empire itself, will not last and those who can hear this “truth” belong to this Kingdom.
It is good to imagine Pilate’s thinking this all over while looking around at all his power and authority and smiling a bit at this Man and his little “truth”. It is helpful for us as well to look around at what passes for truth in our lives. It seems there are three kingdoms whose gravitational pull puts us in tension. Pilate experienced this same tension, but not Jesus.
For us there is definitely the call and attraction to the ways of Jesus. Pilate wanted to converse with Jesus, to find out what he was all about, but Jesus was not interested in a kind of political interview or press conference. Pilate felt as well the call of the higher-power of Rome, the big world out there. He could be more in the eyes of Rome’s kingdom. He could feel the attraction of personal prestige and the sway of more authority beyond this little spot of nothingness in Jerusalem. As we know, Jesus does not have more to say to Pilate, who stands there in the field of tension.
The third attraction for him is more personal. He seems to be a nothingness to himself. He has not amounted to anything yet and his ego is itching to be scratched. This attraction to self-establishment is so dominating in the human heart. The kingdom of Jesus allows for the ego’s healthy requests, but the human ego will always want more than it receives.
Three kingdoms then and they all sound like the “truth”. Jesus’ simple invitation to listen to his voice. There is also the world’s calling ourselves to listen to its attractive voice of more stature and domination. The field of tension is completed by the demandings of our ego to look good to ourselves. There is the hunger to be more than we experience ourselves as being right now.
The wonderful reality about Jesus as King is that he constantly calls but gently, and invites rather than forces a response. His Kingdom is not of this world, because it is not of its ways. Struggling to free ourselves from the tensions of the world and the ego can be at the center of our spirituality, our holiness and the way we belong to Christ’s Kingdom.
“The Lord sits as king for ever. The Lord will bless His people with peace.” Ps. 29, 10-11
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