–– Sito di FORMAZIONE PERMANENTE MISSIONARIA –– Uno sguardo missionario sulla Vita, il Mondo e la Chiesa A missionary look on the life of the world and the church –– VIDA y MISIÓN – VIE et MISSION – VIDA e MISSÃO ––
For today’s feast of Christ the King, the Church chose a gospel passage which is the final teaching of Jesus’ public life according to St Matthew; it therefore completes the lectionary’s “continuous reading” for the year. Meditating on this passage in the light of the feast requires two clarifications.
Modern Western culture does not have kings – or queens. The few left do not exercise any real power; they play ceremonial roles and we associate them with pomp and pageantry. In the biblical culture, however, kings are leaders of their communities. They are “judges” in the sense that they set moral standards for the community. Rightly then, today’s gospel reading celebrates Christ’s kingship as an act of “judgment”.
The second clarification is that Jesus is a special kind of king – his way of “judging” is very different from what prevails in the world. This is what the feast celebrates – the “good news for the poor” of Christ’s (God’s) standards of judgement. It is also a call to repentance addressed to us as individuals and as a Church, since our “judgments” (in word or action) are often far removed from those of Jesus.
As always in the bible, Christ’s kingship is taught not in abstract language but through a dramatic story – an event we are invited to identify with. The story is of a future, final judgment – like the parable of two weeks ago, “the kingdom of heaven will be like this”. Our present judgments are never “final”, the final one will occur only “when the Son of Man comes in his glory escorted by all his angels”. For now, all we can be certain of is that God’s judgement will surprise us, and so we are humble in his presence. To the extent that we are complacent and self-satisfied we are not ready for God’s judgement. St Paul sums up our attitude: “There must be no passing of premature judgement. Leave that until the Lord comes: he will light up all that is hidden in the dark and reveal the secret intentions of the human heart” (1 Cor 4: 5).
This is not the whole picture, however. Today’s passage invites us to remember the temporary and fleeting “judgement moments” we have experienced: – we became seriously ill – our marriage broke up – we fell into a fault we thought we would never succumb to – our country experienced national disaster, floods, famine, civil war.
These experiences are authentic encounters with God in that they reinforce the teaching of the entire bible that when God comes into the world “the lowly are lifted up and set in the company of princes”, “the barren wife bears countless children”, “the last come first”.
– We thought that certain people were the “least”. Now we realise they were sacred, divine in fact, since what we did to them we did to Christ and what we refused them we refused to Christ.
– We thought that we met Christ by doing extraordinary things. Now we realise that it was in very mundane things, giving food to the hungry, drink to the thirsty, clothes to the naked, visiting the sick and those in prison.
– We thought we met Christ in moments of prayer or in holy places. Now we realise that we meet him when we feed and clothe those in need, when we visit hospitals and prisons.
– We realise that leadership in religious organisations counts for nothing before God. In his judgement, the only thing that counts is humble service.
As always in the bible, the judgement causes two reactions and we have experienced them both at different times:
– wonderful relief at knowing we were right. Good actions which we (and others who had power over us – “chief priests and elders”) looked on as trivial were in fact truly great, recognised in the presence of God (and of all right thinking people) and never to be forgotten. It is a homecoming experience, we “take for our heritage the kingdom prepared for us since the foundation of the world”.
– terrible sadness when we realise that we have missed the boat – like the foolish bridesmaids of two weeks ago. We are consumed by remorse, “the eternal fire”. The contrast with the virtuous is striking; for them it was a homecoming, whereas these feel deep alienation – the fire was “prepared for the devil and his angels”, they “go away” to their fate.
As on the past two Sundays, we remember the context of this teaching. Jesus’ imminent crucifixion would be a “judgement moment” in that it broke down all barriers:
– the humblest person there was the Son of God, – the holy place was outside the city, – the person of faith was a Roman soldier.
In those degrading circumstances, the “son of man” was present “in his glory escorted by all the angels, with all the nations assembled before him”. We remember experiences which seemed to be disasters but in fact were judgement moments showing us how wrong our values were.
We note once more the down-to-earthness of Jesus’ judgement. The sign that we have met him is that we discern between good and evil, “goats and sheep are separated; one placed on the right, the other on the left”. His teaching is not airy fairy – “you must live with the consequences of your actions”. “Good news” is implied however – “other chances will arise so don’t miss out next time”.
Lord, forgive us that in times of great crisis – national or personal – we become vengeful, wanting to consign people to the eternal fire prepared for the devils and his angels. Help us to wait for the day when the Son of Man comes to his glory, escorted by all the angels, takes his seat on his throne of glory, with all the nations assembled before him, and separates good from evil, as the shepherd separates the sheep from the goats.
