Weekly Reflection (21 Nov 2021)

Christ The King, Year B

Daniel 7:13-14
Apocalypse 1:5-8
John 18:33-37

Earthly kingdoms or heaven kingdom. Which should I choose? What am I choosing now?

This week, we celebrate the Feast of Christ the King. Appropriately, the Scripture passages urge us to reflect on Jesus’ kingship. What is the difference between earthly kingdoms and the heaven kingdom of Jesus Christ? There are three key differences.

Firstly, earthly kingdoms, no matter how powerful they are, eventually come to an end. Earthly kingdoms are by nature transient. In a passage immediately prior to this week’s First Reading, the Prophet Daniel described a vision where he witnessed four beasts rising from the sea. These represented the rise of four successive earthly kingdoms of the Babylonian, Persian, Greek and Roman. (Dan 7:1-8) Earlier, the Book of Daniel described a similar vision coming to Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar through a dream (Dan 2:31-45). As powerful as they were, these kingdoms rose, and they fell away. In contrast to these earthly kingdoms, Jesus’ heavenly kingdom is eternal. As the First Reading proclaimed, “To him was given dominion and glory and kingship, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that shall not pass away, and his kingship is one that shall never be destroyed.” (verse 14) Or as the Prophet Samuel prophesised to King David on the coming of Jesus, “When your days are fulfilled and you lie down with your ancestors, I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come forth from your body, and I will establish his kingdom. He shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom¬†forever.” (2 Sam 7:12-13)

Secondly, earthly kingdoms always seek to rule and control. In Old Testament times, the Assyrian and Babylonian kingdoms decimated the Jewish nations of Israel and Judah respectively. Leading up to the Maccabean revolt, the Greek Empire imposed their culture and religion on the people of God. During Jesus’ time, the Roman Empire imposed a ruthless rule over the people. The “kingdoms” of today are no different. These are the powerful nations and large multinational corporations of today. Like the kingdoms of old, the powerful nations of today have strong economies and mighty military, which they use to subdue smaller nations. Meanwhile, big social media corporations control our thoughts and speeches – often subtly through their selective censorship and selective publication, controlling what we see on our social media apps and our Internet searches. Other corporations monopolise sectors of the economies, effectively controlling our consumption and spending habits. In contrast, the heaven kingdom of Jesus does not seek to control us but instead free us. As a believer, when I submit myself to the Jesus’ heavenly kingdom, I do so of my own free will – I freely choose to love, to serve and to live under God’s law.

Thirdly, earthly kingdom is about attaining earthly gratifications – wealth, power, influence, and most of all, lordship over other people’s lives. To this end, we often create earthly kingdoms of our own. At our work places, organisations and families, we form cliques of allies to promote our agendas, often to the detriment of the organisation. We do the same even in our churches and faith communities, bringing our worldliness into the spiritual realm. In so doing, our spiritual worldliness disenchants others who are genuinely seeking God’s love and spiritual closeness with God. This is especially detrimental if I hold a leadership role in my faith community – a priest, pastor or ministry leader – as my actions can affect a great many. As Jesus warned us, “If any of you put a stumbling block before one of these little ones who believe in me, it would be better for you if a great millstone were fastened around your neck and you were drowned in the depth of the sea.” (Mt 18:6) In contrast, Jesus’ heaven kingdom is the opposite. Rather than seeking His own gratifications, Jesus is the heavenly King who sacrificed Himself for our sins. And in so doing, as the Second Reading explains, Jesus “made us to be a kingdom” (verse 6). Whereas in my earthly kingdom where I confer power and influence upon myself, Jesus the heavenly King confers His royalty upon the people. This is counter cultural, for what earthly king would share his royal inheritance with his subjects? And here is the challenge for us all: because Jesus made us to be his kingdom, because He share His royalty with us,¬†we are called to do the same. My brother and sisters, let us reflect: when was the last time I sacrifice myself gravely for the well-being of others?

The truth is, the lure of the earthly kingdom is strong. To resist its lure and submit ourselves to Jesus’ heavenly kingdom, we need to form ourselves spiritually and form ourselves well. Just coming to church every weekend is not sufficient. Just following the rituals of worship is not sufficient. Just gaining head knowledge of the teachings of Jesus without a conviction of the heart is not sufficient. To gain a conviction of the heart, we need to spend quality time with Jesus, to be close to him. Just as we cannot fall in love with someone without spending quality time with the person, we need to do the same with Jesus. We need to read and reflect on the Word of God regularly. We need to pray regularly. By praying, I do not mean just rattling off a laundry list of what we want Him to do for us, but actually connecting with Him – in adoration, contrition and thanksgiving. In Catholic traditions, we have the wonderful practice of Eucharistic Adoration, where we spend quite contemplative time in the presence of Jesus – Jesus present in His Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity. In the Gospel this week, Pontius Pilate asked Jesus if He is the King. Jesus answered, “Do you ask this on your own, or did others tell you about me?” (verse 34) My brother and sisters, it is not important who reveals the truth to us. The important thing is that we come to the truth. And just as important is our response. Jesus revealed the truth to Pilate in the Gospel this week. How did Pilate respond? What about me? How do I respond to the truth?

In the Gospel this week, Jesus explained to Pontius Pilate that His heavenly kingdom is “not from this world” (verse 36). As royalty in the heavenly kingdom, we are called to resist serving the values of the world, of not taking the political convenient way out. Think about it, how many times have I shy away from my faith for fear of offending the world. How many times I am even afraid to acknowledge that I am a Christian in public, let alone defending the tenets of my faith – in issues such as the sanctity of life, sanctity of the marriage, freedom of religious expression? In the Gospel, Jesus convinced Pilate of his innocence and assured him that he is no threat to the Roman Empire by declaring His kingdom is not from this world. Jesus then proclaimed the truth to Pilate: “for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.” (verse 37) In this way, Jesus ironically turned the table on Pilate such that Pilate became the one on trial. Pilate had to make the choice: execute Jesus to please the crowd; or release him to please his conscience. In the end, Pilate took the cowardly decision of sentencing Jesus to death. In the process, Pilate took the trouble to disown this decision by washing his hands, saying “I am innocent of this man’s blood.” (Mt 27:24)

My dear brothers and sisters, in deciding whether we follow the world’s earthly kingdoms or Jesus’ heavenly kingdom, we too are on trial. How do I plea? Guilty or innocent? Pilate asked Jesus, “What is truth?” (Jn 18:38) Indeed, my brothers and sisters, what is the truth? Is the truth what the world proclaims it to be? Is the truth what is political convenient at the time, and therefore depends on the circumstances and my company? Or as the relativists advocate, there is simply no such thing as the truth – that the truth is whatever each individual believes it to be. As a subject of the heavenly kingdom, have I courageously asserted that there is indeed absolute truth in moral and in faith – the truth of the heavenly kingdom? Have no doubt, proclaiming the kingdom of God often comes at a price. Let us reflect upon this for a moment. Like Pilate, I will face challenges in proclaiming the truth. Often proclaiming the truth will extract a personal price of me – be it alienation, ridicule, criticism or other forms of persecution. What do I do? Do I have the courage to make the morally correct decision; or do I take the easy way out like Pilate and then blame others for my bad decision?

St John observed in the Second Reading, “Look! He is coming with the clouds; every eye will see him, even those who pierced him” (verse 7). Indeed my brother and sisters, the day will come when the truth will be revealed to the world. Then, even those who persecuted the Lord will realise their errand ways. But it might be too late for some. The question is: what about me? Will it be too late for me? May our Lord bless us with wisdom and courage. Shalom.

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