King of Truth and Love
Archbishop Francesco Follo
Dn 7, 13-14; Ps 93; Rev 1, 5-8; Jn 18, 33b-37
A King crowned with thorns, a witness (martyr) of the truth of love.
On this last Sunday of the liturgical year we are invited to celebrate Christ the King of a “kingdom of truth and life, a kingdom of holiness and grace, a kingdom of justice, love and peace” (Preface of the Mass of Christ the King). To Pilate, who asked him if he was a king, Jesus replied that the royalty claimed by him is not political, but completely different. It is a royalty of truth and love, which is exercised as a witness to the truth and not as an imposition of a domain. In fact, in today’s Gospel Jesus concludes: “I am the king, for this I was born and for this I came into the world to bear witness to the truth” (Jn 18, 37). I think that it is fair to say that in his reply to Pilate Christ not only speaks about what truth is, but answers to the question “Who is the truth?”.
The kingship of Christ reveals Him who is the Truth of love of which he is a witness, namely a martyr.
In his brief and intense dialogue with Pilate, Jesus also says another important thing: “Everyone who is of the truth hears my voice.” In order to understand the kingship of Jesus and become his subjects in his kingdom, which is a kingdom of the other world but not a kingdom of the dead, it is necessary to have chosen truth. It is a kingdom of the other world because there the power of love will “reign”. It is a king who does not condemn to death his fragile subjects but gives his life so that they may have life.
There are people who are “on the side of the truth” and others that instead are “on the side of falsehood.” It is not simply a matter of lies but a basic attitude, a choice of values. In the narration of the trial these two opposing possibilities are embodied by two characters facing each other: Jesus and Pilate.
On the one hand Jesus, who is the Truth, gives himself fully in the hands of the Father without hesitating to give his life. On the other hand there is Pilate who instead represents a political power that serves the truth but not beyond a certain price. A power that believes to have more important values to save. Three times Pilate recognizes the innocence of Jesus and declares it publicly, and three times he tries to save him. However at the end he condemns him to the cross.
This Prosecutor of the human kingdom sentences to death an innocent and denies justice and truth to save himself.
Christ, however, is a king who does not kill anyone, on the contrary he dies for everyone. He does not spill the blood of anyone, He sheds his blood for all. He does not sacrifice anyone, he sacrifices himself for his servants that he calls friends. The Redeemer manifests the truth of God who is Father and the Father is the one who gives life and freedom to his children, not the one who takes away life and freedom from his children.
Christ the King “uses” power according with truth, according with justice, namely according with the truth of love. It is a power exercised by the Savior who takes a cross as throne and thorns as crown. It is the same power of humble love that at the Last Supper had driven Jesus to exercise his kingship by washing the feet of the apostles. Jesus is a chief and a king who really puts himself at the service of his subjects. A king who knows how to give bread instead of taking it, who knows how to give life rather than taking it, who knows how to free form the law instead of imposing it.
A special subject: the good thief.
One man that understood the truth of Jesus was the good thief who, hanging on the cross next to Christ, asked “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom” (Lk 23, 42). In response the King on the cross said to him “Today you will be with me in paradise” (Luke 23:43). For this thief the way of the cross became, infallibly, the way to heaven, the way of truth and life and the way of the kingdom.
Let’s make ours the openness of heart and the prayer of this thug whom the Christian tradition calls “the good thief”. Although he was on the cross, this wrongdoer had a heart and an intelligence of such an openness that he has been able to recognize a dying man as a King. He has been able to seize the kingship of Christ that manifested himself on a paradoxical throne, the Cross, so to ask “Remember me in your kingdom”. He recognized this kingdom to be a real, happy and everlasting one. The closeness to Christ is not enough, because in the moment of passion others were close, but they despised and blasphemed him. The good-hearted thief, animated by a holy desire, asked salvation and he was the first to enter with Christ into heaven.
Let each of us pray “Jesus, remember me, remember my fellow human beings to whom I want to give daily the bread of your true and living Gospel”. If we persevere in the prayer “Thy kingdom come”, we will see Christ’s promise come true. If we are firmly beside him letting us be drawn by Him on the cross, we will become like Him witnesses (= martyrs) of Truth.
