34th Sunday of Ordinary Time
Solemnity of Christ Our King
Isaiah 61: 9 – 11; John 15: 1 – 8
In His public ministry Jesus often spoke of the Kingdom of God and in time, the people living in expectation of the Messiah proclaimed by the prophets began to look to Him as this Messiah, as a King. But their idea of this long awaited Messiah-King was colored by a long oppression by other nations. They were looking for a warrior, a leader who would bring them freedom, freedom from the hated Romans, their present oppressor.
St. John recounts this: “When the people saw the sign (the multiplication of the loaves) He had performed they began to say, ‘This is undoubtedly the Prophet who is to come into the world.’ At that, Jesus realized that they would come and carry Him off to make Him king, so He fled back to the mountain alone.” (John 6: 14f) Under no circumstances would Jesus accept being such a king. His own followers, contrary to Jesus’ words and actions, hoped He would liberate them – on the evening of the Resurrection on the way to Emmaus Jesus had to correct Cleophas and his companion about this. In their own words: “We were hoping that He was the one would set Israel free.” (Luke 24: 21)
And now, in no way appearing as a king in splendor – rather, crowned with thorns, bleeding, brutally scourged – Jesus does not contradict Pilate when asked, “Then You are a king?” Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. For this I was born and for this I came into the world” and He had preceded this reply with: “…My kingdom is not here.”
We know from the Gospels that Pontius Pilate was aware of Jesus’ innocence and tried to have him released but was under unrelenting pressure and threats by the Jewish leaders demanding to have Him executed; Pilate caved in and the leaders triumphed.
Some time ago I can upon a book in our library “The Wife of Pilate” – all of 63 pages – more of a novel than history yet it is based on history – three of the characters really existed: Jesus, Pilate and his wife who is given the name Claudia and the trial of Jesus before Pilate is very briefly presented.
The author creates this scene – Claudia and her slave are looking down from the roof of the palace as Pilate passes sentence of death and they are drawn to look on the face of the condemned and the author writes, “…the really heart-rending thing is to see that this pitiable One looked, as though He were having pity upon the whole world, even upon the Procurator, His judge – yes, even upon him! This compassion completely enveloped the face of the condemned…” – not revenge, not the least bit of hatred – rather, compassion enveloped His face.
Claudia, “stricken by the face of the Crucified” is haunted by this and ultimately, in Rome, looks for some Nazarenes – Jesus’ followers – to learn about the Crucified One and finds herself arrested with them. With these Nazarenes she is martyred in the coliseum while the emperor and his unknowing guest look on – the guest is Pilate. It is the author’s description of Claudia’s experience “stricken by the face of the Crucified” that is well worth our own reflection.
On this Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe, the Patronal Feast of our Abbey, we gather in faith as the people of this King, this most compassionate One – can we not say truly that you/I with countless others have been stricken by the Crucified, stricken by the compassion, mercy, forgiving love of Jesus of our faith Whom we have received, do receive?
In this Holy Eucharist we are given the privilege of seeing the Sacred Host, the Precious Blood of the Lord – signs of the living reality of the Lord our King – in these sacred gifts we see His compassion, love – more than that we touch it – we consume it – not an “it – rather the Lord Jesus Himself. To be stricken by the Lord, embraced, penetrated, intoxicated is what our faith is about – is why we come to receive Him in Word, in Sacrament. Is it not?
In the reading from the Book of Revelation we heard: “To Him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by His blood…to Him be glory and power, forever and ever. Amen.” Surely, each one of us stricken by the compassionate presence of the Lord can add our own personal “Amen” to this.