John 18:33-37 - Jesus is questioned by Pilate about the charge brought against him that he is “King of the Jews.”
Background on the Gospel Reading
This Sunday is the last Sunday of the Church’s liturgical year. On this Sunday we celebrate the Solemnity of Christ the King. Each year we set aside this Sunday to reflect upon this title that we have given to Jesus. In Lectionary Cycle C, we read a portion of the passion from the Gospel of John, which is also part of the Gospel reading proclaimed each year on Good Friday.
In John’s Gospel, Pilate is shown in a more favorable light than in the other Gospels. In today’s reading, we hear one of two dialogues between Jesus and Pilate that are reported in John’s Gospel. Pilate questions Jesus about the charges brought against him. Caiaphas and the high priests have charged Jesus with a political crime, one that would require a punishment of death. Pilate distances himself from the Jewish leaders who accuse Jesus; he is not a Jew, and he seems to want little to do with this Jewish affair.
In his responses to Pilate’s questions, Jesus distinguishes his kingdom from the political powers of this world. King and kingdom may be appropriate terms for Jesus’ mission and promise, but only by analogy. Jesus is king, but not the kind of king we imagine or expect. He was certainly not the kind of king Pilate feared he might be.
Jesus refers to a kingdom that does not belong to this world. This has been mentioned earlier in John’s Gospel. Recall that in his prayer during the Last Supper discourse (see John 17:6-18), Jesus prayed for his disciples who are in the world but do not belong to the world. Yet like Jesus, they are sent into the world for the world’s salvation. In today’s reading, we see Jesus identify the final proof that his kingdom is not of this world: If his kingdom were of this world, then there would be people fighting to save him. Again we hear echoes of John’s theme—salvation is worked out through a cosmic battle. It is helpful to return to the first chapter of John’s Gospel to understand the context for Jesus’ words to Pilate. Jesus came into the world, but the world did not know him. In John’s language, the world prefers the darkness, and yet the light will not be overcome by the darkness.
Truth has been another important theme in John’s Gospel. We see it emphasized in the conclusion of the dialogue between Jesus and Pilate. Those who know the truth will recognize Jesus as king and will know how to interpret this insight. Yet Jesus’ kingship was hidden from many of his contemporaries. Only those chosen, those who have the eyes of faith, are able to see. As modern disciples of Jesus, we also struggle at times to recognize Jesus as king. Today’s Gospel invites us to see with eyes of faith that we might recognize that Jesus, through his crucifixion and death, is indeed king and Savior of all.
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