Not A King But Master

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The WORD in other words by (2021) Fr Dioniso Miranda SVD (Cebu, University of San Carlos)

Solemnity of Christ the King, 34th Sunday in Ordinary Time / B

Image Source: Wikimedia Commons, Christus Pantocrator

What, as children, did we learn about kings?  Zero from experience, and practically everything secondary to watching TV or the movies, like Mary, Queen of Scots, perhaps, or Game of Thrones.  As adults, the closest we have to understanding kingship comes from the Presidency, yet only Marcos and Duterte approximate absolutist autocrats.  No surprise then that a basic lesson from the Gospels is that Jesus wanted to have nothing to do with kings – precisely because the associations led so far away from the nature of his mission. Whereas kingship denoted dominion, subjection was not what Jesus wanted his followers to accord his leadership.  Fidelity would thus require that we refrain from calling him King.  But then, what would we be celebrating on today’s Solemnity?

For starters, how did his contemporaries address Jesus, and which of those titles did he accept without protest?  He clearly possessed authority, so his hearers spontaneously called him Rabbi or Master; the centurion addressed him “Sir!”  He validated his title as Teacher in shaping the slowest of his mentees, Peter.  Remember the miraculous catch of fish?  Peter’s reaction was, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man.”  Jesus is the Archetypal Educator who leads us to religious insight about our vocation.  Instead of affirming Peter’s self-abasement, Jesus points him toward the symbolic consequence of the event: henceforth, you will no longer merely catch fish, but fish for persons for God’s Reign.  It was this religious and moral authority that Peter intuited when at Cesarea Philippi he acknowledged his Master as not one more conventional prophet but THE Christ, the Son of the Living God. 

That Jesus was the “King” or epitome of Master Teachers is validated by another familiar with the subject.  Pilate and Jesus understood each other perfectly on the nature of absolute political rule, which is why Jesus could both affirm and deflect Pilate’s direct inquiry about his kingship.  A king indeed I am, but not the sort you mean.  My Reign does not belong to this world, and neither does its Rule resort to profane methods (coercive power; non-violence).  Rather it is a kingdom of truth, where I am King as primary witness to the Truth – the truth of God.  Unlike Peter, Pilate missed the offer implicit in this encounter.  While getting insight into Jesus, Pilate gained none into his own self along with the matching conversion that insight should have impelled him to act upon.  He declined the invitation to discipleship, which is a worse denial of Jesus as Master than a refusal to obey as King.  

In today’s discourse on Education it is common to distinguish training for work (mastering the “hard” or technical skills) from holistic formation of the person (assimilating the “soft” skills needed to succeed in life and work such as problem-solving and interpersonal skills).  The Philippine Catholic School Standards (PCSS) extends soft skills into moral dimensions (formation of conscience and moral character through values, ideals, principles) as well as religious dimensions (solidarity and preferential option for the poor so distinctive of the Gospel ethos).  Catholic education is not interested in cultivating arguably “good and honorable pagans” but Catholic Christian faithful.  In the spirit and mode of Christ the Teacher, education should ultimately be for discipleship.  Like no Guide before him, Jesus is the Teacher par excellence.        

If not King, how then shall we call Jesus?  Like Peter perhaps, we can best call Jesus Master, provided we are aware we must progressively name Jesus according to the glimpses we receive of his call to us, from initial deference to authentic allegiance.  Let us be honest with how Jesus touches us affectively, when he arouses respect, awe or obeisance – or even love, when we, like Magdalene, can then call him, “Rabboni!”  Like Pilate we must inhibit from calling Jesus King unless and before we are ready to accept the surrender Jesus intimated: “everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.”  For the follower, the hearer of the Word, the disciple, Jesus is not King but Master. 

– Fr. Dionisio Miranda, SVD (President, University of San Carlos, Cebu City)

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