Feast of Christ the King November 23, 2014

Ezekiel 34, 11-12, 15-17, 1Cor 15, 20-26 Matthew 25:31-46

On the last Sunday of the liturgical year the church celebrates the Feast of Christ the King. This Sunday helps us to look towards our future, our final destiny, when Jesus will return in glory for the final judgment and award to reach the reward or punishment. The Solemnity of Christ the King is a newer feast in the Catholic Church. This feast of Jesus Christ, the King of the Universe was instituted by Pope Pius XI in 1925 and is observed on the last Sunday of the liturgical year as it helps us to meditate on Christ the King and Lord and also on the Second and Final Coming of Christ, the Last Judgment, and the end of the world. The Pontiff was witness to a turbulent time in the world’s history. The First World War had just come to an end. Secularism was on the rise and dangerous dictatorships were emerging in Europe and beyond. Christ had long been referred to as King, but Pope could see the respect and reverence for Christ’s authority waning in the midst of the unrest during the early decades of the 20th century. In response, the feast was set with the intent to reaffirm and refocus faith and respect in the kingship of Jesus. Pope Pius XI felt that nations would see that the Church has the right to freedom, and immunity from the state. Secondly that leaders and nations would see that they are bound to give respect to Christ.  Finally that the faithful would gain strength and courage from the celebration of the feast, as we are reminded that Christ must reign in our hearts, minds, wills, and bodies.

Today’s Readings revolve around the final judgment of Jesus Christ when He comes in glory and power. In the passage from the prophet Ezekiel, it is God Himself who will come personally to tend his sheep because the entrusted shepherds have not been found worthy of their charge. God will take care of the sick and ailing sheep but will separate and punish those who have made themselves strong at the expense of the weak. God says, “I will seek the lost, and I will bring back the strayed, and I will bind up the injured, and I will strengthen the weak, but the fat and the strong I will destroy. I will feed my sheep with justice.”  St. Matthew’s Gospel completes this pastoral image with Jesus’ account of future certain events. Each person will be distinguished as a sheep or a goat according to a simple standard of practical attention to those who suffer. The standard of judgment is simple enough; ‘whatever you did for one of the least brothers of mine, you did it to me’. What may surprise us is God’s identification with the most insignificant of his brothers: ‘you did it to me.’ What is also remarkable is that the just seem to be unaware that, in their life of service to the unfortunate, it was the Lord himself whom they were serving. Definitive judgment will be served on all and reminds us that we are to be found worthy of God on the Day of Judgment. St. Paul reminds the Christians at Corinth of the fact of the resurrection from the dead, just as Jesus Christ died and rose to life. He tells us that Christ was raised from the dead as the first fruits of those who have died. One day, all those who have walked their living faith in Christ will resurrect from the dead to receive their salvation and to be glorified in Christ. Those who belong to Christ will form part of His kingdom. In this Kingdom all will be subject to Christ the King. Further, the Psalm 23 sings of the Lord as the Good Shepherd who will feed, guide and protect His sheep. It is in the Lord that true goodness is to be found.

From the dawn of civilization, kings have arisen who have dreamed of possessing a world-wide dominion, a universal kingdom that would last forever. But here we have a king who is remarkably different from the kings of the earth. He came to serve all, even His enemies.  During his passion he manifested that he is the King and died on the cross with the title that he is the King of the Jews. To all intents and purposes, Christ, on the cross, was the perfect picture of defeat.  He was left alone to be mocked, insulted, beaten, humiliated and finally to die a criminal’s death. His own disciples left him and ran away when he needed them the most. It was left to one of the thieves crucified with Him to recognize him as a King and he asks for a place in his kingdom.  Jesus promises him that place.   Yet in today’s democratic set up we discover that the title “King” does not register too well.  Hence a better image of today’s Feast would be achieved by presenting this as the Feast of Christ the Leader.  All of us some time or other would like to think of ourselves as leaders. Jesus certainly knew the oppressive nature of secular kings and in contrast to them he connected his role as king to humble service, and commanded his followers to be servants as well. In other passages of Scripture, his kingdom is tied to his suffering and death. While Christ is coming to judge the nations, his teachings spell out a kingdom of justice and judgment balanced with radical love, mercy, peace, and forgiveness. When we celebrate Christ as King, we are not celebrating an oppressive ruler, but one willing to die for humanity and whose loving-kindness endures forever.

