At one point in his commentary on this Sunday’s Responsorial Psalm (Ps. 93), St. Augustine shares this observation: Humble people are like rock. Rock is something you look down on, but it is solid. What about the proud? They are like smoke; they may be rising high, but they vanish as they rise.
In the gospel for today’s Feast of Christ the King (Jn. 18:33b-37) we are given the humble and patient God. Pilate (representative of all the powers of the world but powers that really have no authority of Jesus) questions Christ – a seemingly defeated and isolated man, abandoned by his friends and followers and mocked by his own people.
Pilate answered, “I am not a Jew, am I? Your own nation and chief priests handed you over to me. What have you done?” Jesus answered, “My kingdom does not belong to this world. If my kingdom did belong to this world, my attendants would be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Jews. But as it is, my kingdom is not here.” So Pilate said to him, “Then you are a king?” Jesus answered, “You say I am a king. For this I was born and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.”
Today, we as Church, proclaim Christ is King yet, like Pilate, our understanding and idea of this title is often limited. It is interesting to note on this Feast of Christ the King that our Lord, himself, never took on the title of “king”. Even on this most final and bitter of stages; when the fallen pride of our human condition would eagerly grasp onto a title of assertion to throw back into the face of the powers of this world (how often we see this exalted on our movie screens in the myth of redemptive violence) our Lord chooses a different path. “You say I am king. For this I was born and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.”
Our Lord rejects the title “king” and by so doing he forswears the fallen world and all it has to offer – self-indulgent pride, sad divisions and triumphalism and all forms of violence. Our Lord chooses a different path – the path of humility. “For this I was born and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.”
Humility has more in common with truth than does pride and power. In fact, humility is essential if there is to be any real understanding of truth. If we would know the truth then any temptation to put ourselves and our way of thinking at the center of creation (and these temptations come in all shapes and sizes: blue and red state, enlightened secularist and righteous religious, male and female, rich and poor, all colors of skin and shades of culture) must be put aside. Everyone (I repeat “everyone”), needs to accept the purifying light of humility because the only constant, the only necessary is God – all else is contingent upon God’s will. We are not necessary. The more we realize this then the more we open ourselves to those moments when we catch a glimmer that God is indeed the “rock”, the only solid basis of all creation. We also catch a glimpse of the infinite patience of God who submitted Himself to our illusions and misguided hatred. Gratitude grows in our hearts when we honestly acknowledge and reflect upon the humility and patience of God.
Ours is a different type of king. All is grace.
Do you want joy and gratitude? Then look to the one we proclaim “king” yet who never sought that title for himself. “For this I was born and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.” Cultivate humility. Humility leads us to truth and truth brings gratitude.