Saturday, November 21, 2015

"Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice"

Readings: Dan 7:13-14; Ps 93:1-2.5; Rev 1:5-8; John 18:33b-37

To many non-Christians and perhaps even to a growing number of Christians, especially Christians in the United States, the passage from St John's Gospel proclaimed to the assembly this Sunday might seem utterly odd and out-of-tune with today's solemnity.

When pressed by the Roman prefect to divulge whether He thought Himself a king, Jesus told him the Truth: "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" (John 18:36). When our blessed Lord was finished replying to the proud prefect's demanding question, Pilate retorted, "What is truth?" What I find interesting in this passage is the last sentence: "Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice." Keep in mind that by that point in our Lord's Passion all His followers had bailed on Him, most of them beating feet as fast as they could for fear of being apprehended, tried, and violently executed.

Might one surmise that if Jesus' kingdom was of this world, His followers would've sought to establish it by means of violence, defending our Lord with the sword with His approval? I think this a fair observation, especially when one considers that earlier in this same chapter when Simon Peter cut-off Malchus' ear, likely not with a sword, but with something more akin to a dagger, the Lord reprimanded him, saying- "Put your sword into its scabbard. Shall I not drink the cup that the Father gave me" (John 18:10).

In our reading from the Apocalypse (i.e., Revelation- "apocalypse" means "unveiling") we hear these words about our Lord's return in glory and triumph: "Behold, he is coming amid the clouds, and every eye will see him, even those who pierced him. All the peoples of the earth will lament him. Yes. Amen" (Rev 1:7). I think it is not too much to say in light of this passage that we are undone, so to speak, by our own violence.

In light of the violent attacks conducted by groups who adhere to a perverted version of Islam, even as I am mindful of the profound differences between Islam and Christianity, especially when it comes to mercy and forgiveness, I think the message of today's solemnity as set forth by the Church in our Scripture readings is particularly relevant. Let us call to mind our recently martyred brothers and sisters, who were butchered by violent men who are clearly in the grips of the true enemy of humanity. We can be certain that these witnesses, even now, are subjects in the eternal kingdom of the One whose kingdom is not of this fallen, violent world. "Your saints, O Lord, will tell of the glory of your kingdom," so goes the responsory for Morning Prayer for today's solemnity.

St Paul noted, "our struggle is not with flesh and blood but with the principalities, with the powers, with the world rulers of this present darkness, with the evil spirits in the heavens" (Eph 6:12). Our Lord Himself said, "do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; rather, be afraid of the one who can destroy both soul and body in Gehenna" (Matt 10:28). Perhaps this is why our Lord reprimanded Peter for his violent strike against Malchus, the high priest's slave, who was one of those who came to lay violent hands on the King of kings, the One who came end violence.

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