“It’s life, Jim, but not as we know it.” For TV viewers of a certain age, this phrase takes us back to the bridge of the 1970’s USS Enterprise, with Doc McCoy telling Captain Kirk about the alien lifeforms on a newly-encountered planet.
When Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor of Judea, asks Jesus, “Are you really a king?”, Our Lord’s response could be paraphrased as, “A King, Pontius, but not as you know it.”
Jesus is not a king after the fashion of the local warlords who plagued the frontiers of the Roman empire. Nor is he even a king after the fashion of King David – the original model for the shepherd-king, the king who represents God to his people as he pours out his heart in the Psalms. David was a warrior, and Jesus is the one who enters Jerusalem not at the head of a war-band, but riding on a donkey.
“I am the king who was born to witness to the truth,” says Jesus to Pilate, “And anyone who seeks the truth listens to my voice.”
This might remind us of a well-known verse in the final book of the Bible, the Apocalypse. “Behold!” says the Risen Jesus, “I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will enter in, and eat with him, and he with me.” (Rev. 3:20)
This verse was famously represented by the Pre-Raphaelite painter Holman Hunt. Jesus – crowned with thorns, stands somewhat wistfully outside a locked door – lantern in hand, waiting to be let in.
On the prayer cards recently distributed by the diocese for the Year of Faith, there is another representation. Very faintly, behind the words of the Angelus or the Anima Christi, we see a Christ figure, robed as an ordinary Roman, stooping down to knock at a door that only reaches up to his knees.
Our King is a king who stoops to knock. The door to our heart is so small. How can such a great King enter through that tiny door? But this is the wonder of our faith – that the Word which thrilled the universe at its creation could become small enough to fit in Mary’s womb, humble enough to hang on the cross, and gracious enough to come to us in Bread and Wine.