Sunday, November 22, 2015
Jesus is the Messiah King
He takes us with him into his kingdom of the world to come
We listen to the truth, standing by his throne,
which is the cross
John 18: 33-37
1. Opening prayer
Father, your Word knocked at my door in the night. He was captured, bound, and yet he was still speaking, still calling, and as always he was saying to me: “Arise, hurry up and follow me!” At dawn, I saw him a prisoner of Pilate and, in spite of all the suffering of the passion, of the forsakenness he felt, he knew me and waited for me. Father, let me go with him into the Praetorium where he is accused, condemned to die. This is my life today, my interior world. Yes, every time your Word invites me, it is a little like going into the Praetorium of my heart, a contaminated and contaminating place, awaiting the purifying presence of Jesus. You know that I am afraid, but Jesus is with me, I must not fear any more. I stay, Father, and listen attentively to the truth of your Son speaking to me. I watch and contemplate his actions, his steps. I follow him, such as I am, throughout the life you have given me. Enfold and fill me with your Holy Spirit.
a) Placing this passage in its context:
These few verses help us to further understand the story of the Passion and lead us almost into an intimate relationship with Jesus, in a closed place, set apart, where he is alone, facing Pilate: the Praetorium. He is questioned, he answers, in turn asks, continues to reveal his mystery of salvation and to invite people to come to Him. It is here that Jesus shows that he is king and shepherd; he is bound and crowned while under sentence of death. Here he leads us to the green pastures of his words of truth. This passage is part of a larger section, vv. 28–40, which tells us about the trial of Jesus before the governor. After a whole night of interrogation, beatings, jeers and betrayals, Jesus is handed over to the Roman authority and is condemned to death, but it is in this very death that he reveals himself as Lord, the One who came to give his life, the just One for us unjust, the innocent One for us sinners.
b) An aid to the reading of the passage:
vv.33-34: Pilate goes back into the Praetorium and begins to question Jesus. His first question is “Are you the king of the Jews?” Jesus does not reply directly but draws Pilate into making it absolutely clear what he means by such kingship, he leads Pilate to think further. King of the Jews means the Messiah and it is as Messiah that Jesus is judged and sentenced.
v.35: In his reply, Pilate seems to despise the Jews, who are clearly the ones accusing Jesus, the high priests and the people, each bearing responsibility, as we read in the prologue: “He came to his own domain, and his own people did not accept him” (Jn 1: 11). Then comes Pilate’s second question to Jesus: “What have you done?”, but he does not get a reply to this question.
v.36: In Jesus’ reply to Pilate’s first question, three times he uses the expression “my kingdom”. Here we have a wonderful explanation as to what really is the kingdom and the kingship of Jesus: it is not of this world, but of the world to come, he does not have guards or servants to fight for him, only the loving committing of his life into his Father’s hands.
v.37: The questioning comes back to the first question and Jesus still answers in the affirmative: “Yes, I am a king”, but goes on to explain his origin and his mission. Jesus was born for us, he was sent for us, to reveal the truth of the Father from whom we have salvation and allow us to listen to his voice and to follow him by being faithful to him all our life.
c) The text:
33 Pilate entered the praetorium again and called Jesus, and said to him, "Are you the King of the Jews?" 34 Jesus answered, "Do you say this of your own accord, or did others say it to you about me?" 35 Pilate answered, "Am I a Jew? Your own nation and the chief priests have handed you over to me; what have you done?" 36 Jesus answered, "My kingship is not of this world; if my kingship were of this world, my servants would fight, that I might not be handed over to the Jews; but my kingship is not from the world." 37 Pilate said to him, "So you are a king?" Jesus answered, "You say that I am a king. For this I was born, and for this I have come into the world, to bear witness to the truth. Every one who is of the truth hears my voice." 38 Pilate said to him, "What is truth?"
3. A moment of prayerful silence
so as to enter into the Praetorium and to listen carefully to each word that comes from the mouth of Jesus.