In addition to the way of the good thief, there is another way to stand beside Christ, King of the Cross, and this is the one of the Virgin Mary, who was so associated in the kingship of Christ that we rightly sing in the sacred liturgy “Holy Mary, Queen of heaven and mistress of the world, stricken with grief, stood by the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ “(Feast of Our Lady of Sorrows). Francis Suarez wrote” Like Christ, who for the particular title of the redemption, is our lord and king, so the Blessed Virgin (is Our Lady) for the singular participation to our redemption, by giving her being and offering it to us voluntarily wishing, wondering and funding in a unique way our salvation “(De mysteriis vitae Christi, disp. XXII, sect. II and. Vives, XIX, 327).
Even the consecrated Virgins in the world are called to participate in the kingship of Christ and of the Virgin Mary, giving their testimony to the truth of Love.
The character of martyrdom (= witness) is also rightly attributed to virginity. Virginity is indeed considered a form of martyrdom, being a life totally given to Christ, Bridegroom and King. As a result, a royal dignity is recognized to virginity and virginity is crowned by her groom, the king of the universe. For this reason, during the Rite of Consecration, a veil that has the meaning of a royal crown is placed on the head of the virgin.
It is true that the first meaning of the veil is to indicate that the consecrated virgin is the bride only of Christ subtracted from the eyes of men to be always under the gaze of God and to please him for the purity and the intensity of love. But it is equally true that the veil is a sign of consecration to Christ and consequently it is a sign of a high nobility, that of the bride of Christ the King. Could there be a higher dignity for a woman? I think not, but the veil keeps her in humility.
Veiled, but present- like the Virgin Mary – the woman is totally dedicated to the Lord in prayer. The virgin is not a disembodied and indifferent being, distant from ordinary people, but a woman able to give love and a gift unselfish, chaste, universal, and free because virginal. This is the mystical meaning of the veil on the head of the consecrated women, hidden in the world to be in the heart of the world and bring all people in the heart of Christ, the only spouse of the Church.
 The solemnity of Christ the King was instituted by Pope Pius XI on December 11, 1925 with the encyclical Quas Primas. It is, therefore, a relatively recent liturgical feast. However the idea of royalty attributed to Christ is already in the Holy Scriptures, in the Fathers of the Church, in the theologians, and even in the sacred and in the common sense of the faithful who all agree on this royalty. When asked “What is this kingship of Christ?” the Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI said “It is not that of the kings and of the great of this world; it is the divine power to give eternal life, to liberate from evil, to defeat the dominion of death. It is the power of Love that can draw good from evil, soften a hardened heart, bring peace to the bitterest conflict, turn the thickest darkness into hope. This Kingdom of Grace is never imposed and always respects our freedom. ” (Address at the Angelus, November 22, 2009)
 As I mentioned several times the Greek word martyr means witness. We should keep in mind that in the language of St. John “truth” is the truth of God, his love for man, for every man.
Saint Augustine of Hyppo
On Jn 18,33-40.
1). What Pilate said to Christ, or what He replied to Pilate, has to be considered and handled in the present discourse. For after the words had been addressed to the Jews, “Take ye him, and judge him according to your law,” and the Jews had replied, “It is not lawful for us to put any man to death, Pilate entered again into the judgment hall, and called Jesus, and said unto Him, Art thou the King of the Jews? And Jesus answered, Sayest thou this thing of thyself, or did others tell it thee of me?” The Lord indeed knew both what He Himself asked, and what reply the other was to give; but yet He wished it to be spoken, not for the sake of information to Himself, but that what He wished us to know might be recorded in Scripture. “Pilate answered, Am I a Jew? Thine own nation, and the chief priests, have delivered thee unto me: what hast thou done? Jesus answered, My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, then would my servants fight, that I should not be delivered to the Jews: but now is my kingdom not from hence.” This is what the good Master wished us to know; but first there had to be shown us the vain notion that men had regarding His kingdom, whether Gentiles or Jews, from whom Pilate had heard it; as if He ought to have been punished with death on the ground of aspiring to an unlawful kingdom; or as those in the possession of royal power usually manifest their ill-will to such as are yet to attain it, as if, for