|Date:||November 20-21, 2021 Feast of Christ the King - Cycle B|
The late Fiorella LaGuardia, 3 term mayor of NY would sometimes take advantage of a NYC law that allowed the mayor to sit as judge in NYC courts. An apocryphal story is told about him showing up at night court in one of the poorest areas of the city one cold January night, and replacing the sitting judge. One of the first cases brought to him was a poor widow who was charged with stealing a loaf of bread. She told LaGuardia that her daughter's husband had abandoned her and her two children. And now her daughter was sick and the widow's two grandchildren were starving. The shopkeeper refused to drop the charges, saying, "It's a real bad neighborhood Your Honor. If she gets off other people will think they can steal from me too!"
LaGuardia turned to the widow and said, "I have to punish you; the law makes no exceptions. I sentence you to a $10 fine or 10 days in jail." But even as he pronounced the sentence, he pulled a ten dollar bill from his pocket, threw it into his famous hat and said, "Here is the fine which I now remit. Furthermore I am fining everyone in this courtroom fifty cents for living in a town where a widow has to steal bread so her grandchildren can eat. Mr Bailiff, collect the fines and give them to the defendant." The following day, the NYC newspapers reported that the poor widow was handed $47.50. Fifty cents was contributed by the shopkeeper while more than 80 petty criminals, people with traffic violations, and NYC policemen had each paid $.50 for the privilege of giving the mayor a standing ovation.
We have been hearing about a number of trials and court scenes these past weeks; none as heartwarming as the Mayor LaGuardia story. Today's Gospel passage is also quite a different trial scene. It really is hard for us Americans in the 21st century to understand this feast of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe, because this notion of king is very foreign to us. Through most of history, kings ruled with absolute power; they could order someone killed or spared without any reason whatsoever. The king's subjects were pretty much owned by the king; he could do with them whatever he chose.
And while Pilate was not a king, he ruled with the power of the Roman Emperor and no doubt had encountered kings or other rulers. Pilate was known to be a cruel ruler. Yet he is confused and not a little scared by this very different king who stands before him, captured and bound but without a trace of the fear or deference he was used to. When Jesus says his kingdom does not belong to this world, he is not saying that he only rules in heaven or that he doesn't have any power here on earth. He means that his kingdom is unlike any that belong to this world. His kingdom is not built on power but on truth. And of course, Jesus is Truth itself. The whole reason for his incarnation, forbecoming human, is to testify to that Truth. The next verses in John's Gospel tell us that Pilate asks Jesus, "what is truth?" and then tries to release Jesus because the Jewish leaders tell Pilate that Jesus claimed to be the Son of God. Pilate is clearly afraid of this King unlike any he has ever met.
A strange trial scene indeed. But one that should give us hope and comfort about a trial that each one of us will face one day.
Take a few seconds and imagine the scene, if you will, when you die and stand before God to hear his judgment of you. I suspect that most of you pictured a court scene similar to many we have seen on TV or in the movies. We stand as defendants before God as the judge, and wait to hear God's judgment as to whether our life merits heaven or banishment to hell. Theologian John Theil1 imagines this trial very differently, and I suggest much more accurately based on Jesus' response to Pilate that everyone who belongs to the truth listens to His voice.
Professor Theil puts it this way: Imagine that you are standing before God waiting for his judgment. But his judgment is not a sentence to heaven or hell but rather a judgment on what your life has actually been, on the one hand, and on the other, who you have the capacity to be, who you truly were created to be. And by fully accepting both aspects of that judgment, you become fully who God created you to be. By listening to the voice of God's truth, you fully enter into that truth, and fully belong to God.
Let us each pray to Jesus who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life, that through the Holy Spirit we may know What is Truth, or more correctly, Who is Truth. Then we can truly say that Our Lord Jesus Christ is our King.
1Icons of Hope: The "Last Things" in Catholic Imagination, John Theil