4. A few questions
To help me draw closer to the king and to hand over to him my whole existence.
a) I look at the movements of Pilate, his wish to make contact with Jesus, even though is not aware of doing so. In my own life, why is it difficult for me to enter into, ask, call and hold a dialogue with the Lord?
b) The Lord wishes to have a personal relationship with me. Am I capable of getting involved or of allowing myself to be drawn into a real, intense, vital relationship with the Lord? And if I am afraid of doing so, why? What is it that separates me from him, that keeps me at a distance from him?
c) “Handed over”. I stop at these words and try to reflect on them, to hold them in my heart and to confront them with my life, my behaviour of every day.
d) Three times Jesus repeats that his kingdom “is not of this world”, and, thus, invites me forcefully to go on to another reality. Once again he upsets me, putting before me another world, another kingdom, another power. What kind of kingdom am I expecting?
e) The final crack of the passage is amazing: “Listen to my voice”. I, who am so absorbed in a thousand tasks, commitments, meetings, where shall I turn my ear to? Whom shall I listen to? Of whom shall I think? Every morning I receive new life, but really to whom do I think I owe this regeneration?
5. A Key to the reading
Jesus, the bound king handed over
In these lines a strong verb stands out, repeated again and again from the beginning of the story of the Passion: it is the verb to hand over, said, here, first by Pilate and then by Jesus. The “handing over of the Christ” is a theological reality, yet at the same time vital, of supreme importance, because it leads us on a journey of wisdom and excellent training. It might be useful to seek out this verb in the pages of Scripture. It first appears that the Father himself handed over Jesus his Son as a gift for all and for all time. In Romans 8: 32 we read: “Since God did not spare his own Son, but gave him up to benefit us all, we may be certain, after such a gift, that he will not refuse anything he can give.” However, I also see that Jesus himself, in the most intimate of fusions with the will of the Father, hands himself over to, offers his life for us, in an act of supreme freely given love. St. Paul says: “Follow Christ by loving as he loved you, giving himself up in our place…” (Eph 5, 2. 25), and I also recall the words of Jesus: “I lay down my life for my sheep… No one takes it from me; I lay it down of my own free will” (Jn 10: 15, 18). Thus, above and beyond all handings over lies this voluntary handing over, which is purely a gift of love. In the Gospels we see the evil handing over of Judas, properly called the traitor, that is, the one who “hands over”, the one who said to the high priests: “What are you prepared to give me if I hand him over to you?” (Mt 26, 15); see also Jn 12: 4; 18: 2. 5. Then it is the Jews who hand over Jesus to Pilate: “If he were not a criminal, we should not be handing him over to you” (Jn 18: 30, 35) and it is Pilate who represents the gentiles, as Jesus had said before: “The Son of Man… will be handed over to the pagans” (Mk 10: 33). Finally Pilate hands him over to the Jews to be crucified (Jn 19: 16). I contemplate these passages, I see my king bound, chained, as John the Evangelist tells me in 18: 12 and 18: 24. I go down on my knees, I bow before him and ask the Lord for the courage to follow these dramatic yet wonderful passages that are like a hymn of the love of Jesus for us, his “yes” repeated to infinity for our salvation. The Gospel takes me gently into this unique night, when Jesus is handed over for me, as Bread, as Life made flesh, as entirely love. “On the same night he was betrayed [handed over], the Lord Jesus took some bread… and he said: This is my body, which is for you” (1 Cor 11: 23). Then I begin to understand that happiness for me is hidden even in these chains, these knots, with Jesus, with the great king, and that it is hidden in these passages, which speak of one handing over after another, to the will of God and to the love of my Father.
