Nov 22, 2014

Jesus Christ the King: The Greatest in the least

On this Solemnity of Jesus Christ King of the Universe, which each year marks the end of our liturgical year, we are presented with contrasts.  On the one hand, we envision a great and mighty King.  Not just an earthly King with royal powers passed on through blood line and long tradition but a King who rules the Universe!  We call Jesus Lord, the Almighty One, the Son of God, the Savior and Messiah, the Holy One, the Lamb of God. In today’s Gospel this King comes with angels, on the clouds and sitting on a “glorious throne.”  Not ordinarily the image of Jesus we imagine.

On the other hand we see a vision of “all the nations” assembled before the King.  They are divided between sheep and goats as citizens of nations and the King speaks of the very basic human needs of our brothers and sisters: hunger, thirst, poverty, sickness, imprisonment, isolation.  A scene that implies messiness, a disorder, human suffering and certainly far removed from the royal throne of the King of the Universe.  But amazingly, the two come together.

The Son of Man, the King of the Universe, speaks:  “I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, ill and you cared for me . . .” (Mt. 25: 31-46). How could we feed the King? By the care we show for the least brothers and sisters among us. This King is shepherd who walked among us and still remains in our midst in Word, Sacrament, and in the heart of every human person. Yet, it is the state of our sin that has caused such human suffering.  

We are reminded today of the golden rule which is expressed in a variety of world cultures and which zeroes in on the basic dignity of the human person: Never do to others what you would not have done to yourself.  Jesus expanded even further as he brought the two greatest commandments together: “Love the Lord your God and your neighbor as yourself.” This King who reigns in Heaven also lives in the heart and soul of every human person and in particular with the least among us - those who can be invisible and forgotten. And each person has a role to play: to feed, to satisfy thirst, to befriend, to visit, to clothe, to care with compassion for the suffering.

So the Son of Man will separate the “nations of the world” between sheep and goats.  Not literally sheep and goats of course but you and me.  Obviously most of us would rather be standing among the soft wool rather than the stubborn “eat- any- things.” But it seems to depend on how we have lived.

“I was hungry and you gave me food, naked and you clothed me, in prison and you visited me, thirsty and you gave me to drink . . .” In other words, the Corporal works of Mercy as we call them will determine our salvation. Where we finally spend eternity will be determined by our compassion for others. Let’s chew on that one for a while! Who have I forgotten?  Who have I ignored?  Who has asked for help and I was too busy? Who have I not forgiven?

In other words, we will be judged by the King on the level of our works of mercy; on the way in which we care for one another. We might say the very icon of mercy in our day was Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta.  To serve the poorest of the poor was to fulfill this parable.

Are we called to live as Mother Teresa then?  We are called to fulfill the vocation that God has called us to and within that vocation to be people of mercy and compassion.

In the face of every human person, especially in the face of the lowly ones, we see the face of Christ himself.  This truth guides the direction of our lives and how we spend our money, our time, and reminds us that Christianity is not a religion in the skies but a faith that deals with the deeply personal.

When God took on human nature as he did in Jesus he forever linked himself to humanity.  So, the plan for our lives is laid out no matter what direction our lives has taken or no matter what vocation, ordained or not ordained, we may find ourselves in.

To be generous, compassionate, helpful, and sensitive to the suffering of others is not an option in our Christian life. Although we may imagine material poverty and empty stomachs the world is filled with all sorts of hunger and thirst. Ignorance, loneliness, prejudice, and discrimination are human sin which has created greater human need.

Where are the poor my life? We don’t need to move to suffering India or the slums of Argentina to exercise mercy. We don’t take on the responsibility of service to others simply to be nice people. 

Our Lord gave us the reason why we do what we do and serve as we serve: “Whatever you did for one of the least ones of mine, you did for me.” 
(Collect for Solemnity)
Almighty ever-living God
whose will is to restore all things
in your beloved Son, the King of the universe,
 grant, we pray, 
that the whole creation, set free from slavery, 
may render your majesty service
and ceaselessly proclaim your praise.