Lord, we tend to think of you sitting passively on your throne, indifferent to what is going on in the world. But whenever we enter your presence, it is always an experience of discernment, of goodness being put on one side of you and evil on the other, like sheep being separated from goats.
Lord, we thank you for those beautiful moments when we relieved someone’s pain. – Someone was hungry and we gave them food, thirsty and we gave them drink; – we clothed someone naked, made a stranger welcome; – visited one who was sick, went to see a prisoner. Quite suddenly it dawned on us that we had experienced a blessed moment, had a personal meeting with you and had come to the best of ourselves; we had taken possession of a kingdom that had been prepared for us since the foundation of the world.
Lord, part of each one of us has no compassion, can see the hungry and never give them food, see the thirsty and never give them anything to drink, never wants to make strangers welcome, clothe the naked, or visit the sick and those in prison. Sometimes this part of ourselves seems very influential, but it is not the truth of ourselves; it is evil, destined for the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.
Lord, a moment of grace is like coming home, entering a kingdom prepared for us since the foundation of the world. Thank you, Lord.
“The King of Glory comes, the nation rejoices…;” “All glory, laud and honour, To Thee, Redeemer, King” “Crown Him with many crowns, the Lamb upon His throne.” We Christians have a cornucopia of hymns in celebration of the Solemnity of Christ the King. And rightly so! He has earned all the honour, praise, and thanks we can give Him.
Shortly before His Passion Jesus exclaimed with joy, “In the world you will have hardship, but be courageous: I have conquered the world!” (Jn 6. 33). This is the language well-suited to a King reassuring His followers that He’s so confident that already He has triumphed!
St. Paul, defining the nature of Christ’s conquest write, “Christ emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, becoming as human beings are; and being in every way like a human being, He was humbler yet, even to accepting death, death on a cross. And for this God raised Him high, and gave Him the name which is above all other names; so that all beings in the heavens, on earth and in the underworld, should bend the knee at the name of Jesus,” (Philippians 2).
However, Jesus Himself would have us know that words of respect, honour and praise trip effortlessly from tongues and fall lightly upon ears. Did He not say, “It is not anyone who says to me, “Lord, Lord,” who will enter the kingdom of Heaven, but the person who does the will of my Father in heaven?” (Mtt 7.21).
At the Last Supper Jesus made it very clear that accepting Him as Lord, King, or Master was serious business – far, far more than following the conventions of courtesy and respect, “ You call me Master and Lord, and rightly; so I am. If I, then, the Lord and Master, have washed your feet, you must wash each other’s feet. I have given you an example so that you may copy what I have done to you. ‘In all truth I tell you, no servant is greater than his master, no messenger is greater than the one who sent him. ‘Now that you know this, blessed are you if you behave accordingly,” (Jn 13.13).
Shall we be blessed, happy in accepting the leadership of Jesus as His disciples, His followers – in being at the service of others – even in washing their smelly feet? I wonder! Living under the Lordship of Jesus whom we acclaim as our King must surely mean placing ourselves utterly at the disposal of His/our Heavenly Father as in, “‘My Father,’ He said, ‘if it is possible, let this cup pass me by. Nevertheless, let it be as you, not I, would have it,” (Mtt 26.39).
Could it be that the source of so much discontent and disappointment with life is that we are inclined to worship at the altars of self-fulfilment and job satisfaction? The grass on our side of the fence is never green enough for our liking! The pastures to which Jesus our Shepherd-King would lead us are not to our taste!
And yet Jesus as King summons me, you, all of us, to play our part in His great enterprise, as described in the Preface to the Solemnity of Christ the King, that “He might accomplish the mysteries of human redemption and, making all created things subject to His rule, He might present to the immensity of the majesty of His Heavenly Father an eternal and universal kingdom, a kingdom of truth and life, a kingdom of holiness and grace, a kingdom of justice, love and peace.”
Truth, life, holiness, grace, justice, love and peace are ‘Kingdom Values’ that we must surely admire and want to see imbedded in our society. We may be willing to do something to bringing this about. But, and it’s a big ‘BUT,’ our own personal living under the Kingship of Christ must mean that these very same values shape and transform our own lives.
I think of the times when I’ve been more than somewhat self-willed, self-centred. Neither for you nor for me is that what living under the Kingship of Christ is all about!
Peter Clarke O.P.
Mother Teresa of Calcutta