Jesus, the Messiah king
The dialogue between Jesus and Pilate: in this strange and mysterious questioning, what stands out is that, at first, Pilate calls Jesus “king of the Jews” and later only “king”, as though there was a process, whereby he comes to a fuller and truer understanding of the Lord Jesus. “King of the Jews” is a formula used with a very rich meaning by the Jewish people of that time, and it contains the basis, the nucleus of the faith in the expectation of Israel: it clearly signifies the Messiah. Jesus is questioned and judged on whether he is or is not the Messiah. Jesus is the Messiah of the Lord, his Anointed, his Consecrated, he is the servant sent into the world for this, to fulfil in his person and in his life all that the prophets, the law and the psalms had said concerning him. Words that speak of persecution, of suffering, of weeping, wounds and blood, words of death for Jesus, for the Anointed of the Lord, for the one who is our breath and in whose shadow we shall live among the nations, as the prophet Jeremiah says in Lam 4: 20; words that speak of pitfalls, of insurrections, conspiracies (Ps 2: 2) and snares. We see him disfigured, as a man of suffering, unrecognisable except by that love, which, like him, knows suffering only too well. “For this reason the whole House of Israel can be certain that God has made this Jesus whom you crucified both Lord and Christ!” (Acts 2: 36). Yes, my king is a bound king, a king handed over, cast aside, despised; he is a king anointed for battle, but anointed to lose, to sacrifice himself, to be crucified, to be immolated like a lamb. This is the Messiah: the king whose throne is the cross, whose purple is his blood poured out, whose palace is the hearts of men and women, poor like him, but made rich and consoled by a continuous resurrection. These are our times, the times of consolation by the Lord, when he sends the Lord Jesus all the time, the Jesus whom he destined to be our Messiah.
Jesus, the martyr king
“I came to witness to the truth”, says Jesus, using a very strong term, which, in Greek, contains the meaning of martyrdom. A witness is a martyr, one who affirms by his life, his blood, everything that he is and has, the truth that he believes. Jesus witnesses to the truth, which is the Word of the Father (Jn 17: 17) and he gives his life for this Word. Life for life, word for word, love for love. Jesus is the Amen, the faithful and true Witness, the Beginning of God’s creation (Rev 3: 14); in him there is only “yes”, for ever and from the beginning, and in this “yes” he offers us the whole truth of the Father, of himself, of the Spirit, and in this truth, in this light, he makes of us his kingdom. “They who trust in him will understand the truth, those who are faithful will live with him in love” (Wis 3: 8-9). I do not seek further words, I only stay near the Lord, on his breast, like John on that night. Thus he becomes my breath, my sight, my “yes” pronounced to the Father, to my brothers and sisters, in witness of my love. He is the faithful one, the one present, the Truth that I listen to and by whom I let myself be transformed.
6. Psalm 21 (20)
A hymn of thanksgiving for the victory,
which comes from God
Ref. Great is your love for us, Lord!
In thy strength the king rejoices, O Lord;
and in thy help how greatly he exults!
Thou hast given him his heart's desire,
and hast not withheld the request of his lips.
For thou dost meet him with goodly blessings;
thou dost set a crown of fine gold upon his head.
He asked life of thee; thou gavest it to him,
length of days for ever and ever.
His glory is great through thy help;
splendour and majesty thou dost bestow upon him.
Yea, thou dost make him most blessed for ever;
thou dost make him glad with the joy of thy presence.
For the king trusts in the Lord;
and through the steadfast love of the Most High he shall not be moved.
Be exalted, O Lord, in thy strength!
We will sing and praise thy power.
7. Closing prayer
Father, I praise you, I bless you, I thank you that you have led me together with your Son, Jesus, into Pilate’s Praetorium, into this foreign and hostile land, and yet a land of revelation and of light. Only you, in your infinite love, can transform every distance and every darkness into a place of encounter and life.
Thank you for bringing about the time of consolation, when you sent your Lamb, seated on the throne, a sacrificed yet living king. His blood is life-giving dewdrops, anointing of salvation. Thank you because He always speaks and sings to me your truth, which is all love and mercy. I would like to be an instrument in the hands of my king, Jesus, to pass on to all the consoling notes of your Word.
Father, today I have listened to you in this Gospel. Please grant that my ears may never tire of listening to you, to you Son, to your Spirit. Grant that I may be born again from truth so that I may give witness to truth.