Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe
Ezekiel 34:11-12, 15-17
Psalm 23:1-2, 2-3, 5-6
1 Corinthians 15:20-26, 28
At the end of the liturgical year, like at the end of our lives, there will be a judgement. Conservative homilists will gleefully ignore the context of this judgement in Matthew’s gospel, and point their finger at all those who have transgressed any portion of Church law, identifying them as the “goats” worthy of “eternal punishment.” It gives those homilists comfort and joy that their assured place of eternal happiness will not be sullied by those that are unworthy. Never once will they be concerned about their own judgement, for their hypocrisy shields their eyes from the sinfulness within.
The Solemnity which closes our Church year was gifted to us by Pope Pius XI, who sincerely felt in 1925 that the Feast of Christ the King would remind people of the importance of Christ’s rule and help bring Christian values back into people’s lives. The rise of totalitarian governments at that time in Italy, Germany and Russia cried out for a reminder that what was most important in society and politics was the rule of a loving God. In his encyclical establishing the feast for the universal Church, Pius XI stated that people of the day had “thrust Jesus Christ and his holy law out of their lives,” believing that this “had no place in public affairs or in politics.” Indeed, Pius XI strongly felt 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.
We live in an era where the absolute rule of kings and potentates is mostly relegated to history, but we are just as much in need of Christ the King’s message as the people living in the 1920’s and 30’s. Our liturgy for this day helps us to understand the kingship of the God we worship and what is most important about this feast. Our first reading and the responsorial psalm remind us that our king does not rule as a tyrant, but as a simple shepherd who, as Ezekiel states, will “seek out” the lost, “bind up” the injured, and “heal” the sick. Our king is a shepherd who “rescues” us from the “cloudy and dark” places of our lives. The Psalmist sees that same shepherd, refreshing our souls, guiding us in the right paths, and spreading a table before us. Only “goodness and kindness” follow in the wake of this shepherd. It is this image which should reign over the judgement scene recounted for us in Matthew’s gospel. Yes, there is a judgement, but that judgment is exercised by a loving God, a God who wants what is best for us.
There will be an accounting, but the delight some feel when others “get what’s coming to them,” should not be the reaction of those celebrating this Feast of God’s kingship. The feastday is what the entire gospel is about, and it all has to do with loving. Matthew’s judgement scene has little to do with transgressions of any law, Church or civil, but a great deal to do with how we love our neighbor. The primary rule in God’s kingdom, the almost scandalous foundation upon which we will be judged, is the rule of love. Have we fed the hungry, given drink to the thirsty, welcomed the stranger, clothed the naked, and cared for the ill and imprisoned. “Those who would dare call themselves disciples of Jesus and citizens of this new kingdom,” says Richard Gaillardetz, Professor of Systematic Theology at Boston College, “must live according to the subversive rule of mercy, compassion, and hospitality.”
Before we slip into the great season of Advent, God’s final judgement should, indeed, be on our minds. There is no reason for us to be afraid of that judgement, nor is there cause for us to search for those we think deserve eternal punishment, for humility demands that we should be more circumspect. Let us, as we are always called to do by the gospel, put our energies towards truly loving our neighbors as they should be loved, confident that a loving God will one day judge us worthy of joining him in His kingdom, where he lives and reigns, forever and ever. Amen.