Clash of the Kingdoms

We know what happens when kingdoms collide. There are inevitable consequences: chaos, stress, insecurity, and often there is destruction and death.
In the 4 years of the American Civil War, 618,000 soldiers from North and South died either on the battlefield, or as a result of battlefield wounds and disease. 8.5 million people died in World War I. In Russia, between the First and Second World Wars, Josef Stalin is ordered the deaths of 20 million of his own people. In World War II, 50 million people died, including the 12 million executed in Nazi death camps. In the Korean War, well over a million soldiers and hundreds of thousands of civilians died. More than 58,000 Americans and nearly 600,000 Viet Namese died in the Viet Nam war. And, in Iraq, we know that American military deaths exceeded 3,000, and we estimate that over 600,000 civilians have been killed in the process of their being “liberated” from Saddam Hussein.
Yes, we know what happens when kingdoms collide. The predictable result is death.
In this Gospel story—one portion of a larger story of Jesus appearing before Pontius Pilate—we are told of the collision of two kingdoms.
One of the kingdoms—the mighty Roman Empire—is represented by Pilate, who interrogates Jesus, “Are you the King of the Jews?”—or, more accurately, King of the Judeans. We read between the lines, and assume that the Jewish leaders who brought Jesus to Pilate are accusing Jesus of claiming to be a King. So Pilate, backed up by the enormous power of the Roman Empire, puts the question to Jesus—“Are you the King of the Judeans?”
And Jesus, although he doesn’t answer that question directly, does not deny being a king of some kind, “My kingdom is not from this world. If it were…my followers would be fighting….But as it is, my kingdom is not from here.” Notice that Jesus doesn’t say, “I have no kingdom.” No, he says, “My kingdom is not from here.”
So here we have it—the collision of two kingdoms: Pilate, representative of earthly empire, and Jesus, king of some other kind of realm. And we know what will happen: there will be consequences..
In fact, we’re about to come to the critical point in the story: Jesus will die. Pilate, backed Rome’s power, will win—and Jesus will die. Jesus will be sentenced to death, tortured, and killed in a horrible way—by crucifixion.
In his conversation with Pilate, Jesus talks about “truth,” and Pilate sneers, “What is truth?” And then he gives his own answer: truth belongs to the one who can destroy the other. The truth is, as they say, “the one who has the most toys, wins.” In Pilate’s view of the world, “truth” belongs to the ones with political and military power.
But Pilate doesn’t really know who he’s contending with here. He hasn’t caught on to the source of the power of Jesus. “I came to bear witness to the truth,” Jesus had said. And earlier, Jesus had said, “I am the Way, and the Truth, and the Life.” If Jesus is right, then Pilate is looking Truth right in the face and doesn’t even know it when he asks Jesus, “And what is truth?”
Jesus is about to show Pilate—and all the world, all those who are on the side of Pilate—that truth is expressed not through raw power and military might and violence. Truth is expressed in sacrificial love. That is the ultimate power in the universe.
History, as we noted, is full of reminders about the typical outcome when kingdoms collide. But history is also full of lessons about the power of the human spirit, the power of God, to change lives and change the course of history.
Mahatma Gandhi led a non-violent struggle which resulted in India’s independence from Great Britain. He had no physical weapons. What he did possess, however, were weapons of the spirit: the willingness to sacrifice, the determination that his cause was just, and the support of millions of India’s poorest people, all of them unarmed and dedicated to the proposition that non-violence was the only solution.
Dr. Martin Luther King, armed with similar spiritual weapons, led the civil rights movement in this country which won equality under the law for millions of people of color in America.
Mother Teresa, filled with nothing but the love of Christ, touched the lives of millions for the better by touching and caring for the poorest of the poor as they were dying.
All of these people stood for Truth—the truth of God, the truth that love is stronger than political and military might.
Certainly that is one lesson of the end of the story of the historical Jesus, because his story doesn’t end with his death. The belief in his resurrection, from the earliest years down to the present time, continues to make him a subject of discussion and reflection. Faith in him continues to change lives. Pilate, on the other hand, is long gone and largely forgotten—except for his role in the story of Jesus.
That is because love always wins. Life is stronger than death, and life always has the last word in the Reign of God. Usually, when kingdoms collide, the result is destruction, disintegration and death. But in the Kingdom of God, all is well, all is whole and holy and integrated and peaceful. Life triumphs.
On this Christ the King Sunday, when our attention is focused on the final consummation of the world, when our faith is once again stirred to embrace this revolutionary concept that God always wins, that God always triumphs, we also turn our attention inward to our own situation.
This congregation has endured perhaps the most challenging of all the years of its existence. I wasn’t even serving as your pastor during the worst of it, but I was certainly aware of your pain, your frustration, your anger in some cases, and ultimately, the deep hurt and disappointment you felt individually and collectively. As some of you know, I did what I could behind the scenes to assist you. And through it all, you have all been in my prayers because I believed then, as I do now, that the Truth of God’s Reign will always triumph, and the cries of the poor are always heard.
We have come through the storm together, and we wonder now what the future will look like. Nothing in our past history has given us a clue as to what that future might look like. At one point we thought we were making the right decision for this community, based on our own ideas of what the future ought to look like. Today, on the celebration of the Triumph of the Reign of God, we want to be filled with the presence and power of the Spirit of Jesus. We want to embrace the fullness of the Kingdom of God, we want to receive and live the Truth of our calling, we want to be open to whatever God is calling us to do next.
But here is the reality: we are still living in this world, which means we are not completely in harmony with the Kingdom of God. The writer of John’s Gospel makes it clear that it’s not Jesus who is on trial, it’s Pilate. He also makes it clear that he wants us to put ourselves in this scene in place of Pilate. We are on trial. We are being asked, “What is truth?” Is truth what our own dreams and ego and prejudices and expectations say it is? Is our chalice so full of other stuff that we can’t possibly receive the blessings God is waiting to give us?
The same clash of kingdoms that occurred between Jesus and Pilate is still going on within ourselves. We acknowledge God and we know He has a plan for us. But we resist because we have our own idea of what God’s will should look like. We’re so full of our own ideas and dreams and fantasies, that we miss the opportunity for grace and for being filled up with the presence of the Living God.
Right now, at this very moment, God is trying to fill us with wisdom, and insight, and a clearer view. In order to receive these things, we need to empty ourselves of those things that are unworthy of our call. So I invite you right now to locate that small piece of tissue paper that was stuffed into your bulletins. And as I sing this song, I ask only that you close your eyes and listen to what God is asking you to surrender. Maybe you have feelings of anger and resentment; perhaps you have fear of what the future holds. Perhaps you are clinging to judgment and blame and withholding forgiveness from someone. Whatever it might be, I invite you to close your eyes, reflect, and try to put a name on those things, and then give them to God, so that you might empty yourself completely.


About frmichelrcc

I have a degree in religious studies from the University of Wisconsin, did graduate work in theology at St. Norbert College, De Pere, Wisconsin, and also at St. Paul's University in Ottawa. I have been a Benedictine since I first professed as an oblate in 1982, making final profession in 2009. I have worked as vocations director in a large diocese in the mid-west and am a spiritual director in the Benedictine tradition. I have 3 sons, one of whom is now in God's loving embrace in eternity, and 2 grandsons, Bradley and Jacob.
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