Christ the King (Fr. Francis)
Christ, the King of the Universe
Today’s responsorial psalm reminds me of the Sunday School teacher who decided to have her young class memorize Psalm 23 and gave them a month to do so. Little Rick, one the boys in the class, was very excited about the task but he just could not remember the Psalm. After much practice, he could barely get past the first line. On the day that the kids were scheduled to recite Psalm 23 in front of the whole congregation, Rick was very nervous. When it was his turn, he stepped to the microphone and said proudly, “The Lord is my shepherd, and that’s all I need to know.”
In many respects, Rick got it. All we really need to know is that the Lord is our shepherd. And that he cares for us. The first reading from Ezekiel is filled with words and phrases that exhibit this care: “look after”; “tend”; “rescue”; “pasture”; “give them rest”; “seek out”; “bring back”; “bind up the injured”; “heal the sick”.
The kingship of Christ that we celebrate today is a kingship of care. Care for all but particularly for the least ones: the hungry, the thirsty, the naked, the ill, the ones in prison. The disciples are invited to care for these because in doing so they care for Jesus who identifies with these least ones. Today’s feast both consoles as well as challenges us. We are consoled by the Lord’s care for us, which is indeed comforting during these days of the pandemic. At the same time, we are reminded that we are called to care for one another, particularly the least among us.
Kings in olden times were given ultimate sovereignty, ultimate authority over people. What they said went. And if the fate of a man in front of a king was to beg for life over death, so great was their strength and power. And power — to be a king was to be powerful.
The Jewish people asked Samuel, the last of the judges, to ask God if they could have a king like all the other kings around them. They really wanted to have a king. And Samuel went off to God and he asked God. And God was a little disappointed in them because He thought that they did not need a king if He was there. And so he said, a bit petulantly, “You can have your king, but remember this, and I’m warning you, that the purpose of kings is to raise young men, to take your young men away from you, and bring them into battle and war, and bring them back to bury them.
“And it is kings who will tax you so they can build strong cities and strong walls and armaments — things of war as well.” But God must have known that He created them free and He had to respect their choice. Because their choice was to have a king, He allowed them to have a king.
So it was that Samuel, the last of the judges, anointed King Saul as the first king of Israel. Well, they had about twenty kings in their history and it turned out just as God had said. None of them were worth anything. Perhaps David was one. And so, they looked upon David as the fabled king, the one who was fair and just.
And God had promised David that out of his line He would send a king and the Messiah would be born from the line of David. But for the rest of them, they did just as God had warned them. They had spent their money and time on warfare. And they ended up in Babylon as prisoners, their freedom taken from them, their young all dead in the terrible war of destruction. And they thought that they had lost everything.
Then the prophet Ezekiel, with the anger of God in his voice, spoke for God in the First Reading. And so, the Israelites expected a shepherd. And he came, the shepherd, the long announced one who was prayed for through the centuries.
The shepherd was Jesus and he said, “I am the Good Shepherd. And I have come from the Father.” And how did he come? How did he come to take possession of his kingdom? How did he become the ultimate authority with power over nations? Certainly not the way they expected. For he was born in a poor little village, Bethlehem. He was born in a stable made only for animals’ shelter. He lived simply. He lived purely. He lived graciously as he went among his people. And they hardly knew that the Messiah was with them, that the Messiah had finally arrived.
They did not recognize him because they were looking for a king of power and strength, who would take vengeance on those who they felt had hurt them. They did not expect a man who would take as his throne a cross. And take as his golden crown, a crown of thorns. And who would be meek and humble and, to the very end, give every drop of his own blood that they might find that they had finally, finally, come upon the true King.
The Gospel passage teaches us that the main criterion of the Last Judgment will be the works of Christian charity, kindness and mercy we have done for others, in whom we have actually served Christ, knowingly or unknowingly. The account tells us that Christ, the Judge, is going to ask us six questions, and all of them are based on how we have cooperated with God’s grace to do acts of charity, kindness and mercy for others, because Jesus actually dwells in them. The first set of questions: “I was hungry, thirsty, homeless. Did you give me food, drink, accommodation?” The second set of questions: ”I was naked, sick, imprisoned. Did you clothe me? Did you help me by visiting me in my illness or in prison?” If the answers are yes, we will be eternally rewarded because we have cooperated with God’s grace by practicing charity. But if the answers are negative, we will be eternally punished.
Kingship of Jesus the Messiah in Old Testament. In most of the Messianic prophecies given in the Old Testament books of Samuel, Micah, Isaiah and Jeremiah, Christ the Messiah is represented as a King. Seven hundred years before the birth of Jesus, the Prophet Micah announced His coming as King. “But you, O Bethlehem Ephrata, who are little to be among the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel, whose origin is from of old, from ancient days” (Micah 5:1). Daniel presents “One coming like a son of man … to him was given dominion and Glory and Kingship, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that shall not die, and his Kingship is one that shall never be destroyed” (Daniel 7:3-14).
Kingship of Jesus in New Testament. The New Testament tells us that Jesus is the long-awaited King of the Jews. In the account of the Annunciation, (Lk1:32-33), we read: “The Lord God will make him a King, as his ancestor David was, and he will be the King of the descendants of Jacob forever and his Kingdom will never end.” The Magi from the Far East came to Jerusalem and asked the question: (Mt 2:2) “Where is the baby born to be the King of the Jews? We saw his star… and we have come to worship him.” During the royal reception given to Jesus on Palm Sunday, the Jews shouted: (Lk 19:38) “Blessed is the King, who comes in the name of the Lord.” When Pilate asked the question: (Jn 18:33) “Are you the King of the Jews?” Jesus, in the course of their conversation, made his assertion, “You say that I am a King. For this was I born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the Truth. Everyone who belongs to the Truth listens to My Voice” (John 18:37).
That Truth, as we know, is that He is God and Sovereign King of all Creation. The Gospels tell us that the board hung over Jesus’ head on the cross read: “Jesus the Nazarene, King of the Jews,” (Mt 27:37; see also, Mk 15:26; Lk 23:36; John 19:19-20), and that, to the repentant thief on the cross who made the request: “Jesus, remember me when you come into your Kingdom,” Jesus promised that the repentant thief would be in Paradise with Him that very day. (Luke 23:39-43). Before His Ascension into Heaven, the Risen Jesus declared: “I have been given all authority in Heaven and on earth” (Mt. 28:18). The Catechism of the Catholic Church tells us that “In the Lord’s Prayer, ‘thy kingdom come’ refers primarily to the final coming of the reign of God through Christ’s return.” (CCC 2818, cf. Titus 2:13)
I would like to close this with a message from Mother Teresa.
And it tells us what real authority is; and what we, as followers of Jesus, should follow in the authority of love; what we ourselves should become if we are forever to touch the Kingdom of God.
Because God is love, and unless we learn to love as Jesus loves, we will never touch God.
Here is what Mother Teresa says:
“Many today are starving for ordinary bread.
But there is another kind of hunger –
the hunger to be wanted, the hunger to be loved, the hunger to be recognized.
Nakedness too is not just the want of clothes,
but also about loss of dignity, purity, and self-respect.
And homelessness is not just want of a house;
there is the homelessness of being rejected,
of being unwanted in a throwaway society.
The biggest disease in the world today
is the feeling of being unwanted and uncared for.
The greatest evil in the world is lack of love,
the terrible indifference towards one’s neighbor.”’
Lord, warm our cold hearts with your grace,
so that we your disciples may produce the fruits of love
as you have taught us and with this love we shall overcome the world.”
Fr. A. Francis HGN