Did you know…? There are currently 29 sovereign monarchies in the world.
If you had asked me, I would not have thought there were that many.
One of them, of course, is the United Kingdom, and our church – The Anglican Church of Australia, has its origins within the political and power structures of that tradition.
In England, and also in Canada and New Zealand, Queen Elizabeth the second is called “Defender of the Faith”, amongst her other titles. This is not true of Australia, however.
Because we are a nation without a state religion, this title is not used here.
This is the Feast of the Reign of Christ – otherwise properly known as The Solemnity of Christ the King. Pope Pius XI instituted the Solemnity of Christ the King on 11 December in 1925, in his encyclical Quas Primas. At that time, he saw the rise of Atheistic Communism and Secularism as a direct result of humanity’s turning away from Christ’s sovereignty, and their denying of the authority of Christ’s Church.The result was “dis-order” – a move away from the Divine Order.
The Feast of Christ the King was set, at that time, on the last Sunday in October. After the Second Vatican Council, the calendar reforms of 1969 moved the date to the last Sunday before the next liturgical year’s Advent. In other words – today.
The gospel reading set for this day is a fragment of one of the most powerful stories in the whole of the Bible: John’s telling of the conversation between Jesus and Pontius Pilate. Dramatic, tense, and full of irony. Two individuals face to face. Powerful characters in a powerful drama – a drama which is, indeed, about power and struggle. But… Who has power over whom? The exchange is set within Pilate’s headquarters, where Jesus is a prisoner, so you would think, because he’s a prisoner, that it would be Pilate who held the power; but Pilate seems to have no power. He has just been out to speak to the religious leaders, who would not come into his headquarters, “So as to avoid ritual defilement and to be able to eatthe Passover.” So he had to go outside to speak to them.
He has what seems a totally pointless interchange with them…“What accusation do you bring against this man?” he asks;
They answer; “If he wasn’t a criminal, we wouldn’t have handed him over to you!” They show Pilate no deference or respect whatsoever.
He says: “Take him yourselves, and judge him according to your law!”
“We are not permitted to put anyone to death.”
So the religious authorities of the time have no power over Jesus; but neither do they defer to Pilate. He has no power over them.
Pilate then comes back, summons Jesus, and begins to ask him questions. …The authority figure – the Roman governor – who represents the might of Rome. Behind him is theauthority of the Empire – the army, the law of the land. Yet Jesus, the prisoner, does not answer his questions either. Jesus has even less respect for him than do the people outside!
Then Pilate 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?”
The powerless prisoner takes control of the conversation…
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 thinks he’s got Jesus labelled – “King of the Jews.’ After this conversation, the soldiers hold an actual coronation ceremony for this king. In this gospel of John, there is no mention of them mocking, or pretending. …In fact, if you remember – that is the title Pilate later had written, and put on the cross; and when he was challenged, he refused to change it.
For Pilate, in John’s gospel, Jesus is the King of the Jews.
Pilate asked him, “So you are a king?”
Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king.
Once again, there is no answer to Pilate’s question, here. Jesus is the only one with any real power in this exchange. Pilate comes over as weak and vacillating – the one who appears to have power is powerless. Jesus has his own purposes in this conversation. He wishes to speak of truth.
“For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth.
Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.”
I think it is a pity that the set reading finishes there; because Pilate’s next question is the big one. “What is truth?” Unanswered, of course – because the reader of this Gospel of John already knows the answer. It is an answer Pilate could never understand – a secret and profound answer, proclaimed by John from the very beginning of the gospel. Jesus is truth. Chapter 14:6 says; “I am the way and the truth and the life.” In the previous chapter to this one – 17:17 we find…”sanctify them in the truth. Your word is truth.” and how well we know that ..”in the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”
In this exchange, Jesus is the only one who knows where power comes from and what it means. Pilate lives in a carefully guarded world of illusion. Jesus’ mission is to strip away illusion and point to what is really real.
What are the illusions on which we have built our Kingdoms? What does it mean for us to hail Jesus as King? There can be only one king. If Jesus is it, then political and economic power are not it! Is the Church of today too bound up with politics and worldly power? Many would say yes! We already allow economics to dictate and drive many things –
These are questions for us, that we must reflect on. Truth is always threatening. Our personal worlds are constructed of perceptions and illusions, too. What needs to be stripped away by Jesus, so that we can see what is really real? Plenty to think about.
God bless your week.