Christ the King Sunday
The Readings for the Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe (Christ the King) present to us a Heavenly King who is both a loving shepherd and a just judge.
The First Reading from the Prophet Ezekiel speaks of the Lord God as a shepherd who cares for the sheep and searches for the lost, binds up the injured and strengthens the weak. He also judges with justice and destroys the fat and the strong. This last part of the reading seems rather harsh and inconsistent with our image of a loving shepherd. “Gentle as a lamb” does not mean that there is not competition in the flock. Sheep establish dominance with the strongest seeking the “greenest pastures” and driving weaker ones away. Shepherds often have to disciple the most aggressive/abusive sheep in their flock in order to protect the weakest. The prophet reminds us that the Lord does the same for us because he acts with justice.
In the Gospel of St. Matthew, Jesus offers a parable to describe what it will be like “When the Son of Man comes in his glory.” He will judge the nations separating the people like a shepherd who separates the sheep from the goats. The criterion for this judgement will be how we treated the weakest and most vulnerable, those considered to be ‘the least’. So often we associate a king with power, wealth and an influential royal court. Our King identifies with those who are insignificant, poor and powerless. For Jesus states, “Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of these the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did it to me.”
The Gospel reminds us that when we die we will be examined by a just judge; however, we need not be afraid. Our Heavenly King is so rich in love and mercy that he has given us the question that will be on that “final exam”. How did we treat those who were hungry, thirsty, a stranger, naked and imprisoned – the least among us?
Last Sunday, we celebrated the first World Day of the Poor. On that day, Pope Francis made a simple statement that summarizes the heart of this Sunday’s Gospel. He said that the poor are “our passport to paradise.”