Browsing Homilies

The Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe

Dn 7:13-14 | Ps 93 | Rv 1:5-8 | Jn 18:33b-37

In 2013, when Pope Francis was elected, cardinals were standing on the balcony of Saint Peter’s Basilica with him as he addressed the crowds that had gathered in the piazza below. While many of the cardinals were looking at Pope Francis or at the people, Cardinal Francis George (from Chicago), was looking off in the distance, lost in his thoughts. Several days later, someone asked him what he was looking at and thinking about. He said that, from the balcony of Saint Peter’s Basilica, he could see the ruins of the Roman Forum which had been the center of life in ancient Rome. He thought about how it was the Roman Empire that crucified Jesus and that killed Saint Peter in the very place he was standing. However, 2000 years later, the Roman Empire was in ruins and the successor of Saint Peter was being acclaimed by the people. It was a vivid reminder to him that, in every age there will be powerful people opposed to Jesus Christ and his Church. But Jesus will always prevail, and he will protect his people from all those who seek to destroy them.

Cardinal George’s words and sentiments are very true. In every century, there have been powerful people who have opposed the teachings of Jesus Christ. They have used political power, violence, and ridicule to try to silence his followers. And yet, even when Christians have been put to death, Jesus Christ has continued to be proclaimed. There is no force in this world that is as powerful as Jesus Christ, the King of the Universe.

In today’s gospel reading, John describes for us the moment when Pontius Pilate, the governor of Judaea, meets Jesus, who has just been condemned to death by the religious leaders of his people. Anyone who was looking on would have thought that Pilate was the powerful one. He appears to have the authority to decide whether Jesus will live or die. But what power does he really have? Though he believes Jesus is innocent and wants to let him go, he eventually gives in to the religious leaders and the crowds who want him crucified. Despite his position in the Roman government and his authority as governor, he is powerless to stop Jesus’ death. Pilate thinks he has power over Jesus, but he’s wrong. Jesus is the one who has power to lay down his life and to take it up again when he rises from the dead.

When Pilate asks Jesus whether or not he’s a king, Jesus gives a very provocative answer. “My kingdom does not belong to this world.” What does Jesus mean by this? Does he mean that his Kingdom has nothing to do with the world in which we live? That can’t be the case because, if Jesus’ Kingdom were just about heaven, then he would never have come down to earth. He would not have come preaching the good news and healing the sick if all he cared about was getting us into heaven. No, Jesus’ Kingdom has everything to do with this world. It’s about transforming this world into a place where all people can enjoy God’s love, justice, and peace.

When Jesus says, “My kingdom is not of this world,” he means something different. He means that his kingdom does not operate in the same way that the kingdoms of this world operate. The powerful people of this world use their influence to amass wealth for themselves. Jesus, on the other hand, calls his followers to embrace poverty. The empires of this world are built on wars, violence, and conquering enemies. However, the Kingdom of God grows through love of our enemies and turning the other cheek. The ruling elites of this world use their power to get people to bend to their will and do their bidding. In contrast, those who are great in the Kingdom of God put aside their own interests to serve others. So, the Kingdom of God has everything to do with this world, but it doesn’t use this world’s tactics of domination and oppression. Rather, we follow the example of our Lord, Jesus Christ, the King of the Universe, who died out of love for us.

That’s not to say that as followers of Jesus Christ we have no power. Not at all. We have a power that is greater than any political power. It is the power that comes from knowing the truth. Jesus tells Pontius Pilate, “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.” The truth of God is the most powerful force in the world. That’s why political powers from the Roman Empire down through communism have tried to use violence to silence it. The truth changes minds. It transforms hearts. And it brings down empires.

Just consider the example of Pope Saint John Paul II. He spent most of his life under a communist regime in Poland. Though he didn’t seem to have any power as the Cardinal Archbishop of Krakow, he was feared by the communist authorities. Why? Because he spoke the truth. Once he became Pope, the attempt on his life was made, but failed. “One hand guided the gun, and another guided the bullets.” John Paul publicly forgave his would-be assassin, and then continued to speak out about the love of God and the dignity of every person made in God’s image and likeness. He inspired people to fight for their freedom to worship God. Eventually, the Soviet Union fell, and millions of people became free to live their faith. John Paul did not bring down this powerful empire with violence or the threat of force. Rather, he did so by preaching the truth of Jesus Christ without fear.

The same is true for us. We also face many injustices in society. It can seem as though all the forces of the world are stacked against us. But we have something they don’t. We have the truth of Jesus Christ and his Holy Spirit at work within us. If we have the courage to speak boldly (with love and with all Christian charity) about the value of unborn human life, we will change hearts and abortion will become a thing of the past, just as slavery is. Laws can change, but laws do not change hearts.

If we serve the needy with love and speak out against the hoarding of wealth by the powerful, then poverty will be a thing of the past. If we love our enemies and forgive those who have harmed us and teach others to do the same, then violence and war, too, can be a thing of the past. This is what Jesus is calling us to: to make his Kingdom of love, justice, and peace a reality on this earth.

Jesus Christ is King. However, he does not keep himself locked up in a castle, being waited on hand and foot. The only crown he ever wore were thorns shoved in his head. And the only throne he ever reined from was from the wood of the Cross.

Our King goes out into the world, serving the neediest among us, speaking the truth, and opposing all violence and injustice. We must follow his example and use the tools he has given us: the truth of his word and the power of his Spirit, to transform this world.

The powers of this world may try to silence us. They may even threaten us with violence. But they will not prevail.

Jesus Christ is King, now and forever!



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