Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe
By: Anthony Palma
A) Some Historical Context Related to ‘The Feast of Christ the King’
1. Pope Pius XI – Encyclical Quas Primas (1925)
– “We firmly hope … that the feast of the Kingship of Christ, which in future will be yearly observed, may hasten the return of society to our loving Savior.” [An exercise in conversion, of turning back, of reconciling oneself to God].
– “His kingship is founded upon the ineffable hypostatic union … by reason of the hypostatic union Christ has power over all creatures.” [i.e. The mystical union of Christ’s humanity and divinity, that is, the subsistence of two natures in one person].
– “When [we] recognize, both in private and in public life, that Christ is King, society will at last receive the great blessings of real liberty, well-ordered discipline, peace, and harmony.” [In order for this to happen, he must reign in ours minds, wills, hearts, and bodies].
2. Pope Paul VI – Motu Proprio (1969)
– Moved the date of the feast to the final Sunday of the liturgical year, before the commencement of a new liturgical year on the First Sunday of Advent, reasoning that under the new date “the eschatological importance of this Sunday is made clearer.” [One is reminded here of the passage in the Book of Revelation (22:13): “I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end.”]
3. Fast Forward to Pope Francis – Homily in Rome (2014)
– “Jesus is not a King according to earthly ways: for him, to reign is not to command, but to obey the Father, to give himself over to the Father, so that his plan of love and salvation may be brought to fulfillment.” [So Jesus’s sense of ‘kingship’ is not grounded in political rule, but in divine service; not in pride, but in humility. He tells Pilate, for example, in the Gospel of John (18:36) that “My kingdom is not from this world.”]
* This rendering of the ‘Kingship of Jesus’ by Pope Francis provides a fine segué, I think, to the Gospel Reading before us this morning. *
5. Which Takes us to Matthew (25:31-46), The Parable of The Final Judgment
The Readings for The Feast of Christ the King are rich in the imagery of shepherd and sheep. This is certainly true for Matthew 35, as well as for the First Reading from Ezekiel 34 and for Responsorial Psalm 23.
In Ezekiel 34, God is portrayed as a loving shepherd who seeks out his flock, especially those sheep who are scattered and lost. The word “seeks” here is significant in that it is God who is perpetually calling his sheep back to Himself, even if they have strayed from Him, are indifferent to Him, and/or abandon Him. Those sheep who have been ‘injured’ and or are too ‘weak’ to return to Him are also sought out by God. Indeed, these are the very sheep He is most eager to reunite with.
In Psalm 23, the Lord, a divine shepherd, is likened to a fulfilling guide, restful provider, and peaceful restorer of our souls.
In Matthew 25, the Parable of the Final Judgment, we see a separation by God, the shepherd, of the sheep from the goats. These metaphors are revealing in that, as a good agriculturalist will tell you, sheep are ‘grazers’ and goats are ‘browsers’. Sheep are more inclined to follow, whereas as goats are more inclined to independence. (Keep in mind here that a young sheep is synonymous with a lamb, and that Jesus is described in the Gospel of John, as the ‘Lamb of God’). We see in Matthew that God, the shepherd, places the sheep at his right hand and the goats at his left, but only those at his right hand, that is, the sheep, “will inherit the kingdom prepared for [them] from the foundation of the world.” The interpretive key of the parable is the criteria for God’s final judgment, and that criteria, as it turns out, is love. Love is the salvific path to eternal life in the kingdom of God, not love of self to the exclusion of God, but love of others to the inclusion of God. The key passage here is “Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.” The “least of these”, we are told, include the hungry, the thirsty, the stranger, the naked, the sick, and the prisoner. The message here is straightforward: At the end of our lives we will be judged, not by our accomplishments, degrees, promotions, social status, titles, honours, or money, but by the love we have shown for our brothers and sisters in need.