Following is the prepared text from Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted’s homily for The Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe.
November 25, 2018
“Jesus Christ is the faithful witness, the first born of the dead and ruler of the kings of the earth. To Him be glory and power forever and ever.” Rev 1:5
Today, with joyful hearts the Church celebrates the Solemn Feast of Christ the King. With people of all nations, we praise Jesus as the King of kings; but of even greater importance are the other titles given Him in this passage from the Book of Revelation: i.e. “the faithful witness and the firstborn of the dead.” Jesus is the faithful witness to His Father’s love, setting an example that moves hearts to repent and believe in the Gospel. Moreover, Jesus is the first born of the dead, that is He conquered sin and death as He gave His life freely to redeem us on the Cross and then rose, triumphant, from the dead. He opened for us the gates of paradise, the entry into eternal life. So, with childlike trust, we praise Jesus with joyful, hopeful hearts, no matter what hardships come our way. Earthly kings come and go, but His Kingdom endures forever.
Today’s Gospel of only five verses (John 18:33-37), recounts the interrogation that took place between the man who held worldly power in Israel 20 centuries ago, Pontius Pilate, and a prisoner handed over to him by the chief priests. The prisoner Jesus is on trial before Pilate; but quickly their roles are reversed: Pilate becomes the one interrogated by Jesus. When Pilate asks, “Are you the king of the Jews?” Jesus responds with another question, a deeply personal one: “Do you say this on your own or have others told you about me?” Jesus is not trying to save Himself here; He is trying to save Pilate. He came into the world to save us all, including Pilate. Jesus’ question is aimed at getting Pilate to take a stand for truth, to move beyond hearsay about Jesus and to engage Him in a sincere personal encounter. Recall that this is the first time that Pilate had met Jesus; he had heard about Him but never encountered Him face to face. So, at that moment, Pilate was given the opportunity of a lifetime, the offer to see the one and only Person who could save Him from sin and death. That’s what Jesus wanted to do for Pilate.
In the initial part of the interrogation, Jesus moves the conversation beyond trivia to destiny. He says, “My Kingdom does not belong to this world.” This truth should have been evident to any objective observer. If Christ’s Kingdom belonged to this world, He would have been born in a palace, not a stable; He would have mustered an army to defeat His foes, not called fishermen and tax collectors to preach good news to the poor. He would have exacted vengeance on His foes, not forgiven them their sins and called His followers to forgive as well, 70 times 7 times.
Jesus made it clear that His Kingdom did not belong to this world but it does belong “in” this world. When Pilate said to Him, “Then you are a king?” Jesus answered, “You say I am a king. For this I was born and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth.” Jesus can read Pilate’s heart. He knows that Pilate recognizes His kingship. There is nothing more kingly than proclaiming the truth. And there is nothing more kingly that doing this courageously, without arrogance, pomp, or circumstance. Jesus’ Kingship is totally different from earthly kings. He does not use His knowledge to lord it over others or try to make His importance felt. He came not to be served but to serve; and to be for all “the way and the truth and the life.” That is what He was offering Pontius Pilate. But Pilate was not a free man; he was paralyzed by fear. He was afraid of the crowd because He was afraid of the truth and cost of telling the truth. So, he handed Jesus over to be crucified even though he knew that Jesus was innocent. Ironically, God’s plan for our Redemption was not impeded by the cowardice of Pilate. Instead, Jesus turned Pilate’s totally unjust decision into a victory of truth and love. The cross, an instrument of torture and shame was transformed into the Tree of Life. Jesus goes to the Cross where He redeems the world by the perfect sacrifice of His life, and, as He is dying, it is Pilate who insists on having the sign posted over Jesus’ head, which proclaimed in three languages—Hebrew, Latin and Greek—”Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews.” Even though Pilate failed to accept the gift of faith, nonetheless God used him to proclaim the truth of Jesus as the King of kings.
Dear sons and daughters in Christ, today, we should ask ourselves, do my words and deeds proclaim that Jesus is the King of kings? Is my faith in Jesus personally alive and rooted in truth? Do I see what Pilate failed to see: namely that truth is first a Person, not a theory? It is the second Person of the Blessed Trinity: the Lord Jesus. Moreover, Christ our King does not remain far from us, even if we have strayed from Him. Every day and in every place, He draws near to us; He seeks out every lost sheep. Do not let fear or doubts, then, get in the way of believing in Him. Beg for the grace to say, each day, with St. Faustina, “Jesus, I trust in you.”
This Feast is especially meaningful for us in the Church, in AD 2018. More than any time in our nation’s history, our Catholic faith is under attack here, not only from without but even from within, by lives of duplicity and scandal. In previous generations, we fought wars to secure freedom for our countrymen and neighbors. Now, our faith in God is threatened by some Church leaders, like Pilate, who abuse their authority rather than using it to defend and serve others. Someone wrote to me recently, “Far worse than an evil emperor who feeds us to the lions is the beast that prowls within our midst, seeking to destroy our souls by causing us to question, mistrust, and even despise what we have been heretofore compelled to love.”
We need this feast of Christ the King now, more than ever before: What Daniel prophesied, over 2000 years ago remains true: “…one like a Son of Man received dominion, glory and kingship… His Kingship shall not be destroyed.” That is why Jesus taught us to pray, “Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”