The encounter between Christ and Pilate is an encounter between two heavyweights. One has control over the other one’s life in this world of space and time. And one certainly has control over the other’s life in the world of eternity.
Jesus challenges Pilate’s worldly authority; “If my kingdom did belong to this world, my attendants – meaning his angels – would be fighting to keep me from being handed over.” Pilate, in turn, does not challenge Jesus’ eternal authority because he doesn’t believe in it; he knows nothing about it, being a pagan of the highest order; and, he could care not one iota even if he did know about Jesus’ power over life everlasting. Pilate is out to please one person only, and it’s not even his wife. Or himself. It’s Caesar, the guy in Rome. The one who puts the fear of God in Pilate because Caesar is Pilate’s god, with a small g.
Pontius Pilate lives in the world of hard knocks, making decisions as a procurator that would resemble modern day terrorists. That’s a world not one of us wishes to live. We like peace. We like good actions. We love caring about others, making a heavenly difference where one can be made. There are those times when the alter-world of hard knocks, where anger and hatred tempt us to join its legion of soldiers. We resist such temptations, because our hope is not to destroy, like Pilate, but to build up, like Christ. We are soldiers for Christ, part of his legion of attendants.
Jesus Christ the King of the Universe. Pontius Pilate should have put that title in his pipe and smoked it for a few days. He would have been a more loving and peaceful man. He would have been reformed and reshaped into a person of faith, rather than a pagan of the highest order. And, he would have … lost his job. Why? Because Caesar would no longer be god, with a small g, replaced by Jesus as God with a capital G. Those would have been tough choices of the highest order for Pontius Pilate. Going from being a person who says, “Crucify this person,” and they crucify him, to saying “Forgive that criminal.” He would have lost his job over such kindness, which the Roman Empire had no interest in.
Jesus Christ the King of the Universe is a closing celebration of Sundays in Ordinary Time that allows us to take a moment to reflect on the infinite goodness of the Person of Jesus the Christ, and the power he holds and shares for our eternal benefit. Pilate, however, is an image of our secular world, as much as we may try to like it and wish to stay here for good. Even on my best day at Gettysburg, I wish not to stay there forever. Wherever that good place is for each of us, it’s the tiniest fraction of what the King of the Universe has ready through his power.
Pilate’s power offers us the three H’s; harshness, hard knocks, and hairy situations. And a fourth one too; Hades. Jesus offers us the three L’s; love, liberty (meaning true freedom, and not some false freedom guaranteed by some government), and life. Along with one E for all the L’s; Everlasting.
There are those moments over the length and breath of our faith journey where the power of Christ needs to be recalled for the sake of continuing our faith journey. That we don’t lose hope because Pilate appears to be getting the best of us, like the appearance given in this Gospel. It looks like, on paper, that Pilate is about to wipe out Jesus forever. But the power that resides in our Lord is power we share with him, especially when things are in a state of confusion. His power is an invitation to peace and perseverance. It’s power that extends to us virtues that allow us to address the hard knocks in a world full of Pilate’s.
Pilate lives in a perpetual state of misery and hatred. He can’t stand himself. He orders this soldier to crucify that person, and then stick a spear into their side to make sure they’re dead after they’ve been crucified. Like what happened to Jesus, allowing water and blood to flow from his side symbolizing the love of Baptism and Eucharist, the Sacraments of the Church. The power of Christ is so filled with goodness that it will bring great promise as he hangs dead on his own Cross. When Pilate believes the story is finished, the power of the King is just warming up.
He is the firstborn of the dead, as Revelation tells us so wonderfully. Those who will follow him from the grave are those who refuse the evil power in this world and embrace the power of love and life. Again, the temptation to settle ourselves in this world is constant, taking on those particles of Pilate, such as panicking and paganism. We refuse him, and the little bits of momentary power they so weakly promise. Because at the end of this day, our kingdom doesn’t belong to this world, if we are disciples of Christ.
The Feast of Christ the King beckons our attention to the only loving, lasting power in the universe. The One whose dominion is an everlasting dominion that shall not be taken away.
They appear as two heavyweights on paper, but there’s no comparison. One is a pathetic weakling ordering soldiers around to crucify people by the thousands, living in his pagan world of hatred. The other One holds the universe together, commanding his subjects to love and goodness, and change this world for the better. He’s the One we worship.