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A reflection for the feast of Christ the King

Matthew Gummess, O. Carm. reflects on the readings for November 21, 2021.
Catholic Voices

Readings (Year B):

Daniel 7:13–14
Psalm 93:1–2, 5
Revelation 1:5–8
John 18:33–37

Reflection: Speak truth to power

You say I am a king.” So Jesus responds to Pilate, when Pilate presses him on his kingship.

“Are you then a king?” asks Pilate.

You say I am a king.” So Jesus admonishes Pilate, with this half-affirmation at best, because he knows what kind of king Pilate has in mind: the beastly kind, the prophet Daniel’s tyrant of ten horns, who rules by the lie that might makes right. The kind of king whose reign begins and ends steeped in others’ blood. As Jesus stands before Pilate, he stands ready to shed his own blood for a different kind of reign. He’s not Pilate’s kind of king at all.

The church’s choice of this gospel passage for the Solemnity of Christ the King invites us to solemn reflection. We would do well to heed Jesus’s admonishment ourselves, for too many times in Christian history we’ve made Pilate’s mistake. When Christians marched under the banners of the Crusades, they marched under a false flag; when the Inquisition bled its opponents with the blade, it sought truth with lies; and today, in this age of anxiety, do we not face the temptation to hitch ourselves to a leader, any leader, who has the seeming strength to save us? Or to any power, or any technology, or any means whatsoever, no matter the ultimate cost—so long as it seemingly helps us through the terrible now?

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The Solemnity of Christ the King confronts us with that temptation toward worldly strength and power and glory. For that very reason, we can and must celebrate it, to nourish our hope and resistance. For there is different kind of strength to save here. It’s the kind of strength the poor know in their extremity, and that Saint Oscar Romero discovered when he fell in love with them and the gospel. There’s a scene in the movie Romero that captures the moment of his discovery. “You are a liar,” Raúl Juliá’s Romero says to the dictator’s face. And so he realizes the truth: the power that oppresses depends on lies. It is not absolute. Try as it might, it cannot make right. And so it cannot last. It falls in self-contradiction.

Whereas Jesus stands before Pilate, strong in the everlasting truth of the reign of God, the truth for which he came into the world. By his own blood he testifies, that God’s dominion extends over life and death itself and knows no contradiction. And so Jesus goes willingly to his death, trusting that God saves.

I am the Alpha and the Omega, God proclaims in the Book of Revelations. God has made the world firm, not to be moved, we ourselves proclaim with the psalmist. Dare we believe it? Dare we believe what we truly celebrate today, and so draw the strength to walk in Jesus’s footsteps, and stand with all those who speak truth to power?

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About the author

Matthew Gummuss, O. Carm.

Matthew Gummess, O. Carm. is a Carmelite friar and a Ph.D. student in history/philosophy of science and systematic theology at the University of Notre Dame.

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