Ezekiel 34:11-12 1 Corinthians 15:20-26,28 Matthew 25:31-46
This Sunday is the last Sunday of the liturgical year, the day set aside for the celebration of the Feast of Christ, the Universal King. This feast was established by Pope Pius XI in 1925. We read in the Gospel that at the time of the Annunciation Mary was told that her son would be the king of the Universe. On the cross he was given the title, the King. He was welcomed into Jerusalem as a king and yet was insulted with the crown of thorns during his passion. Jesus himself never claimed kingship throughout his life. In fact he ran away from people when they wanted to make him a king. Yet the church honours him as the king of every person, every heart and every being, a universal king and his kingdom is spiritual, unending, ruling over all to take them to the Father.
During His ministry on earth, Jesus preached that the Kingdom of God was at hand. He said that His Kingdom was not of this world. Once Jesus was asked by the Pharisees when the Kingdom of God was coming, and He answered, ‘The Kingdom of God is not coming with things that can be observed; nor will they say, ‘Look, here it is!’ or ‘There it is! For, in fact, the Kingdom of God is among you.'” All these Bible passages tell us that the Kingdom of God is now here, having arrived on earth. It is not a physical Kingdom, but rather a spiritual Kingdom that is manifested visibly through the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church.
In today’s world of democracy, Kingship has become the topic of the past. In a few places where the kingship has still remained, it has only been a nominal kingship. The days of autocratic rule have been rare. When we discuss about Kingship, it reminds us of the lavish and sometimes immoral way of living, holding continual wars and litigations, having huge decorative palaces and sometimes maintaining suppressive rules. It is natural therefore for anyone to misunderstand the concept of Kingship. However the norm of a king is to take care of his subjects, give them what they need for sustenance, help them in their difficulties and patronise art and culture. When we think of Jesus as our king, we ought to keep in mind that he is a benevolent king, taking care of each one of us.
On this feast of Christ the King, the Gospel presents a secret that can revolutionise our lives and indeed our world, namely to treat others as if they were Jesus. Of course, others may not look or behave like the person of Jesus we would imagine in our lives. But that is not the point. We are called upon to find Christ in one and all. Jesus also calls us to treat others with justice and compassion, especially those we consider the least important.
There are two very contrasting images of Christ presented to us in today’s readings. In the Second Reading from the First Letter to the Corinthians Paul presents a powerful and awesome picture of Christ as Lord and King. As all have died because of the fall of Adam, so all will be made alive in Christ. Christ is presented as the all-powerful ruler to whom every other power and authority must eventually give way.”He must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet.” And the last enemy to be destroyed will be death. Christ represents life, life in all its fullness. And that life he wants to share with every single person.
The other two readings, however, give a very different picture of God and Jesus, who is his visible incarnation. The First Reading presents God as a shepherd. He is concerned about his sheep, cares for each individually, gives good pasture, takes them to places where there is enough food, knows each one, loves them and calls them by name. In the New Testament Jesus is the Good Shepherd and has all under his care. Yet we are given the picture of a just God who punishes those who do not obey him.
The Gospel of today presents the scene of the final judgment. Jesus will come in His glory with all the angels. He will sit on the Throne of His glory. All the nations will be gathered before Him and He will separate them like the sheep from the goats. The sheep will be placed at His right and the goats at His left, which indicates the typical biblical image of God’s awesome greatness and transcendence. The description is of ‘sheep’ and ‘goats’, indicates the good and the bad. The good and the bad are distinguished in a very special way that surprises all namely their discovery or their ignorance of the presence of Jesus in their brothers and sisters. Now they have greater surprise when Jesus says, “Truly, I tell you, just as you did or did not do it to one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did or did not do it to me.” Jesus shows a strong identity with every person whom he has created.
We notice several things here: none of the things Jesus mentions are religious in nature; there is no mention whatever of any commandments being observed or violated; people are condemned not for doing actions which were morally wrong but for not doing anything at all. All actions are centered round Jesus and Jesus is truly present in every person we meet. Today’s Gospel echoes the eternal Divine love and justice of our beloved King. He will show His eternal love to those who have shown love in this world. To sum up, Jesus is saying that, if a person wishes to be counted among the sheep, he must be an actively loving person, irrespective of the response he receives. This is the way God loves and we are expected to keep going out of our way and reach out in love especially to those in need: the hungry, the thirsty, the stranger, the poor and naked, the sick and those in prison without looking for returns.