Sunday Sermon for November 23, 2014, the Solemnity of Christ the King, Year A
Ex 34:11-12, 15-17; 1Cor 15:20-26, 28; Mt 25:31-46
Today we celebrate the Solemnity of Christ the King by considering readings from Scripture that speak of a shepherd. This appears on the surface to be a logical disconnect because the king is the highest member of a society in the ancient world while the shepherd is the lowest. However, our Lord, Who is the highest Person in the universe, lowered Himself and became less than a slave. He calls Himself the Good Shepherd and, thereby, shows that on the spiritual plane the offices of King and Shepherd are one and the same.
The reason for this unity among two offices that seem so diverse is found in both the foundation and the function of each office. The foundation of both is charity which is expressed in service. If we think of the kingly office as being one of power we are mistaken. To be clear, there is a great deal of authority that is given, but that is different from power. Authority is given for the purpose of serving those under one’s care. Power is selfish and seeks to lord itself over others. Power is about pride while service is about humility.
Like a king, a shepherd is to lead, to protect, to aid, and to seek the welfare of those entrusted to his care. Of course, we could say that the task of the king who serves persons is far greater than the task of the shepherd who serves sheep. Again, when we look at things on a spiritual level we find our Lord telling us that we are the sheep of His flock. So, either our Lord is being rude and arrogant, or He is acting in humility and asking that we would do the same.
This unity of the offices of king and shepherd appear again in the Gospel reading where our Lord speaks of Himself as being seated on His glorious throne and judging all of the nations. In this judgment He says that He will be like a shepherd who separates the sheep from the goats. The sheep, He says are those who showed mercy and acted in charity toward others. Since this is exactly what Jesus did, it would be expected that His followers would do the same.
In the second reading St. Paul talks about how, at the end of the world, everything will be made subject to Jesus. At that time our Lord will also make Himself subject to His Father so that God may be all in all. It is in this context that that St. Paul says that all of the enemies of the Lord will be placed under His feet. One cannot help noticing the similarity to the prophecy of Genesis 3:15 where the evil one will have his head crushed beneath the foot of the woman. Our Lady has no power of her own by which to do this; the power comes from her Son.
It also makes another distinction for us that is important. Those who are members of Christ are within Him. Those who are His enemies are outside of Him and are trampled under foot by Him. This could imply the judgment of which we spoke a moment ago with its clear separation between the sheep and the goats, but it provides a much more graphic, poignant way of presenting the difference between those who are judged. It is not just a matter of being in one pen or another as sheep and goats may be. Of course, it is the difference between Heaven and Hell, but there is more to it than just being in one place or the other.
We can see that there is a relational aspect to this mystery. Those who are sheep follow our Lord in this world and will not just be in a Heavenly place with Jesus, they will be in Jesus. Those who are His enemies in this life, on the other hand, will not just be separated from our Lord, they will be crushed and oppressed by the weight of their own choice. But it would be easier if they were just left in a corner somewhere; instead it seems that they will spend eternity almost being able to see what they could have had but no longer have the ability to obtain it.
For this reason, it is necessary that we make our choice now. It does not take a genius to see that the world is a mess and that no earthy king is worth following. We need to choose Jesus for our King and live accordingly. This means to live according to what He taught and to follow His example. This is not limited only to the easy things; remember, that Jesus is crowned in His Passion and proclaimed the King on the Cross.
Fr. Altier’s column appears regularly in The Wanderer, a national Catholic weekly published in St. Paul, Minn. For information about subscribing to The Wanderer, please visit www.thewandererpress.com.