By Sr. Theresa Marie Nguyen, O.P.
"Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power and riches, wisdom and strength, honor and glory and praise." Rev 5:12
One of the most perplexing and paradoxical scenes in all of the Gospel narratives is the one which we are invited to contemplate on the Solemnity of Christ the King: Jesus on trial before Pontius Pilate. The King of heaven and earth – the Judge of all mankind – submits himself to the judgment of man. The irony of the interrogation heightens with Pilate’s question: “Are you the King of the Jews?” Throughout his public ministry inaugurating the Kingdom of God, Jesus opposed every semblance of royal ambition. But at this climactic point in time when he is handed over to the forces of the world, he concurs, “You say I am a king. For this I was born and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth” (Jn 18:37).
He is a king who conquers by love, not by force - a king who reigns from the cross and wears a crown of mockery and thorns, not of gems and jewels.Pontius Pilate’s subsequent question punctuates the trial scene with odious irony: “What is truth?” Truth itself stands before him, but Pilate is blinded from seeing it, or more precisely, from seeing Him. What follows, then, is the blasphemous mockery of the King. He is scourged and dressed in a purple robe. The soldiers strike him repeatedly and hail him king (Jn 19:3). The placard at his crucifixion identifies him as “King of the Jews,” but his Kingdom is not of this world.
It is not surprising that Jesus’ kingship went unrecognized by the world. He is a king who conquers by love, not by force - a king who reigns from the cross and wears a crown of mockery and thorns, not of gems and jewels. Nothing could be more contrary to expectation than this meek and humble king.
In our present crisis of authority – both within and without the Church – we are reminded of the true essence of power as we look to Christ as our King. When Pope Pius XI instituted the feast of the Kingship of Christ in 1925, he had in view an era marked by war, extreme ideologies, and the rise of totalitarian regimes. His encyclical, Quas Primas, explained that the new feast was to be an antidote to the atheism and secularism plaguing society. Pope Pius was also clear that he wanted this antidote to be administered to the entire Church at the very core of her being. Precisely by its inclusion in the liturgy, the faithful would celebrate – and thus live out – the profound reality given in Jesus’ sacrifice.
Lex orandi, lex credendi, lex vivendi: how we pray reflects what we believe and determines how we live. For the Church to gather and exalt Christ as King is to bring the rhythm of Christian existence to culmination in Christ as Lord and Savior, King and Redeemer of the world. It means subscribing to the conviction that the only effective power in the world – greater than all the money and missiles one might rely on for security – is the power of persistent Christ-like love. May our regular contact with Jesus in the Eucharist unite every fragment of our lives to the honor of Christ our King, so that “Christ may be all in all” (Col 3:11). For the bread he offers us is his very flesh given “for the life of the world” (Jn 6:15).
Sr. Theresa Marie Chau Nguyen, O.P., Ph.D. is an Assistant Professor of Theology at the University of St. Thomas in Houston and a Dominican Sister of Mary Immaculate Province.