During his life Jesus preached the Kingdom of God and openly told the disciples to seek first the Kingdom of God and his righteousness. It means we must put God first in our lives. It means we must come under the rule of this God/King, Jesus Christ. It means we must confess with our lips, Jesus is Lord, and does what he says.  He alone is King of kings and Lord of Lords. He called his disciples as friends and not servants and bestowed on them a share in his priesthood and kingship.  Though he died, like other kings, he died willingly to save his people, and his death was not a result of a battle lost or a plan gone awry, but of a glorious victory planned before the world began.  He rose in glory, and went to his heavenly coronation. Jesus in contrast to the oppressive nature of earthly kings, indicated his role as a king of humble service, and commanded his followers to be of service to others. Christ is the king who gives us true freedom and liberation in Him. Thus we must never forget that Christ radically redefined and transformed the concept of kingship.  Christ Himself speaks of His own kingly authority during his discourse on Last Judgment, as he explains the rewards and punishments that will be the eternal lot of the just and the damned.  After his resurrection, when giving to his Apostles the mission of teaching and baptizing all nations, he took the opportunity to call himself king, confirming the title publicly, and solemnly proclaimed that all power was given him in heaven and on earth.

The feast of Christ the King celebrates the fact that he is one person in authority who is remarkably different. He came to serve all and his kingdom he says is not of this world.  In several passages of Scripture, his kingdom is tied to his suffering and death. While Christ is coming to judge the nations, his teachings spell out a kingdom of justice and his judgment is balanced with radical love, mercy, peace, and forgiveness. The Scriptures speak of Jesus as God and also as King. He was born in the royal Davidic family. Joseph and Jesus were not biological father and son, but legal father and son, and, therefore, the throne of David belonged legally to Jesus.  In the annunciation narrative we have angel Gabriel bringing the good news to Mary in Nazareth, saying, “He will be great and will be called Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his ancestor David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever; his kingdom will never end.” When the Magi come to Jerusalem they ask “Where is the one born king of the Jews?”  The priests inform them that he is born in Bethlehem. During His ministry on earth, Jesus preached that the Kingdom of God was at hand. He openly said that his Kingdom was not of this world. When Jesus was asked by the Pharisees at what time the Kingdom of God was coming, he answered that the Kingdom of God is not coming with things that can be observed externally or they could point it to a particular place. But he tells them that the Kingdom of God is among them already.During his triumphant entry into Jerusalem people call him son of David and greet him as a king. Later during his passion when Jesus is before Pilate, he is asked whether he is the king of the Jews.  Jesus responds saying that he is the king. Finally before his Ascension Jesus tells his disciples:  ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.’ Then he gives them the mission. He is the king of the universe, ruling over all.

In today’s Gospel Jesus reminds his hearers of the contrast between this time of liberty of action, and the impending judgment that awaits each person. He emphasizes here the criterion of judgment to be used, namely, the active attention to the needs of others, especially those who suffer. It is a remarkable characteristic of Christianity the stress on brotherly love, and the fact that God considers as done to himself whatever small service rendered to someone in need. He emphasizes the religious importance of attention to brotherly needs. In Christianity, it is the practical interest in the needs of others that is to become the paramount concern of their lives. Then charity is not to be a series of token gestures, but the real, central motivation of lives. Merely not harming others is not sufficient but a positive and practical attention to others in all their needs is demanded. The Gospel passage also reminds us that we are to be found worthy of God on the Day of Judgment by doing things positive for God. What is implied is a personal task of growth and assimilation of the truth of the Gospel and of grace in this life. Apparently there are some who remain willfully unaware of this basic human task are unfit for the Kingdom of God.

