Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe (B)
Sisters and brothers, have you ever had to remind yourself that there’s always another side to the story? Imagine, for example, that you’re a parent. And one of your children comes running to you, complaining that a brother or sister has been bullying him or her. What would you do? Would you immediately go and scold that other child? Well, probably not, right? Not without first listening to what the accused has to say. Why? Because… there’s always another side to the story. Very sound advice.
But just how many sides are there to a story? What do you think? When I was growing up, I used to think that there were only two. A good side and a bad side. When I was watching a TV show, for example, without realising it, I would always be trying to separate the good guys from the bad guys. The Americans from the Germans. The Cowboys from the Indians. And no prizes for guessing which side I would support. The good guys, of course.
I have to confess that this tendency remains with me till this day. Even though I now know that reality is much more complex. I still sometimes tend to see things from the perspective of my childhood. Looking for good guys and bad guys. Seeing only two sides to a story. No more. No less.
I suspect that this is one reason why I’m so excited to hear that a new Star Wars movie will be released very soon. Excited because here’s a story in which the two sides are very clear. The Sith lords are the bad guys. The Jedi knights are the good. The Sith fight on the dark side. The Jedi on the side of light. And it’s usually quite easy to tell them apart because, like Cowboys and Indians, the different sides usually wear distinguishing uniforms.
Which is fine. After all, in the spiritual life too, there are really only two sides. The good and the bad. The righteous and the evil. But the trouble is that it’s not always easy to tell them apart. At least not as easy as separating Cowboys from Indians. Or Jedi from Sith. Reality is usually much more complex. And very often the good are not all good. And the bad not all bad. Also, as the saying goes, there’s always another side to the story. A third side, if you wish.
Isn’t this what we find in our Mass readings for this last Sunday in our liturgical year? Are you the king of the Jews? Pilate asks Jesus in the gospel. Why is this such an important question for Pilate? It’s because the Roman governor is thinking in terms of two sides. The Jewish and the Roman. If Jesus declares himself to be the king of the Jews, then he is in rebellion against the Roman Emperor. He is on the wrong side. He needs to be sternly dealt with.
But Jesus isn’t really on the side of the Jews. And he’s not exactly on the side of the Romans either. At least not politically. Jesus is actually on a third side. The side of God. And God’s concern is to establish a kingdom that goes beyond these human distinctions. Mine is not a kingdom of this world, Jesus tells Pilate. My kingdom is not of this kind. Not the kind that Pilate and some of the Jews are fighting for and defending. Then what kind of kingdom is it?
The kind that is established not by the force of arms. But by the power of love. The kind that is rooted not in selfish ambition. But in selfless compassion. The kind that is ruled neither by the Jews, nor by the Romans, nor by any other single people. But by God alone. In the words of the Preface to the Eucharistic Prayer, which we will be praying shortly, it is a kingdom of truth and life… of holiness and grace… of justice, love and peace.
This is what Jesus is doing in the gospel. Inviting Pilate to look beyond the narrow view of two sides. Roman and Jew. Offering the governor a much broader and deeper vision of a third side. A far more wonderful kingdom. Where all peoples can live together in harmony and peace. Under the reign of God.
We find something similar in the first reading. Again, in the background, we find two opposing sides. The Jewish and the Babylonian. The prophet Daniel is a Jew who finds himself in Exile. His nation has been defeated in battle. His people deported to Babylon. But, as he gazes into the visions of the night, Daniel sees the establishment of a new kingdom. One that goes beyond Babylon and Israel. He sees a new king coming on the clouds of heaven. And men of all peoples, nations and languages will become his servants. His sovereignty is an eternal sovereignty which shall never pass away, nor will his empire ever be destroyed.
The second reading tells us the true identity of this new king. He belongs to neither of the two opposing sides exclusively. But to the whole human race. He is none other than Jesus Christ himself. The faithful witness, the First-born from the dead, the Ruler of the kings of the earth. He loves us and has washed away our sins with his blood. He is the one who is coming on the clouds. And by his selfless sacrifice, he establishes a different kind of kingdom. One that goes beyond Jew and Roman. Beyond Israel and Babylon. Beyond Jedi and Sith. Beyond Cowboy and Indian. One that includes all peoples. Embraces the whole of creation. Allowing all living creatures to live together in harmony and peace.
This, my dear friends, is the marvellous kingdom that we are celebrating today. The kingdom of our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe. A kingdom that goes beyond any two opposing sides to a third. The side of God. The side of justice, love and peace.
And it’s important for us to remember this, especially today. When we are witnessing a terrible struggle, between what looks like two opposing sides. On one side, we have a group that insists on engaging in violent and deadly terrorist attacks. In order to realise its own vision of an Islamic State. As Christians, we are duty-bound to resist and to speak out against such deadly tactics. And to stand in solidarity with its victims.
But it’s important for us to also carefully recognise the problems and dangers that are to be found on the other side as well. The side of a global economic system, often identified with the West, that excludes and marginalises many other people in the world. To speak out against the terrorists does not mean that we should then blindly support the western civilisation to which they are opposed.
Instead, it is our vocation as Christians to see beyond these two sides to a third. The side of the Kingdom of God. The side of Jesus Christ, the Universal King. And to do this is to express outrage not just at the violence done occasionally by terrorists. But also at the suffering caused systematically by the global worship of money. And to share what we have with those who have not. For it is only when we do this that we prove ourselves to be truly on the right side. The third side. The side of God. The side of Christ. The side of truth. As the Lord says to Pilate before going to his death, all who are on the side of truth, listen to my voice.
My dear sisters and brothers, there is always another side to the story. As we come to the end of one liturgical year, and look forward to the next, which side will you be taking today?