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A Good Friday reflection on John 18, 33-37: “My kingdom does not belong to this world”

2 April 2021 06:44 am - 0     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

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  • The kingship of the Jews is not a political one but a religious one. God is the King of Israel: “The LORD shall reign forever and ever”
  • The Christians suffering in Jesus’ name as martyrs of charity will definitively be saved


Text: John 18,33-37

So Pilate went back into the praetorium and summoned Jesus and said to him, “Are you the King of the Jews?” Jesus answered, “Do you say this on your own or have others told you about me?” Pilate answered, “I am not a Jew, am I? Your own nation and the chief priests handed you over to me. What have you done?” Jesus answered, “My kingdom does not belong to this world. If my kingdom did belong to this world, my attendants (would) be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Jews. But as it is, my kingdom is not here.” So Pilate said to him, “Then you are a king?” Jesus answered, “You say I am a king. For this I was born and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.”  

Exegesis of the Text:

Bust of Domitian in the Musée du Louvre, Paris

John 18,33-37 constitutes a part of John’s dramatic account of Jesus’ trial before Pilate. The account is presented in the form of a dialogue. The dialogue begins with “Are you the King of the Jews?” Hence Pilate knows the allegations against Jesus, before He is brought to him.   
Of all the allegations, Pilate is interested only in political charge,lese majeste against Rome. Jesus in the midst of the dialogue carefully explains His kingship. It has to be explained as Gentiles like Pilate understood kingship of the Jews only politically.   


The kingship of the Jews is not a political one but a religious one. God is the King of Israel: “The LORD shall reign forever and ever” (Exodus 15,18); “Indeed the LORD will be there with us, majestic; yes, the LORD our judge, the LORD our lawgiver, the LORD our king, he it is who will save us” (Isaiah 33,22); “For the LORD is the great God, the great king over all gods” (Psalm 95,3). 


Jesus, against this background, explains to Pilate that His kingdom is not a worldly political one. He is the King of the universe in ‘religious sense.’  
Jesus not only explains His religious kingship but He exhibits His kingship in various ways:  
i. Jesus dominates the scene. Pilate interrogates but Jesus turns the question to His purposes. Hence it is Pilate who is eventually interrogated.   


ii. Jesus’ answer, “You say I am a king”, is a reluctant affirmative of His kingship.   

Locus in quo apprehendit Pilatus Jesum et flagellavit. The place in which Pilate arrested Jesus and scourged Him


iii. Jesus is inside the praetorium, the residence of the Roman governor, whereas Pilate shuttles between the Jews outside and Jesus inside, “So Pilate went back into the praetorium.” Pilate fails to listen and belong to the truth and so he is indecisive and judged. Thus it is Pilate’s trial before Jesus the Judge and King. Pilate is on trial; he is judged.   
Therefore, we can firmly say that Jesus hails as the King in this dialogue. 

Contextualization:

Our Lord Jesus Christ is the King of the universe. He is a liberating king. He saves His faithful people. Through His death, He has made Christians into a kingdom that acknowledges God’s rule in their lives.  
Jesus as the liberating Son of Man or “ruler of the kings of the earth” or King who testifies to the truth had had special significance to the early Christian communities of 1 c. AD like those of John and Revelation under religious persecution of Rome.  

 

Fr. Giuseppe Berardelli, a martyr of charity, who sacrificed his ventilator to salvage a younger patient

 In Revelation 1,7 it is Jesus who is coming in clouds, “Behold, he is coming amid the clouds …” He is also presented as “faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead and ruler of the kings of the earth” and saviour, “and from Jesus Christ, the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead and ruler of the kings of the earth. To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood” (1,5).  


Now we must ask ‘what does this portrait of Jesus mean to the Christian community of Revelation?’ Revelation is written at a time of Roman persecution of Christians in Asia Minor. The Roman Emperor Domitian (81-96 AD) demanded emperor worship: that everyone should render him divine homage under the title, ‘Dominus et deus noster.’   
Under these terrible circumstances, this Figure of Jesus brings hope to the persecuted Christians cooling down their fears, inculcating patient endurance and exhorting fidelity. Persecution and suffering are necessary. At the climax of human history, Jesus will come.   


Jesus will come amid clouds that indicate God’s presence: “Having come down in a cloud, the LORD stood with him there and proclaimed his name, “LORD” (Exodus 34,5). He also comes as the “ruler of the kings of the earth” –

The Pilate Stone, discovered in Caesarea Maritima, which reads in Latin ‘(Dis Augusti)s Tiberieum (Ponti)us Pilatus (Praef) ectus Juda(ea)e (fecit d)e(dicavit)’, to mean ‘To the Divine Augusti (this) Tiberieum Pontius Plate Prefect of Judea has dedicated (this)

i.e. with all power over all creation and dominion over the kings who threaten the church (19,16 “King of kings and Lord of lords” ). This, for sure, ought to strengthen the confidence of the Christians.   
Jesus as the liberating Son of Man or “ruler of the kings of the earth” or King who testifies to the truth has special significance to today’s believing community as well.   


Especially those who suffer for the Gospel as priests visiting the sick, health workers, food and medicine distributors, security personnel and ‘the desperate’ due to the outbreak of this deadly pandemic – that is “those who have not yet experienced the hopeful side of the Gospel promises” (P. V. LINDEN, “Mark”, CBC.NT, 390) – in their suffering are encouraged and lifted up by this hopeful, promising vision and are enlightened by its consoling light. The present sufferings, caused by infection, social distancing and months of lockdown, will yield to final victory. The Christians suffering in Jesus’ name as martyrs of charity will definitively be saved. We would find meaning and strength on our faith odyssey of living the Gospel at a time when the bell tolls for the world and would surely be revitalised with this vision.   

Fr. Don Anton Saman Hettiarachchi
St. Anthony’s Church
Mount Lavinia

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