John 18:33b-37 [161B]
The solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe is the seventeenth and final solemnity of the church year. It also marks the last Sunday in ordinary time. Catholics end the church year by honoring and celebrating Jesus as the lord and king of the universe. All three readings speak to the different ways in which Jesus is lord and savior to all: the ruler over an everlasting dominion, the alpha and the omega, and the king of the world to come.
The first reading is from the prophet Daniel, one of the finest examples of apocalyptic literature in the Old Testament. Today’s reading is recorded in the Book of Daniel as one of the earliest visions he experienced. Set within the context of the period of the Babylonian Exile (597–538 BC), Daniel sees in his dream “one like a Son of man” encountering “the Ancient One” [God]. To this Son of man, God bestowed everlasting “dominion, glory, and kingship” whereby “all peoples, nations, and languages serve him.” The Israelites saw this vision as a sign of hope while they lived under the tyranny of foreign domination. The early Christians came to believe that the visions of Daniel were fulfilled in the death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus.
The second reading is taken from another biblical apocalyptic text, the Revelation of John. Today’s reading is part of the opening greeting in the Book of Revelation. The author, “John,” indicates that this writing is being co-sent by himself and by Jesus Christ. John uses three titles to describe Jesus: “faithful witness,” “firstborn of the dead,” and “ruler of the kings of the earth.” These are titles likely used (perhaps in liturgical settings) to describe Jesus within the cluster of churches that made up the Johannine community. In and through the blood of Christ, John asserts believers are freed from their sins and made into a kingdom of priests. John foresees the return of Christ where all people will bear witness to the Parousia. The resurrected and ascended Christ also speaks, referring to himself in two ways: First, as “the Alpha and the Omega” (the first and last letters of the Greek alphabet), an apt title indicating Jesus as the beginning and ending of all things; and second, as “the one who is and who was and who is to come, the almighty,” speaking to the timeless dimension of his universal rule.
The Gospel reading is taken from the Passion narrative in the Gospel of John. Pilate is interrogating Jesus, pressing him on the question, “Are you the King of the Jews?” The accusation by Pilate carries political as well as religious overtones. “King” would imply a threat to the leadership of Rome and to the rule of law enforced throughout the Roman Empire. “Of the Jews” would be less of a concern for Pilate, since Pilate did not routinely involve himself in internal Jewish affairs. Nonetheless, these are serious charges leveled against Jesus, with the weight of the Roman death penalty in the balance. Jesus’ response to Pilate acknowledges his status as “king,” but shifts the focus from this world to the next: “my kingdom is not here.” Jesus claims moral authority, however, in his commitment “to testify to the truth.” And in this way, Jesus reigns over all: “Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.”
On this solemnity, we celebrate the truth of Jesus as lord and king of all.
Dr. Daniel J. Scholz