Jesus testifies to the power of love

By  Fr. Scott Lewis, S.J.
  • November 20, 2006
Christ the King (Year B) Nov. 26 (Daniel 7:13-14; Psalm 93; Revelation 1:5-8; John 18:33-37)

How does one maintain hope and belief in goodness, justice, freedom and decency in the face of evil and oppression? For many who suffered under the tyranny of Nazism and communism, evil must have seemed supreme and unconquerable. Many must have yearned for a heroic and powerful figure who would put things right.

The elimination of hatreds and divisions is the fervent dream of many. Even though all tyrannies eventually crumble under the weight of their own evil and corruption, people need hope, perseverance and belief in the ultimate triumph of God. In the realm of the sacred imagination, symbols such as the "Son of Man" figure help to create and foster them.

The dominion and kingship ascribed to the Son of Man figure must be treated with caution. It is far too easy to bend the concept of divine rule to bolster the claims of earthly rulers and power structures, and this has often been the case. God's justice is not about earthly empires, hierarchies or power structures. There have been many who have promised to fix society or the world. Unfortunately, most of them have demanded human freedom in return, resulting in immense tragedy.

The passage from Daniel was written in the midst of the oppression and suffering of the people of Israel during the Maccabean revolt against the cruel tyrant Antiochus Epiphanes in the second century BC. It is a foundational image in the apocalyptic theology of the New Testament. As evident in the passage from the Book of Revelation, it was eventually reappropriated by the early Christian community and applied to Jesus. As in the first reading, Jesus — not Christianity — enjoys a universal and transcendental dominion. By being firstborn from the dead, he is the first to be fully conscious of God. And he has freed humanity from bondage to sin and ignorance of God. It is interesting that "kingship" and "priesthood" are both shared with those who believe in Him and follow Him. And that is the key to overcoming the temptation to project our hopes on a particular person or institution to rule our lives or make things right.

Jesus shares His power with us; He asks us to look within ourselves for answers. In a sense, each of us can be called "Son of Man" (or Human One, as we would say today). It is our individual and collective dedication to justice and divine principles that will "make things right."

Identical words can have very different meanings in the minds of people. Words like "democracy," "conscience" and "freedom" can carry both noble and base connotations, depending on who is using them. To Pontius Pilate, "king" can mean only one thing: earthly power and domination.

Having heard that Jesus has been called a king, he puts the question to Him: are you a king? Jesus goes to great pains to enlighten Pilate. King I am, He says, but not the kind that you think. Not a king who uses force or commands armies, nor one who dominates and oppresses others. My kingdom is not of this world.

This statement has been used at times to justify a lack of concern for the demands of justice or a concern for the well-being and development of the world. Nothing could be further from the intentions of Jesus. His kingdom is not in another place. He was merely insisting that He operates by a different system of principles and values that are transcendental in origin and nature.

All Pilate understands by kingship is raw power, violence and domination. Unfortunately, that misunderstanding is shared by a large portion of humanity.

But Jesus testifies to another model of power: that of love. Love itself is a power; love is how we know and experience God. There is no darkness or violence in God, for God is love. And as we face the injustice and violence of our world, the answer is not more injustice and violence. Nor should we look outside of ourselves for a powerful figure who is full of promises nor should we turn to some glamorous ideology. The answer lies within us: the power of love and the presence of the divine spirit.

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