MEDELLIN, Colombia - I have been here for the past few days, visiting the communities of my religious order, the Basilian Fathers, who are working in the cities of Cali, Bogota and Medellin. They came to this very poor, violent barrio of Medellin, 10 years ago and have been witnesses in this parish community to so many powerful human stories of tragedy, loss, poverty and new life in one of South America's most dangerous areas.
The history of this parish community of "Ecce Homo" will be forever linked to Toronto because of the important role the local people here played in World Youth Day 2002. For nine months, leading up to the great events of July 2002 in Toronto, hundreds of young Colombians and their families hand-made 500,000 small wooden crosses for the pilgrims from throughout the world who would come.
Pope John Paul II presented these crosses to the pilgrims during the concluding mass at Downsview Park. In the final moments of that momentous liturgy, the old Pontiff invited his young friends to "learn from that cross and follow Christ on the royal road of the Cross!"
It's hard to imagine the way of the cross to be royal. The cross speaks of destruction, violence and death. For Christians, the liturgical year ends today with the Feast of Christ the King. Central in the Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke is the theme of the kingdom, whereas in John's Gospel, the focus of the theme is on the kingship of Jesus Christ.
The Gospel reading today in most Christian Churches is taken from John's poignant trial scene of Pilate and Jesus. There we see a great contrast between power and powerlessness. Pilate asks Jesus: "Are you the King of the Jews?" The accused prepares his answer with a previous question that shakes the Roman official: "Do you ask this on your own or did others tell you about me?" Pilate's arrogance does not intimidate Jesus, who then gives his own answer in the well-known words: "My kingdom is not from this world ... My kingdom does not use coercion, it is not imposed."
It is far too easy to fall into the trap of understanding Jesus' words to be a reference to a kingdom founded on a religious and spiritual foundation, with no reference to the temporal realm.
In the kingdom of Jesus, there is no distance between what is religious and temporal, but rather between domination and service. Jesus' kingdom is unlike the one that Pilate knows. His kingdom was one of arbitrariness, privileges, domination, and occupation.
Jesus' kingdom is built on love, justice and peace. Pilate is not misled. He does not see in Jesus' answer a denial of his kingship.
In fact, Pilate infers and insists: "So you are a king." Jesus accepts his claim without hesitation: "You say that I am a king. For this I came into the world" -- to inaugurate a world of peace and fellowship, of justice and respect for other people's rights, of love for God and for one another. This is the kingdom that penetrates our human history, a kingdom that will have no end.
FEAST OF CHRIST THE KING
If today's feast of Christ the King confounds us, is it not due to our own disillusionment with earthly kings, rather than the kingship of Jesus? The kingship of God's Son refuses rank and privilege. Throughout his life Jesus dismantles the triangle of desire, violence and retribution. In him there is no lust, greed and ambition for power. His rule overturns our notions of earthly kingship. His is a kingship of ultimate service, even to the point of laying down his life for others.
Very few can measure up to Christ's kingly stature. Today we understand why Jesus Christ has remained a king, even up to modern times: He didn't bow down. He never responded to violence with more violence.
Those are fitting lessons to think about as I walk the streets of this barrio in Medellin, remembering one who taught us a new, royal way of living and dying for others.