The feast of Christ the King was instituted by Pope Pius XI in 1925, during a time when respect for Christ and the Church was waning. Today, the same distrust of authority exists. The magnitude and the manifestations of the problem have evolved over the years to the point that Individualism has been embraced to such an extreme, that for many, the only authority is the SELF. In such a system, the idea of Christ as King is rejected. In our own liturgies we sometimes avoid the use of the title King and Lord.
The one and only time Jesus allowed himself to be treated like a king is recalled in the Holy Week liturgies. Those Passion Gospels pointedly remind us that Jesus’ kingship is one of love and sacrifice, not power and domination. In retrospect, the mocking, derisive jabs that Jesus endured served to proclaim his true identity: the messiah, the chosen one, the king of the Jews and our savior and the savior of all people.
Today’s particular Gospel (from Matthew), doesn’t use the word KING, but it does refer to Jesus in glory, seated on a glorious throne, with all the nations assembled before Him. It makes it obvious, we won’t experience Christ’s reign all on our own. We’re really part of something bigger than our own little selves, when we live “under” the reign of Christ. We’re gathered with many people of varied kinds and you heard how Jesus described us – sheep and goats.
The full title of this celebration is “The Solemnity of Christ, the King of the Universe.” During the Jubilee year of Mercy, Pope Francis added another part to the title: “…the living face of the Father’s mercy.” This title seems to be somewhat of a paradox. When we think of the king of the world, let alone the king of the universe, we might tend to imagine a powerful, distant leader, disconnected from ordinary people. But on the other hand, Christ is the face of the Father’s mercy, the one who binds up our wounds, heals us, blesses us, and saves us. It may seem peculiar that He can be both the King of the universe, and the face of mercy. However, the combined readings for the solemnity give us a glimpse of how Christ is both king and the face of the Father’s mercy, all at the same time.
The wonderful thing about Jesus’ use of parables is that we can identify ourselves with one or more of the characters in the story. When we read or hear a parable it’s sort of like looking in a cloudy mirror. There’s not much precision, but the general image is there. You begin to squirm with the feeling: “This one’s about me. He’s talking to me.” It’s that way with this parable of the sheep and the goats, the saved and the damned. Both groups question: When did we treat you, or not treat you, in the ways you describe? And Jesus tells them straight forward: “Whenever you did (or did not do) for one of these least ones” – that’s how you treated me.
So, where do you see yourself in the story? Do you belong to those that care, (the ones on the right), or those who simply didn’t have enough time to be bothered (those on the left)? Or, like me, does it depend. One day you see yourself on one side and wish you could honestly say you were on the other? We’ve given of our time, our treasure, and our talent – and sometimes we’ve withheld them – depending upon a number of factors, some of which we’d be ashamed to identify.
But there’s another group in the parable that may be overlooked. The message is so simple that we fail to see the BIG point. There were those who helped, those who couldn’t be bothered, and then there were those who needed help!
So, here’s the BIG question for today. Your salvation many hang on your answer. When have you seen yourself as one who needed help? The answer is awfully important because Jesus seems to identify Himself as those who are hungry or thirsty. But, notice, He didn’t only identify Himself as one among many – NO, He identified Himself as living in those very people. He was born poor and helpless, born in need and died in need. He lived and moved and had His being in need. Not among the poor ones – within each of those poor ones – no matter what features you see, Christ’s face speaks to us in the voice of each person.
Our connection is in this Gospel. Christ will come and judge us by how merciful we have been to others. The King of the universe wants us to be the face of his mercy to one another. You heard how we will be judged. Did we feed the hungry, clothed the naked, and visit the sick? By giving mercy to others in the same way that Christ has given mercy to us we proclaim God’s mercy and Christ’s kingship to the world. How will you proclaim his reign and his kingdom today? Have you admitted that you are in need, that you’re not self-sufficient, that you`re on spiritual food stamps, and that you and Jesus find each other in need? Jesus speaks in this parable in the first person: “when did YOU see ME in need?”
So which group DO you belong to in the parable? Just how DO you identify yourself in it? Could it be true that you just might have to change how you identify yourself not only in the parable but in real life? Perhaps this is a moment of grace for you; perhaps you’re being touched again by God?
~Reflection by Sister Roberta Bailey, OSB, Prioress