We close the liturgical year with reminders of ‘end time’ and an emphasis on Christ as the supreme power in the universe, symbolised in the words of an earthly ‘kingship’. That traditional title, however, needs to be understood differently than kings/queens/emperors we know from history. Not so many countries now have kings. The few remaining kings mostly no power to rule, their role is more ceremonial. Christ, raised from human death and joined to the Father, has instead all the power of divinity in the universe and his reign is one of justice and mercy and will last forever. In the Old Testament Psalms, God was often called ‘King’ and the allusion here is that Jesus as Son of God has that power.
Another selection from the book of Daniel, which is presented as a vision or a visionary dream seeming to foretell the future. (See last week’s notes for an explanation of the style of apocalyptic.)
In the Aramaic in which this part of the book was originally written, the phrase bar ashi – son of man – was an idiom used to mean a human being. There is something mysterious about the human figure Daniel sees, but does not further identify at this point. Later it seems to have a collective sense, one standing for all the holy people of God. In the Synoptic gospels, especially in Mark, Jesus refers to himself as ‘the Son of Man’ – as in the gospel we heard last week of the End Times. The liturgy today uses it to see Jesus is the one honoured in the vision.
The ‘one of great age’ is a roundabout way of referring to God: to the Jews the only God, but in the words of Jesus, ‘Father’. ‘King’ as a human analogy stressing one with supreme power is meant to lead us toward a sense of the profound reality of Jesus’ place in the cosmos.
Psalm 92 (or 93):1-2, 5
Here the image of King is applied to Yahweh the sacred name for God, which is most often translated ‘Lord’ in English, following the custom of the Jews who did not speak the sacred name. The liturgy appropriates it for Jesus, whom the New Testament calls ‘the Lord.’
Apocalypse 1:5-8, a title in some Bibles translated as ‘Revelation’
This is the last book in our Bibles, and the only ‘apocalypse’ in the New Testament. The author names himself as ‘John’, but that was a common name of the time, and it is not necessarily John the son of Zebedee, who was one of the first disciples of Jesus. This book is written in such a different style and Greek grammar that it is also unlikely to be the person who wrote the Gospels and Letters of John. The Apocalypse is not written in good Greek style, and that may indicate a speaker of Aramaic with only a basic knowledge of the common language of the Roman empire at that time. As a whole, it is not easy reading, but our selection gives a good idea of some of the inspiring passages in this often strange book.
Jesus is named as ‘the ruler of kings’ suggesting supreme power, but the author takes the further step of saying that Jesus has made all his followers also kings and priests. The author refers to the image in Daniel of the ‘one coming on the clouds’, and applied it to Jesus. ‘Those who have pierced him’ would be those who put him to death, but ‘all the tribes of the earth’ who will mourn suggests the guilt of all those Jesus came to save. Alpha and omega are the first and last letters of the Greek alphabet, and thus symbolize totality, as today one may say ‘from A to Z’
This vision of the future is a fitting end to the liturgical year, pointing us toward eternity.
As the representative of the Roman emperor, Pilate had to be concerned with anyone who claimed to be a king trying to replace Caesar, and the gospels show the Jewish authorities who sought the death of Jesus gave a political twist to their charges for the Romans to act on. Our selection is one of the dramatic dialogues that the author of John does so well. In this gospel, those who come to question or attack Jesus usually find themselves questioned and challenged. For the full dialogue, read Jn 18:28-19:16. (John’s Passion account is read in full on Good Friday.)
Here Jesus takes a challenging line on what being a king means for himself. Pilate seems confused: if the ‘kingdom is not of this world’ does this mean he is still a real king? There are different ways we can interpret Jesus’ response, ‘You say that I am a king.’ It may show that Jesus continues to distinguish what he means by king. Or that he does neither agree nor argue with Pilate’s description but takes the discourse beyond that. What Jesus finds important to emphasize is not worldly power, but that he came to reveal the truth. The word ‘truth’ in John means not just being factually accurate, but rather the deepest reality. Earlier in the Gospel, Jesus has said, ‘I am the truth’ and this may be another way of stressing that.
Applied to today’s feast, we can see that celebrating Christ as King is not like accepting a political power. He is a ‘king’ who came to serve and give his life for us. Our allegiance to him is a grateful response to his love.
This is the last Sunday of Year B in the three-year cycle of Gospel selections. It focused the Gospel of Mark, although our selection today was from John, the Gospel which has no year of its own, but is read at various times in all three years. As I close off the notes for this year, I wish to acknowledge a long history of reading translations and commentaries on Mark, which have helped me in reaching my own conclusions. Among them are C.E.B Cranfield, who first introduced me to the Greek text, R.T. France, Morna Hooker, D.E. Nineham, Michael Mullins, Daniel J. Harrington, Nicholas King, Mary Healey, and most recently Rowan Williams’ short book Meeting God in Mark.
Next Sunday opens Year C and we read from the Gospel of St Luke.