Christ the King
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
Our Lady of the Rosary, NOLA
Kings judge. It's in their job description. They also tax and spend; wage war and make peace; they take counsel and give it. But more than anything else, a king's rule is defined by how well he passed judgment on his subjects. Is he fair-minded? Even-handed? Both just and merciful? When disputes arise among his nobles, does he think first of his people and their needs, or does he immediately think about how to take advantage of the chaos to increase his power? Kings embody the spirit of their land, the spirits of their people, and define for everyone under their rule what it means to be loyal and honest. Some rule wisely, with justice for their people. Others abuse their authority for personal gain and glory. When the king goes bad, so does his kingdom. If the source of authority and civil power is corrupted, then the whole kingdom is soon corrupted as well. Who can trust the judgment of a corrupt king? His eyes are focused on taking the prize for himself not for others, not for us. So, on this Solemnity of Christ the King, we are reminded that though we are citizens of this world, we are first subjects of His Majesty in heaven.
Paul writes to the Corinthians on the coming of the kingdom of God, “For just as in Adam all die, so too in Christ shall all be brought to life. . .” Christ is first. Then those who belong to Christ. Then comes the end when Christ hands the kingdom over to his Father. When does this happen? Paul answers, “. . .when [Christ] has destroyed every sovereignty and every authority and power.” Why destroy these authorities and powers? “For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death.” And that's why we honor and celebrate Christ as not only our Savior but as our King as well: he is the destroyer of death, the last tyrant to hold us in thrall. Death's destruction is not yet finished, not yet final on this earth. So, we live still under the rule of living and dying as flesh and bones creatures who hope in the resurrection. But in celebrating Christ as our King now, we anticipate death's end, we work toward and look forward to that time when Christ comes to establish a new heaven and a new earth. While still here – in the world – we subjects of His Divine Majesty live and breath the hope and loyalty that Christ inspires. His sacrificial love for us, his sacrifice for us is his judgment of us, and we are sworn to bring his judgment to this world.
Kings judge. It's in their job description. And as King of the Universe, Christ is our just judge. He says to his disciples: “When the Son of Man comes in his glory. . .he will sit upon his glorious throne. . .and he will separate them one [Gentile nation] from another, as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats.” The sheep he will invite into their eternal inheritance, the kingdom of God. To the goats he will say, “'Depart from me, you accursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.'” What distinguishes the sheep-nations from the goat-nations? Good intentions? Social entitlement spending? Religious freedom? Number of churches in the phone book? No, no, no, and no. Christ says to the condemned nations: “. . .what you did not do for one of these least ones, you did not do for me.” What distinguishes those nations bound for heaven and those nations condemned to hell is the difference btw how each nation treated the gospel messengers sent to them – the hungry, the imprisoned, the stranger, all those who went out with the Good News are among the least of Christ's brothers. Where we end up as a nation, a people is determined by how we choose to receive the Good News of the Father's mercy to sinners.
It might seem a bit strange that Christ, King of the Universe would take such a personal, one-on-one interest in the treatment of his messengers by the nations. But look again at the Lord's words to Ezekiel. Over and over again in that prophecy, the Lord uses a phrase that rings out: “I myself will look after and tend my sheep. . .I will rescue them. . .I myself will pasture my sheep; I myself will give them rest. . .The lost I will seek out, the strayed I will bring back, the injured I will bind up, the sick I will heal, but the sleek and the strong I will destroy. . .I will judge between one sheep and another, between rams and goats.” In the promises made to Ezekiel, the Lord does not delegate the work of kingship to another. He doesn't pawn the tough stuff off on a vicar or a steward. He Himself promises to heal, tend, shepherd, and judge. Our Savior, the one who died for us, is our King, our Judge and jury. Christ will – at his coming again in glory – look upon us and delve into our hearts and minds and weigh how we have received his Good News; how we treated the ones he sent out to bring us his gospel news. Individuals, groups, nations, whole continents will be held accountable to him for how his tender offer of mercy is received.
And b/c we are first subjects of His Divine Majesty, our wills are bent to his, and we are sworn to bring his justice to this world while we are still here. Christ's justice is the swift, terrible sword of mercy. He died so that our sins – past, present, and future – are forgiven. Justice was done – once for all – on the Cross, and now, we are bound by the blood of the Cross to be merciful ourselves, to show mercy one to another, and all of us as a Church to any and all who ask. Mercy is not a weakness nor is it a sign of approval or indifference to sin. Mercy comes after the conviction, after the plea of guilty. Mercy granted before confession or conviction is no mercy at all; it's a pitiful admission of spiritual laziness on our part, a sign of our own self-satisfaction. A sinner seeking mercy is like a starving man needing good food. Do you feed a starving man generic brand cat food? No. So, do not feed a mercy-seeking sinner cheap mercy. Our Just Judge will want to know upon his coming again in glory: did you feed, clothe, welcome the ones I sent you to receive my mercy? Did you house, bathe, visit the sinners I sent you for forgiveness and reconciliation? Or did you dismiss them in their misery b/c you no long care about the difference btw wickedness and righteousness?
If our Lord will personally see to our judgment in the Last Days, then we are well advised to see to his good work while we live. He sends among us the least of his brothers and sisters. Not to test us, but to give us every chance, every opportunity to be Christ-for-another. This is how we grow in holiness; it's how we come closer and closer to his perfection. As citizens of this world, we are rewarded for frugality, security, and wealth. As subjects of Christ the King, we are made perfect in love, one sacrifice at a time.