Sunday Scriptures - Solemnity Of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King Of The Universe
SOLEMNITY OF OUR LORD JESUS CHRIST, KING OF THE UNIVERSE
Daniel 7:13-14; Psalm 93:1, 1-2, 5; Revelation 1:5-8; JOHN 18:33b-37
The first reading for the Solemnity of King Jesus is from the 7th chapter of the Book of Daniel. Some background to Daniel was given in last week’s column. This book was written about the year 165 B.C. In the 7th chapter Daniel experiences a vision. After the winds stir up the sea, (a symbol of chaos), four grotesque beasts in succession rise out of the sea. They represent political powers that have persecuted the Israelites/Jews over the centuries. The fourth beast with its ten horns and a little horn represents the successors of the Greek-dominated kingdoms following the death of Alexander the Great in 323 B.C. One of these kingdoms was Syria – at the time persecuting the Jews of Jerusalem and vicinity. The little horn is the current king of Syria, Antiochus IV Epiphanes. In the vision of the author of Daniel, he is about to get his comeuppance.
A throne is set up. The Ancient of Days (God) takes his seat. An innumerable multitude wor-ships him. The court sits in judgment. Sentence is passed. Destruction follows. Then Daniel sees on the clouds of heaven (instead of a chaotic sea) “one like a son of man” approaching the throne of the Ancient One (God). He gives this human being glory and a kingdom that rules the whole earth forever. “Son of man” in the narrative is an Aramaic term meaning a human being. The author explains that this human being is a symbol of the “saints of the Most High” who will now get their turn to rule, but in an everlasting kingdom. In the Book of Enoch, a first century B.C. Jewish document not in the Bible, this symbolic human being evolves into an awaited historical figure who will drive the Romans out of the Holy Land. Evolution from symbolic to historical enabled Christian teachers and preachers to take the next step – that the human being (son of man) in Daniel is Jesus Christ – who receives universal kingship from the Father. Due to this interpretation, this reading was selected as the first reading for today’s solemnity.
The Responsorial Psalm (93) picks up from the first reading the theme of divine kingship. The Psalm of course does not speak of the kingship of Jesus, but of the Lord God. The Psalmist imagines God as kings were in his experience. “In splendor robed…he makes firm the world.”
He is “from everlasting.” His decrees are worthy of trust. His palace is a wholesome (holy) house. The people respond, “The Lord is king. He is robed in majesty.” Since the Psalmist speaks of the Lord God as king and not of the Lord Jesus as king, we may transfer the accolades heaped upon God as also attributable to King Jesus. On what basis? Ephesians 1:21, where it says of God, “He raised him (Jesus) from the dead, and made him sit at his right hand…far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, not only in this age, but in the age to come….”
The second reading is from the Book of Revelation. The seer or Christian prophet named John experiences a vision on the Lord’s Day (Sunday). He too sees a “son of man,” who will come on the clouds of heaven, who will have dominion “forever and ever.” The author was obviously influenced by the vision from Daniel 7 explained above – our first reading. The second reading is a doxology, a hymn of praise to Jesus Christ, “firstborn of the dead and ruler of the kings of the earth.” But how few are the rulers of the earth who realize the truth of this revelation! The author proclaims the process by which this “Son of Man” attained his kingship. “To him who loves us and has freed us from sin by his blood, who has made us into a kingdom, priests for his God and Father.” The attributes of God, “I am the Alpha and the Omega,” are applied to Jesus in Revelation 22:13, thus following a major theme of Revelation, that Jesus is God.
The gospel is part of the Passion Narrative in the Gospel of John. The theology of John shows more interest in the kingship of Jesus than the other gospels. Jesus is already named “King of Israel” in the first chapter of John. In today’s reading he stands for judgment before Pilate, the Creator before his creature, the King before his subject. Jesus was accused of claiming to be King of the Jews – a problem for Pilate. He works for the Roman Emperor who alone makes and breaks kings in the empire. Jesus assures him that his kingdom is not a political or geographical kingdom, but “a kingdom not of this world.” There is reference to Jesus’ disciples fighting for him, if his kingdom were of this world. Jesus already rejected that when Simon Peter drew a sword and cut off the ear of a slave of the high priest. Jesus responded, “Put your sword away!” The gospel reading ends with a puzzling saying of Jesus following his assertion that it is Pilate himself who is calling Jesus a king. “For this I was born, and for this I came into the world.” Thus far John affirms that Jesus is indeed a king, born for it, but what kind of a king?
“To testify to the truth.” Is it any wonder that a practical, efficient, and sometimes ruthless Roman official would answer, “What is truth?” What does Jesus’ statement mean? Something that Pilate could not possibly understand. John uses the word “truth” widely throughout his gospel. The basic meaning is the revelation Jesus brings from the Father. In John 1:14, the Word of God is said to be full of grace and truth. In 1:17, “The Torah was given through Moses. Grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.” In the Last Supper Discourse Jesus himself as God’s ultimate revelation is said to be the Truth. The Spirit of Truth, whom Jesus will send, will guide his disciples into all truth, 16:13, and will bring back to their memory all that Jesus revealed to them, 15:26. Clearly, for John “truth” is the revelation Jesus brings and is from the Father. Pilate could not understand that. John however is writing for his Christian Community. It is to them and about them that he closes the discussion with Pilate, “Everyone who belongs to the truth, listens to my voice.” The Christian Community is his kingdom, “a kingdom of truth and life, holiness and grace, justice, love and peace,” (Preface of the Mass). That at least is the ideal!