The Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe – November 22, 2020
St. Mary – Derby, KS
Ezekiel 34:11-12, 15-17; Psalm 23:1-3, 5-6; 1 Corinthians 15:20-26, 28; Matthew 25:31-46
(1) His Kingship Isn’t About Our Subservience
The Gospel for today seems a little strange for the celebration of Jesus Christ as King of the Universe, but actually it is very fitting. This Gospel talks about the events that occur when “the Son of Man comes in his glory,” that is, the events that occur when the Bridegroom (Mt 25:1-13), the Master (Mt 25:14-30), the King (Mt 25:34) returns. When the King returns, having been watchful and ready like the wise virgins with lamps lit, having been good stewards in his absence using what he has given us to the best of our ability—when this King returns, what will he be looking for? Lit lamps? A good return on his investment? And we hear very clearly that the answer is, “No. Lamps and money were just metaphor.” What this King is looking for is mercy.
As Americans, good ol’ Derby and Rose Hill Americans, we have a certain disdain for the very idea of kingship. I don’t know if you watched the musical Hamilton, but if you have you know that the portrayal of King George III is hilarious.
But it’s so hilarious because of our common American mentality we have about kings, our common disdain for kings because of our history. We don’t like kings. We’re Americans, by golly. We overthrew the king and kicked his butt in a war that he should have won. We’re America.
We have this caricature in our common mentality of kings. Kings are rich and powerful, they’re greedy and power-hungry, we have to obey them, they demand our subservience, they don’t really deserve to be in power because the only thing they ever did was be born into the royal family.
So when we come and celebrate Christ as King, we usually have these assumptions in mind, and then we usually fall into one of two mentalities. On one end, we kind of recoil, thinking something like, “The Church really needs to lay off of this ‘king’ stuff. It’s a little out-dated. Jesus is a gentle and loving shepherd, not some ‘king.’” Or, on the other end, we think, “Yeah, Jesus is King. Jesus rules the world. He dictates the law. Everyone needs to get on board with it!”
(2) The Substance of His Kingship: Restoration
And you’re both right. But we have to remember that he is a king who doesn’t merely want to be revered and obeyed, but is a generous champion for his people. And he isn’t just some strange kind and gentle shepherd that is all lovey dovey, ooey gooey, be a nice person, but the one that comes at the end of the age to judge and set things right.
The collect for today, the opening prayer for the Mass today, points us in the right direction. It talked about all of creation being set free from slavery so that we can render service to God’s majesty and proclaim his praise. But how? How does that happen? Through restoration. “Almighty and ever-living God, whose will it is to restore all things in [and through] your beloved Son, the King of the Universe.” Jesus’ kingship is all about restoration. Jesus exercises his kingship not by subduing and domineering and wiping things clean, no. Jesus exercises his kingship by means of restoration. The substance of Jesus’ kingship is restoration.
Jesus doesn’t rule like other kings. Jesus is God, but he didn’t take advantage of that divine prerogative. He humbles himself. Takes the form of a slave. He even accepts death, death on a cross. Jesus compares his kingship to the job of a shepherd. That was our first reading. “I will look after…rescue…pasture (give food)…give them rest…seek out the lost…bring back the strayed…bind up the injured…heal the sick…judge” (c.f., Ex 34). What is all of this saying? It’s saying that he exercises his kingship by drawing all men to himself through his death and Resurrection (c.f., Jn 12:32). Christ, King and Lord of the universe, made himself the servant of all. He came ‘not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many’ (Mt 20:28).
He is a king who doesn’t merely want to be revered and obeyed, but is a generous champion for his people.
(3) We Share In His Kingship
And His kingship begins here and now. But—and here’s the rub—it begins…in and through you. Our work involves being faithful to this King and to announce his Gospel (the “good news” of his kingdom). But what does this look like? And when the King comes, what is he going to be looking for? When he “sits on his glorious throne,” as we hear in our Gospel today, when he sits on the seat of judgement, how will he know who has been faithful and loyal to his kingship and who has not? The King’s criteria is, “Whatever you did for one of the least of my brethren…”
And do not get ahead of what Jesus is saying. Don’t insert some kind of “social justice gospel” or “do-goodery gospel.” Remember how the kingdom works: the kingdom breaks in through Christ in you (c.f., Luke 17:21). So the question is, “Was the kingdom present in and through your life?” All of us, any atheist even, can donate money as a tax write off; all of us can go stock a food pantry with co-workers as a sort of PR scheme; we can all be “good people.” But does this flow from our encounter with Jesus Christ, or do we do it because it’s a “good thing to do”?
As baptized people, we share in Christ’s kingship. Christ exercises his kingship in and through us. Every time I baptize someone, I put that chrism on their head and say, “Almighty God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, has freed you from sin, given you new birth by water and the Holy Spirit [i.e., restored you], and joined you to his people. He now anoints you with the Chrism of salvation, so that you may remain a member of Christ, Priest, Prophet and King, unto eternal life.” We share in Christ’s kingship.
(4) Restoration Begins Here and Now
And how did Christ exercise his kingship? He looks after the sheep, rescues and feeds them, gives them rest, seeks out the lost and brings back the strayed, binds up the injured and heals the sick. He seeks not to be served but to serve. What this mean, then, is that for the Christian, “to reign is to serve him,” particularly in our serving ‘the poor and the suffering, in whom [we] recognizes the image of [our] poor and suffering founder” (LG 8). We fulfill our royal dignity by a life in keeping with our vocation to serve with Christ (CCC 786).
Does this passage in our Gospel start to make sense, then? Jesus doesn’t come to judge based on whether or not we were “good people.” Jesus judges on how we exercised the “talent” he gave us of sharing in his own kingship!
Yeah, we could easily lose peace over all the culture wars, and political wars and economical wars that we see. Yeah, we could seek to impose some top-down justice in the name of the “kingdom.” But, we can’t forget that the King is coming. He will set things right. But for now, we are the “blessed” of beatitudes: poor in spirit, mourning, meek, hungering and thirsting for righteousness, merciful, pure in heart, peacemakers, persecuted.
Our mission is fidelity to the King, the announcement of his kingship, and exercising the power of his kingship. And when one lives under the power of this kingship and kingdom, when one is exercising the power of his kingship, it is accompanied by signs, signs of merciful love: the hungry are fed, the thirsty have drink, the strangers are welcomed, the naked are clothed, the sick and prisoners are visited. The kingdom is breaking in, and these are the signs that it is present.
But these signs happen by the King working in and through us. The restoration that we have been promised begins with Jesus the King working in and through us. And it is brought to completion on the Day of King Jesus, when comes again in glory, and his kingdom has no end.