FROM A READING FOR NOV. 22, CHRIST THE KING
'Pilate asked Him, "Are you the king of the Jews?" Jesus answered, "My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were from this world, my followers would be fighting to keep me from being handed over..."' -- John 18:33,36


Did the historical Jesus conceive of Himself as a king? Though the Roman authorities nailed that insurrectionist title on His cross, there's no reason to believe He ever accepted it.

Each of us has an image of who we are, a way of seeing ourselves in the world in which we live. Yet, at the same time, every person who encounters us during our lifetime also has an image of us -- an image often at right angles to our own.

I presume the itinerant preacher from Capernaum was no different. Like last week's quest about the historical Jesus' concept of God's kingdom, though we know little about the image He had of Himself during his earthly ministry, we can be fairly certain of the various images His first-century followers had of Him. They're well portrayed in this Sunday's Scriptures.

The author of Revelation (1:5-8), for instance, provides us with a bunch of them in our second reading. For him, the risen Jesus is "the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead and ruler of the kings of the earth." He's also "the Alpha and the Omega...the one who is and who was and who is to come, the almighty."

All for all
In other words, He's everything for everybody, the very beginning and end of the universe.

The early Church would frequently go through the Hebrew Scriptures, searching for images they could attach to the risen Jesus. Sunday's Daniel (7:13-14) passage provides the classic "Son of Man" depiction.

Though the Gospel Jesus often uses that title about Himself, no one can be certain how He means it. Is He implying that He's the mysterious, semi-divine person whom Daniel saw "coming on the clouds of heaven;" a person who would receive "dominion, glory and kingship?" Or could he be referring to Yahweh's use of the term in addressing the prophet Ezekiel - a title which implied, "I'm God, and you're not?" In other words, "I, Jesus, am just a human being like you are." The same term can conjure up opposite images.

Yet, Sunday's image of Jesus as king would certainly have created problems for both the historical Jesus and His first followers. Living in the Roman Empire, they were expected, under threats of "treason," to have just one king: Caesar.

Not a king
That seems to be why, whenever the "king thing" comes up in the Gospels, Jesus either rejects the title, or, as in Sunday's Johannine passage (John 18:33b-37), stresses that He's not a king in the way the word is normally defined: "My kingdom does not belong to this world."

No matter what, Jesus never seems to have imagined Himself as belonging to royalty. On the contrary, our evangelists, especially Mark, seem to have given titles to Jesus which their readers could make their own. Go back several weekends to the Mark 10 narrative in which Jesus refers to Himself as the "servant" and "slave" of all - a person who "did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many." He certainly never had an image of Himself as someone who would ever "lord it over" anyone.

Though, through the centuries, many Christian leaders thought of themselves as representatives of royalty, the majority of the faithful thankfully regarded themselves as mirroring the servant image Jesus had of Himself. If they hadn't, the faith this Galilean carpenter professed and shared would never have had any effect in changing the world.

The best image we can form of ourselves always revolves around how we want to carry on Jesus' ministry.