Sunday, November 26, 2006

Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ,
Universal King (B)
Visions of the Night

Readings: Daniel 7:13-14; Psalm 93:1, 1-2, 5; Revelations 1:5-8; John 18:33b-37


Sisters and brothers, what’s your favourite time of day? How do you feel about the night? Do you like it or loathe it? Or are you indifferent? We all probably have many different attitudes toward the night. There are those, of course, who exploit the night for immoral, even sinister purposes. And, quite understandably, there are those too who find its quiet and darkness lonely and frightening. But aren’t there also others who find, in the night, an opportunity to party or to rest and relax, even to think, to pray, and to find inspiration for the challenges of the day?

And the night is not just a particular period of time is it? There are also nights of a different kind. We may think, for example, of the dark nights or crises that we might face in our own personal lives whether at home, at work, in the family, or even in prayer. We may think also of the clouds of darkness that hover so ominously over many different parts of our world. Think, for example of the civil strife in Iraq and nearby East Timor, the genocide in Darfur, the material poverty and hunger in Africa, the psychological distress and spiritual desolation that afflict many in the developed world. Think also of the various social challenges that we face here in Singapore: the widening income gap, the ageing population, the problem of drug-abuse and other forms of addiction, broken marriages and dysfunctional families… What about these kinds of nights? What are our thoughts and feelings, our reactions and responses to them?

Why, you may be wondering, are we dwelling on these rather depressing issues on this final Sunday of our church’s calendar when we celebrate the great feast of Christ the King? We are only following the lead of our readings of today. Of course, the readings speak to us about the everlasting kingship of Christ, the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. But consider how, when and to whom Christ the King appears.

Notice, for example, how the prophecy of Daniel begins in the first reading: I gazed into the visions of the night… And what is this night if not the desperate and desolate situation in which Daniel and his people find themselves? Their country is no more – overrun and occupied by foreign invaders – and the people live under oppression. It is into this thick national darkness that the prophet gazes unflinchingly, as he searches for a sign from God. How did his people come to this sad end? What must they do? What has God to say about all this? And Daniel’s courageous and prayerful search is rewarded. He receives a wonderful vision, a divine assurance that God will not forsake his people. One will come on the clouds of heaven, One who will free them from their distress, who will rule over all peoples, and who will establish a Kingdom that will last forever.

At one of the lowest and darkest points in his nation’s history, Daniel receives and shares with his people a marvelous message of hope. What they have to do is to remain faithful, to continue to put their trust in their God, to cling onto the truth of God’s promises come what may.

There is another person in our readings today who receives a kingly vision. No, more than a vision, Pilate receives the King himself. And like Daniel, Pilate too is operating in a time of darkness. Remember what is written earlier in John’s gospel, in chapter 13. After Jesus washes his disciples’ feet and Judas leaves the gathering to betray Jesus, the writer tells us that it was night. Again, more than just a period of time, this night refers to the spiritual darkness that envelops the earth because of what is about to befall Jesus. What a dark night it is when the only begotten Son of God is so cruelly betrayed and denied, humiliated and degraded, tortured and ultimately killed.

This is the profound darkness that forms the background of Pilate’s trial of Jesus. Or, to be more accurate, we should say that it is really Jesus who is putting Pilate on trial. Notice, for example, how Jesus responds to Pilate’s questions. Do you ask this of your own accord…? All who are on the side of truth listen to my voice. What is Jesus doing if not trying to lead Pilate through the darkness into the light? What is Jesus trying to achieve, if not to help Pilate to recognize Jesus’ true identity as he who is coming on the clouds of heaven, to help him to acknowledge and submit to the kingship that is not of this world?

Here we see the truth of what we heard in the second reading: everyone will see him, even those who pierced him… In the midst of the darkness, in whatever form that darkness might take, all will be blessed with a vision of the King. But who will recognize Him? Who will acknowledge his kingship and follow Him?

We know how the story of Pilate ends. Even though he is convinced of Jesus’ innocence, he fails to meet the challenge that Jesus presents. Pilate is unable to see beyond his own very delicate and difficult political situation. He is unable to find the courage to listen to the voice of Christ, to stand on the side of truth. He hands Jesus over to be crucified.

In our readings today, two men find themselves enveloped in darkness. Two men have visions in the night. But only one gazes unflinchingly. Only one recognizes the coming King. Only one is open enough to receive and share God’s message of light and of hope.

Sisters and brothers, in the various dark nights of our lives and of our world, what consolation, what message of hope is being offered to us? How are we being challenged, and what must we do to stand on the side of truth, to follow Christ the King?

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