example, precautions were to be used lest His kingdom should prove adverse either to the Romans or to the Jews. But the Lord was able to reply to the first question of the governor, when he asked Him, “Art thou the King of the Jews?” with the words, “My kingdom is not of this world,” etc.; but by questioning him in turn, whether he said this thing of himself, or heard it from others, He wished by his answer to show that He had been charged with this as a crime before him by the Jews: laying open to us the thoughts of men, which were all known to Himself, that they are but vain;1 and now, after Pilate’s answer, giving them, both Jews and Gentiles, all the more reasonable and fitting a reply, “My kingdom is not of this world.” But had He made an immediate answer to Pilate’s question, His reply would have appeared to refer to the Gentiles only, without including the Jews, as entertaining such an opinion regarding Him. But now when Pilate replied, “Am I a Jew? Thine own nation, and the chief priests, have delivered thee to me;” he removed from himself the suspicion of being possibly supposed to have spoken of his own accord, in saying that Jesus was the king of the Jews, by showing that such a statement had been communicated to him by the Jews. And then by saying, “What hast thou done?” he made it sufficiently clear that this was charged against Him as a crime: as if he had said, If thou deniest such kingly claims, what hast thou done to cause thy being delivered unto me? As if there would be no ground for wonder that one should be delivered up to a judge for punishment, who proclaimed himself a king; but if no such assertion were made, it became needful to inquire of Him, what else, if anything, He had done, that He should thus deserve to be delivered unto the judge.
2. Hear then, ye Jews and Gentiles; hear, O circumcision; hear, O uncircumcision; hear, all ye kingdoms of the earth: I interfere not with your government in this world, “My kingdom is not of this world.” Cherish ye not the utterly vain terror that threw Herod the elder into consternation when the birth of Christ was announced, and led him to the murder of so many infants in the hope of including Christ in the fatal number,2 made more cruel by his fear than by his anger: “My kingdom,” He said, “is not of this world.” What would you more? Come to the kingdom that is not of this world; come, believing, and fall not into the madness of anger through fear. He says, indeed, prophetically of God the Father, “Yet have I been appointed king by Him upon His holy hill of Zion;”3 but that hill of Zion is not of this world. For what is His kingdom, save those who believe in Him, to whom He says, “Ye are not of the world, even as I am not of the world”? And yet He wished them to be in the world: on that very account saying of them to the Father, “I pray not that Thou shouldest take them out of the world, but that Thou shouldest keep them from the evil.”4 Hence also He says not here, “My kingdom is not” in this world; but, “is not of this world.” And when He proved this by saying, “If my kingdom were of this world, then would my servants fight, that I should not be delivered to the Jews,” He saith not, “But now is my kingdom not” here, but, “is not from hence.” For His kingdom is here until the end of the world, having tares intermingled therewith until the harvest; for the harvest is the end of the world, when the reapers, that is to say, the angels, shall come and gather out of His kingdom everything that offendeth;5 which certainly would not be done, were it not that His kingdom is here. But still it is not from hence; for it only sojourns as a stranger in the world: because He says to His kingdom, “Ye are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world.”6 They were therefore of the world, so long as they were not His kingdom, but belonged to the prince of this world. Of the world therefore are all mankind, created indeed by the true God, but generated from Adam as a vitiated and condemned stock; and there are made into a kingdom no longer of the world, all from thence that have been regenerated in Christ. For so did God rescue us from the power of darkness, and translate us into the kingdom of the Son of His love:7 and of this kingdom it is that He saith, “My kingdom is not of this world;” or, “My kingdom is not from hence.”
3. “Pilate therefore said unto Him, Art thou a king then? Jesus answered, Thou sayest that I am a king.” Not that He was afraid to confess Himself a king, but “Thou sayest” has been so balanced that He neither denies Himself to be a king (for He is a king whose kingdom is not of this world), nor does He confess that He is such a king as to warrant the supposition that His kingdom is of this world. For as this was the very idea in Pilate’s mind when he said, ’“Art thou a king then?” so the answer he got was, “Thou sayest that I am a king.” For it was said, “Thou sayest,” as if it had been said, Carnal thyself, thou sayest it carnally.