Today’s Reading from the Gospel of Matthew tells us that Jesus is going to come in his glory with all the angels. He will sit on the throne of his glory to judge people. All the nations will be gathered before him and he will separate the sheep from the goats, the sheep he will keep at his right and the goats at his left. To the sheep, those who have persevered in their living faith until the end, Jesus will say, come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the Kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For when I was hungry, you gave me food. When I was thirsty, you gave me something to drink. When I was a stranger, you welcomed me. When I was naked, you gave me clothing. When I was sick, you took care of me. When I was in prison, you visited me. For, as you did it to one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did it to me. To the goats on His left, He will say, you that are accursed, depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. When I was hungry, you did not feed me. When I was thirsty, you gave me nothing to drink etc. Thus the Gospel echoes the eternal divine love and the justice of our King. He will show his eternal love to those who have shown love in this world. He will show his eternal justice against those who have failed to live a righteous life. Divine justice shall favor those who have been persecuted because of their living faith in Christ.

Factually, the judgment described in the Gospel of today is aimed at people of all nations. We know of the long tradition of Judaism that the Jews would be judged separately from the gentiles. Jesus now goes beyond that to include all and everyone will be judged uniformly.  All can be part of the Kingdom of God by their acts of mercy towards the disciples of Jesus and more specifically to those in need.  Actually through this act they are doing a service to the Son of God. These corporal works of mercy are indeed a human service to God and doing his will. A specific twist in the judgment scene is that those gentiles who do the acts of mercy for Jesus do not have any ulterior motives.  They simply see the people in need and take action to meet those needs. In fact they are very surprised to learn that by doing these acts for their brethren; they have been doing a service to Jesus. On the other hand those who fail to do so and are condemned, claim that if they had known that those who were in need were indeed identified with Jesus, they would have acted differently. The Gospel teaches us that all human beings are equal before the Son of Man and should be treated as such. This is the challenge that the feast places on to us.

Even while dying on the cross, Jesus reached out to sinners with the gift of Salvation. One of the two criminals crucified along with Jesus asked him to be remembered when he entered his kingdom. Jesus granted him his request and promised him salvation.  The other criminal however, showed no sign of repentance and continued to mock Jesus along with others. What this criminal and others failed to understand is the divine necessity of Jesus’ death. The passage clearly tells us that in spite of the mockery and insult, Jesus is truly the king and Savior. The titles they gave him remained true and accurate.  Jesus redefined the true meaning of Kingship and the notion of the kingdom through his cross.  This is not a competition of royalty but an expression of leadership that culminates in service. He shunned the status of power and might, domination and force as the moral and practical foundation for life. Jesus is truly the master and king. As we reflect on all the goodness of God that we have received by the grace of God the Father through Christ the King, our calling, our living faith, our Baptism, our new heart and human spirit, the indwelling Holy Spirit, the Holy Church Sacraments, the fruit of the Spirit, let us give thanks to Christ the King for showing us the way to His eternal Kingdom.We remember God’s love in his divine mercy. We find hope and surrender in repentance to the God who cherishes us. We keep on going, telling God we’re sorry, accepting God’s forgiveness, trying even harder, and remembering to pray for the wayward and our enemies

A little girl and her father were crossing a bridge. The father was kind of scared so he asked his little daughter, “Sweetheart, please hold my hand so that you don’t fall into the river.” The little girl said, “No, Dad. You hold my hand.” “What’s the difference?” asked the puzzled father. “There’s a big difference,” replied the little girl. “If I hold your hand and something happens to me, chances are that I may let your hand go. But if you hold my hand, I know for sure that no matter what happens, you will never let my hand go.”

When reflecting on the atoning sacrifice of Jesus we are reminded of the model life of St. Maximilian Kolbe who was canonized in October, 1982. Born in Poland in 1894, when he was old enough to answer God’s calling, Maximilian joined the religious congregation of the Franciscans. By 1927, he had founded a house for those who wished to enter the religious life. In 1941, while appointed as the superior of the Polish community, he was arrested by the Gestapo and imprisoned at Auschwitz. Twelve weeks after his arrival at the prison camp, a prisoner escaped. In retaliation, ten men were chosen at random to die of starvation. One of the chosen men was a young father. Shining in the love of Jesus, Father Maximilian offered to take the place of the young man. The offer was accepted and on August 14, 1941, Fr. Maximilian died of starvation after suffering with nine others in the prison. In this act of self-sacrifice, we perceive true Christian love. Here, one man gave his life for another on the Day of Judgment, when the young father was condemned to death.

Fr. Eugene Lobo S.J. Bangalore, India

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