Christ the King of the Universe B

It seems strange that the last week of the liturgical year, a week before we begin Advent, that we find ourselves in the middle of the Passion narrative of the Gospel of John as Pilate interrogates Jesus.  Pilate is confused as to why Jesus is even there.  He is the purported King of the Jews yet there are few signs of kingship about him.  They said he might be a king yet there are no followers clamoring for his release and no soldiers threatening the Roman guard.  Pilate, the Roman Governor is familiar with politics and power which he wields ruthlessly, yet what he sees before him is a singular man, a forgotten man, a small man.  It is with incredulity that he asks, “Are you the King of the Jews?”

Jesus himself is formulating what it means to be his kind of king.  He always knew that he would not be a king like others with land to defend, defined borders and soldiers to protect it.  He might have expected others to belong to the kingdom, but his followers have abandoned him.  As of now, the kingdom of God consists of one person, Jesus himself. This truly is a different kind of kingdom.  “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.” The shrewd Pilate picks up that Jesus is indeed claiming to be a king.  What kind of king?  Jesus’ mission defines his kingdom.  “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.”  So the kingdom derives from an idea and the boundary of the kingdom is truth and all who know the truth are citizens.

But if the Gospel went just one verse longer, to include Pilate’s response, we would he hear, “But what is truth?”  If we want to belong to the kingdom with Christ as our king, we must know the answer.  And that seems to be the question that is foremost in the world stage and in each of our lives.  What is truth?  Some would hold the truth so tightly and narrowly as to brandish it as a weapon.  The truth is not an invitation, but a knife which divides.  If you do not know my truth, you are devalued, worthless and expendable.  Others hold the truth so loosely and so widely that is dissipates into nothing at all.  If your truth is as true as mine, if everyone’s version is as good and as valid as anyone else’s, then there is no truth, nothing to discover, nothing to believe.

How do we answer Pilate’s riddle?  I had to go back to 11th grade English, to John Keats and Ode to a Grecian Urn.   “Beauty is truth, truth beauty.”  It is what our faith has taught for centuries.  If you want to know what is true, find the beautiful and know that is good and holy as well. We now this in the core of our being, that the divine is present in the true and the beautiful.  We know it when we hold a newborn child, or bond on the Journey retreat, or see a loved one gone to God peacefully.  We recognize it in the less dramatic moments of life.  Many of you will know it surrounded by family this Thanksgiving, in the embrace of family and friends and the joy of reunion.  We know it in the quiet contentment and warmth of our deepest friendship.  God is not merely present there, God is the author of all that is true and beautiful and good and holy.  God is the one from whom all blessings flow.

Yet, if that is true, then we must also admit that only the true and beautiful come from Christ the King. If there is hatred, it cannot be true.  If there is ugliness, it cannot be beautiful.  If there is hurt and persecution, it cannot be good. If there is violence, it cannot be holy.  Christ is no admixture of the good and bad.  He and the truth that forms his kingdom can only be good.

There is of course another answer to the question that Pilate could not have possibly known.  He gave it to his disciples the night before. “I am the way and the truth* and the life.”   If you want to know the truth, if you want to belong to this king, then live like Jesus lived, die like Jesus died so that you may rise like Jesus rose.  Absorb the truth, the beauty, the goodness and the holiness he bestows on all those who profess his name. Hear his sweet word and follow it; take his body and drink his blood and be immersed in the divine.  Cherish what he cherished, treasure what he treasured, love what he loved and you will have no doubt there is a truth.  Listen to his voice and you rejoice to know that you belong to the kingdom, the kingdom of God, the kingdom of Jesus Christ, king of the Universe.