4. Thereafter He adds, “To this end was I born, and for this cause came I into the world, that I should bear witness unto the truth.” * *8 Whence it is evident that He here referred to His own temporal nativity, when by becoming incarnate He came into the world, and not to that which had no beginning, whereby He was God through whom the Father created the world. For this, then, that is, on this account, He declared that He was born, and to this end He came into the world, to wit, by being born of the Virgin, that He might bear witness unto the truth. But because all men have not faith,9 He still further said, “Every one that is of the truth heareth my voice.” He heareth, that is to say, with the ears of the inward man, or, in other words, He obeyeth my voice, which is equivalent to saying, He believeth me. When Christ, therefore, beareth witness unto the truth, He beareth witness, of course, unto Himself; for from His own lips are the words, “I am the truth;”10 as He said also in another place, “I bear witness of myself.”11 But when He said, “Every one that is of the truth heareth my voice,” He commendeth the grace whereby He calleth according to His own purpose. Of which purpose the apostle says, “We know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to those who are called according to the purpose of God,”12 to wit, the purpose of Him that calleth, not of those who are called; which is put still. more clearly in another place in this way, “Labor together in the gospel according to the power of God, who saveth us and calleth us with His holy calling, not according to our works, but according to His own purpose and grace.”13 For if our thoughts turn to the nature wherein we have been created, inasmuch as we were all created by the Truth, who is there that is not of the truth? But it is not all to whom it is given of the truth to hear, that is, to obey the truth, and to believe in the truth; while in no case certainly is there any preceding of merit, lest grace should cease to be grace. For had He said, Every one that heareth my voice is of the truth, then it would be supposed that he was declared to be of the truth because he conforms to the truth; it is not this, however, that He says, but, “Every one that is of the truth heareth my voice.” And in this way he is not of the truth simply because he heareth His voice; but only on this account he heareth, because he is of the truth, that is, because this is a gift bestowed on him of the truth. And what else is this, but that by Christ’s gracious bestowal he believeth on Christ?
5. “Pilate said unto Him, What is truth?” Nor did he wait to hear the answer; but “when he had said this, he went out again unto the Jews, and said unto them, I find in him no fault. But ye have a custom that I should release unto you one at the passover: will ye therefore that I release unto you the King of the Jews?” I believe when Pilate said, “What is truth?” there immediately occurred to his mind the custom of the Jews, according to which he was wont to release unto them one at the passover; and therefore he did not wait to hear Jesus’ answer to his question, What is truth? to avoid delay on recollecting the custom whereby He might be released unto them during the passover-a thing which it is clear he greatly desired. It could not, however, be torn from his heart that Jesus was the King of the Jews, but was fixed there, as in the superscription, by the truth itself, whereof he had just inquired what it was. “But on hearing this, they all cried again, saying, Not this man, but Barabbas. Now Barabbas was a robber.” We blame you not, O jews, for liberating the guilty during the passover, but for slaying the innocent; and yet unless that were done, the true passover would not take place. But a shadowy of the truth was retained by the erring Jews, and by a marvellous dispensation of divine wisdom the truth of that same shadow was fulfilled by deluded men; because in order that the true passover might be kept, Christ was led as a sheep to the sacrificial slaughter. Hence there follows the account of the injurious treatment received by Christ at the hands of Pilate and his cohort; but this must be taken up in another discourse.
1 (Ps 94,11,
2 (Mt 2,3 Mt 2,16.
3 (Ps 2,6).
4 Chap. 17,16, 15.
5 (Mt 13,38-41.
6 Chap. 15,19.
7 (Col 1,13,
8 The verse quoted reads in Latin, “Ego in hoc natus sum, et ad hoc veni,” etc.; and in reference to the words, in hoc, Augustin goes on to say, in the passage marked * * . “We are not to lengthen the syllable [vowel] of this pronoun when He says, In hoc natus sum, as if He meant to say, In this thing was I born; but to shorten it, as if He had said, Ad hanc rem natus sum, vel ad hoc natus sum (for this thing was I born), just as He says, Ad hoc veni in mundum (for this came I into the world). For in the Greek Gospel there is no ambiguity in this expression,” the Greek having eij” tou`to. This passage is interesting only to Latin scholars, as showing that in ordinary parlance they marked, in Augustin’s time, the distinction between hoc of the abl. and hoc of the nom. or acc.-Tr.
9 (2Th 3,2,
10 Chap. 14,6.
11 Chap. 8,18.
12 (Rm 8,28,
13 (2Tm 1,8-9,