The question of Pilate was that of all dictators who presume that the power of government is final and absolute. Our Lord reads to the arrogant Roman the lesson which he and all of his tribe in all ages and all lands need — that their power is derived from God, therefore it is in its foundation legitimate, and in its exercise it is to be guided by His will and used for His purposesFulton Sheen Thinking Life Through 1955: 202
We, all of us, have a fairly well defined idea of kingship in our heads: from the benevolent saintliness of Edward the Confessor, to the tyrannical corpulent Henry VIII. Human kingship can be something of a mixed bag: depending upon an accident of birth, and sadly while one may have power, without the knowledge and humility to use it well and in the service of others. Thus, we would seriously err were we to extrapolate divine kinship from its flawed human counterpart. If I were to ask you the question, ‘what does a king look like?’, you may well reply that he wears a crown of gold, and a cloak of red or purple velvet. He looks impressive and dignified; everything about him makes you go ‘Wow!’ It’s quite understandable – it’s how we expect a king to look, it’s what we’ve grown up to expect: whenever we see pictures of kings they look like this.
In this morning’s gospel we are given an entirely different picture of kingship. Our Lord will soon receive the outward trappings and will be hailed as a King. And in the mockery people will not realise that the joke is really on them. Christ is truly a King, but not in a way that the world can easily understand. His kingdom is not of this world; the way of God is not to use threats, mockery, or violence. Instead, Christ becomes incarnate, becomes a human being, to bear witness to the truth. He who is the way, the truth, and the life, comes that we might know the truth and that the truth might set us free. As those who follow him, we as Christians are to be free, to stand against this world and its power, to show it another way: where weakness can triumph in the face of anger, where love can overcome bitterness. The world around us cannot understand this, it could not at the time of our Lord’s passion, and it cannot even today. One needs to experience it before one can begin to understand it. Christ shows the world his reign of glory by being nailed to a cross and now exalted in glory and coming to be our judge he bears in his body the wounds of nail and spear, the wounds of love, wounds which heal and reconcile humanity.
In his dealings with Pilate, Christ foreshadows the church and its dealings with secular power. Just as Pilate could not wait for an answer, so the world around us can only treat the church with impatience and contempt: neither then nor now can we hope to be understood, we are instead to be threatened to capitulate to a secular power – for the Romans and their power, read the whim of politicians and the tyranny of so-called ‘equality legislation’. As the body of Christ, we exist to love and to serve God and one another, and call the world to repent and to believe and to be healed by God. We have bishops to be our Chief shepherds, as successors of the apostles, those called and set apart by Christ to be shepherds and not hirelings, laying down their lives like Christ and for Christ, and not solely to sit in the High Court of Parliament. We then may advise the state, for its own good, but primarily so that the church may continue to preach the gospel and make disciples of this nation and every nation. The world may not understand us, it may not listen to us, or like whom we are and what we do or do not do on, but we cannot allow ourselves to be conformed to the world and its ways. In loving and serving God we call the world to conform itself to his will.
Only then can we bring about that radical transformation envisaged in the Gospels: living as a community of love and not fear. It is through living it out in our lives and as the church that we can show the world a better way of being, a way which acknowledges Jesus Christ as King of all the universe, where his way of love washes away our sins with his blood, reconciles us to God and each other, and forgiving others as we ourselves are forgiven. Where the world wants blame we have to live out the love and forgiveness, which we ourselves have received from God in Christ Jesus. This then can truly be a kingdom and not of this world.
So as we prepare to enter the season of Advent, where we will prepare ourselves to greet the King of the Universe born in a stable in Bethlehem, let us acknowledge Christ as our King, whose Sacred Heart burns with love for us, whose wounds still pour out that love upon the world, and let us live as people loved, healed, restored and forgiven, that the world may believe and all creation acknowledge God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, to whom be ascribed as is most right and just, all might, majesty, glory, dominion, and power, now and forever.