Homily of 30th Mach 2018
Isaiah 52:13 – 53:12; Hebrews 4:14-16 + 5:7-9; John 18:1 – 19:42
You say that 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.
For Jesus, as for St. John who is telling the story, these words sum up the meaning of the narrative of the passion, death and burial. They tell us that Jesus is a King and what his Kingship is all about, the very question we have been using as our guide this Holy Week. Have you ever noticed how for Matthew, Mark and Luke, Jesus is mostly a passive player in the passion narrative? For John, however, Jesus is the actor rather than the one acted upon. The whole narrative is couched in kingly terms and is meant to show Jesus as King from start to finish. The soldiers and crowd who come to arrest Jesus in the garden fall back at the words of Jesus declaring that he is the one they seek. Jesus stands his ground before the slap in Annas’ house. It is obvious that Pilate does not live on the same level as Jesus. It is Jesus who sits on the judgment seat, not Pilate. In John, Jesus carries his own cross and the inscription on it simply declares, “The King of the Jews.” Jesus’ last words are not a cry of anguish as for the Synoptics, but a cry of completion, a cry of victory. “It is finished.” It is fulfilled, it is accomplished, made whole. And it is only in John that we are told that Jesus keeps the marks of the nails and the spear after his rising. The great vision of John’s Book of Revelation shows Jesus as :the Lamb standing as it were slain.” Jesus is King who reigns from the Cross.
That is why the words of Jesus before Pilate are so important. They indicate the type of king Jesus is. Jesus’ Kingship is not one of domination and power. On Passion/Palm Sunday we saw Jesus’ Kingship as based on humility: humbleness in his choice of a throne (the cross – which is so prominent once again in the Gospel we have just heard), humbleness in his choice of a donkey over a stallion, humbleness in his exercise of his kingly power through love and forgiveness. Yesterday Jesus washed the feet of his disciples and instituted the Eucharist, and we saw his Kingship as one of total gift to others. Today we see his Kingship as a witness to the truth. Jesus’ whole mission is to reveal the God we cannot see, a God who loves us so much that he has given his only son for our redemption. Jesus’ mission is to go out from God and to return to God, with us in tow. In John’s words, to gather together all the dispersed children of God.
Jesus‘ words to Pilate have many resonances in John’s Gospel. The most important ones bring us to the words in chapter 10 where Jesus calls himself the good shepherd. There we are told several times, in different contexts, that Jesus‘ sheep hear his voice and follow him. Jesus’ sheep, his disciples, hear his voice — they “belong” to him. They are, in the context of the words to Pilate, those who belong to the truth. For the truth is what makes one a disciple of Jesus. “You will truly be my disciples for you will know the truth and the truth will make you free.”
Let us look a little more closely at Jesus’ Kingship as a kingship of truth. What is truth? Pilate asks scornfully. “I am the Truth,” Jesus responds elsewhere. The truth to which Jesus witnesses is thus himself as the very revelation of God. There is more. Where is this revelation most perfectly shown? Precisely on the cross. “And I, if I be lifted up, will draw all things to myself.”
The paradox of the Christian dispensation is that Jesus is glorified (that is, made a King) precisely in his being lifted up on the cross. Precisely in his death. But not his death as an ending – but as a beginning. Death and resurrection for St. John are one single act. It is only we who divide it up into time periods. It is extremely important that we see it as a whole. For the theological truth of the mystery we are celebrating is that Jesus’ death IS his glorification. Why? How? Because in it he has given himself entirely to us and borne witness to the truth of who God is for us. And that is glory. That is the heart of reality. From that gift springs all life. This active gift of Jesus lives on for all eternity. Human nature at the Father’s throne is the lamb once slain, the marks of slaughter still on him.
My sisters and brothers, let me say it as clearly as I can: the full revelation of God, the Truth at the heart of all reality, the Truth to which Jesus’ Kingship bears witness, is Jesus with his arms outstretched in the everlasting sign of God’s covenant with us. The Truth is the love of God poured into our hearts by the Spirit whom Jesus breathed forth on us as he died on the throne of the cross.
Whenever we stand before the Cross, whenever we kneel before the Cross, today as we kiss the relic of the true Cross, let us see in it the Truth to which Jesus’ Kingship bears witness. No other truth, no other revelation has been granted to us. And that Truth is, as Thomas Merton so poetically put it over fifty years ago, that God is very simply “mercy within mercy within mercy.”
May this revelation penetrate the depths of our hearts.
And let the Church proclaim: Amen.