Our Lord’s grace, His gifts to us for our well-being, His compassion and goodness—all of that includes His authority. That’s part of the daily bread that we petition from Our Father. When we pray, “Give us this day our daily bread,” we ask that our Father exercise His authority, using others, for our good. And when we implore Him to lead us not into temptation, we ask Him to lead us—by His strong arm, making use of various leaders. And when we beg Our Father to deliver us from evil, we ask Him to use whatever means and agencies are necessary to snatch us from the jaws of evil, and sometimes even our own self-destructive ways. To use authority to turn evil to good—that’s part of the Lord’s grace, His gift, His compassion, His love.
And today’s Gospel shows us how He does it. It gives us a clear look at how Our Lord exercises His authority. And how our leaders are to be His servants for our good, for our welfare. Using compassion. Measured words. Truth. Humility. And true justice which seeks both to correct the wrong and protect the most vulnerable.
How does Our Lord do this? What example does He set? How does He exercise His authority?
Consider the scene of our Lord’s coronation and enthronement. We see that
Forgiveness tamps down rage
Compassion overwhelms insult
Truth outshines indecisiveness
Love blunts hatred and converts indifference
Humility outlasts arrogance
The poor man outlives the greedy
The betrayed embraces the traitor
Weakness defeats strength
These are not the tools of rage politics. These are not the tactics of extremists who seek to squeeze the middle using anger and malice and violent speech. But these are the methods of Christ the King—methods He enjoins us to employ in our relationships and dealings.
Anger, forcing the agenda, demonizing your opponents, incentivizing meanness, and setting yourself up as the only true patriot—these will win in the short-term, but in the end they are always destructive. For this ethos and its values are inimical to God’s way, undermine Christ’s cross, and oppose the Spirit of unity and truth.
As He hangs on the cross, Our Lord refuses to see His opponents as enemies. For He wrestles then, and always, not with flesh and blood. He suffers for His opponents well as His fleeting friends. He pleads the Father’s forgiveness for those who are killing Him. Our Lord wrestles not with these men. He wrestles with the Deceiver, the Accuser, the Adversary and his minions—Satan and his devils who want to suck us into hell.
And so He employs not the weapons of division, but the strength of His mercy by which He will reconcile and return to Himself, and to His embrace, every living thing which He created.
Notice: Our Lord makes peace not by shedding the blood of others, but by shedding His own blood; not by sacrificing the lives of others, but by sacrificing His own life; not by making the vulnerable and those with no voice to pay the price, but by ransoming Himself.
In this way, Our Lord seeks much more than relief from economic distress, or bad policies, or corrupting ways. Our Lord’s way—His goal—is to deliver us from all of the powers of darkness and then translate us into the kingdom of the Son of His love.
The coming of that kingdom is announced by the sign that hangs over His head. The dead one on the cross—He is the King of the cosmos. The man oppressed, tortured, stricken, smitten by God and afflicted—this man of sorrows because He endures our every sorrow—He is our Emperor and Monarch, just as His clothing declares.
We do well, then, not merely to hear about this King, or to take comfort for a few moments in this story, or to wish others would hear these words. We do well when we actually imitate and follow this King—by taking up our cross daily. Which means, by sacrificing our notions, seeing the good in our opponents, living true humility by refusing to control outcomes, and by seeking real justice with the actual forgiveness that tamps down rage, with the heartfelt compassion that meets insult, and with the love He graciously gives us at this altar—His sacrifice which is able to blunt our hatred and convert our indifference.
As we follow and imitate this King, then the truth Our Lord speaks to Pilate may begin to sink down into our being: we are children of a King whose kingdom is not of this world, whose servants do not fight for material advantage, whose kingdom is not from here. And for that reason we need to strive, each one of us, to have compassion for one another, to love as brothers, to be tenderhearted and courteous, not returning evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary blessing, knowing that you were called to this: that you may inherit a blessing—through Our Lord Jesus Christ the King, to whom belongs all glory, honor, and worship: now and ever, and unto the ages of ages.