An Exegetical Reflection on the Gospel of the Feast of Christ the King, Thirty-Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B, John 18:33-37. November 25, 2012
POWER AND PRIVILEGE are what kingship and ruling are all about. In times past, among the basic duties of kings concern war and law: they have to wage war to protect the interest of the people, or protect them from war. They see to it that there is order in the kingdom. Today, among the basic expectations of the people from their rulers have to do with order, basic necessities and justice to everyone. They have power and privilege, but they have to see to it that people are not deprived of food, shelter, clothing and good health, and provide an ordered society in which everyone is given his due. It happens, however, that power, by which they can answer the people’s expectations, ironically causes deprivation of their basic necessities, disorder is society and injustice. For as Lord Acton observes, power tends to corrupt; absolute power corrupts absolutely.” Indeed, it is scarcely untruthful to say that there is something demonic in political power. And one who holds it normally finds it difficult to relinquish it. The privileges that are attendant upon it are hard to give up. No wonder, once one is in power, he makes an effort to hold on to it, by hook or by crook. It is not easy to say no to political power and its trappings. Political dynasties may be brutally logical—but logical, just the same. Because power corrupts, deception, graft, corruption, abuse, oppression, and repression are often connected with it. Thus, though we change those who hold political power time and again, yet society scarcely exhibits itself as evolving into a more just and more humane one. One often gets the impression that it is a case of the same dog, with different collar. That is how it goes in the kingdoms of this world.
In today’s Gospel on the account of Jesus’ trial before Pilate, Jesus said that his kingdom is not of this world: “My kingdom does not belong to this world. If my kingdom did belong to this world, my attendants would be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Jews. But as it is, my kingdom is not here” (John 18:36). This does not mean, of course, that Jesus’ kingdom has nothing to do with this world. It does not even mean that his kingdom cannot be found in this world. In the theology of John, the word “world” as used in this pericope means the world of sin. If anything, what Jesus said means that his rule does not belong to this world of sin, a world that values political power and social privileges, where greed among powers-that-be cannot be moderated, where rulers lord it over people, and make their importance felt. His kingship does not belong to this kind of world. Hence, he cannot be a king in the sense Pilate understood it:”You say I am a king” (John 18:37).
How then do we look at the kingship of Jesus? We can understand his kingship if we consider how Jesus understood his kingdom. According to him, it is a kingdom of truth (John 18:37). Truth, in John, echoes the meaning of Wisdom 6:22 which associates it with God’s hidden plan of salvation, and in Daniel 10:21 which connects it with the designs of God for the time of salvation. Thus, unlike Caesar, Jesus did not have soldiers who were armed to protect him, nor people who were at his beck and call (John 18:36b), but certainly he had followers—those who hear his voice, which is the truth (John 18:37c). These are the disciples, the believers, his sheep (John 10:16; 8:47). Having considered this, we now understand Jesus’ kingship. He is a King in the sense that he is the embodiment of truth (John 14:6), and all his words and his deeds testify to it (John18:37b). Moreover, he testified to that truth with his death; so, in his crucifixion he is the King (John 19:19).
Viewed in this light, we can easily understand why Jesus’ kingship is not of this world. However, still, it has to do with this world. For the truth is opposed to this world of sin and division, of power and privilege; not surprisingly enough, it hates the testimony of Jesus (John 7:2). This world cannot accept the values of his kingdom—truth, justice, peace, liberation, equality and participation. But Christians cannot despair. For, few they may be, yet those who hear the truth and believe in him will eventually conquer the world: “Who indeed is the victor over the world but the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?”(1 John 5:4). In this feast of the Kingship of Jesus, John then has this to say to us: Jesus is a King and has a Kingdom. But if we are to share in his kingship, we must listen to his voice. By listening to his voice, we turn earthly values upside down: better to be poor than to be rich, to suffer than to persecute, to be weak than to be powerful, to be utilized than to exploit. We no longer imitate the current language of power and privilege. On the contrary, we follow him in discipleship, offering our very self on the cross, in which we can find our victory and vindication. In our crucifixion, we reign with him. In this reign, we experience wholeness, love, truth, justice and peace. By this kingdom which is not of this world, we will conquer the kingdom of this world.