Today’s feast is celebrated under the title “The feast of our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe”. Throughout history, Christians have produced a variety of images of Christ as King. There’s Michelangelo’s super-muscular, Apollo-like Jesus who raises the blessed and dismisses the damned. Orthodox icons generally depict a Savior more serious than welcoming, and many popular depictions depict Jesus crowned and shining in royal / priestly robes.
Most of these images are in stark contrast to today’s gospel. In today’s parable, Jesus gives us the picture of a shepherd separating sheep and goats, an undemanding task that is generally left to children or the elderly. But in this case it is earth-shattering and shows the eternal separation between those who indulge in the company of God’s beloved and those who have not sought a place among them.
The people who populate this last parable in Matthew’s Gospel could represent anyone Jesus came in contact with in his ministry. Ironically, none of the people represented by sheep and goats expected this kind of judgment. No one had consciously recognized Christ in others, especially not in people who needed help.
Among the stunned “goats” we may find leaders who censored Jesus for healing on the Sabbath or for fraternizing with people with a bad reputation. There, too, we may find people like the rich man who took pride in obeying every law but ended up choosing his own fortune instead of joining the Society of Jesus. Among the surprised sheep we might discover the woman who did not let Jesus get away with withholding a miracle from a foreigner, and the centurion who begged on behalf of his servant. Together with them we would find the disciples whose weaknesses were glaring, but who tried again and again to be faithful and to serve like Jesus – even to the point of being ready to invite a crowd of thousands to offer their few loaves divide.
We must remember the key: Neither the sheep nor the goat men had guessed the criteria that would determine their fate. If they had been advised to prepare for God’s judgment, many of them might have verified how they had obeyed the “do not” commandments. The disciples might have checked that they really had left everything to preach the gospel. Some later Christians believed that their final test would measure how they had maintained doctrinal or liturgical orthodoxy, or had kept the moral (sexual) mandates of the Church. But none of that made it into Jesus’ final exam.
In modern times, the Baltimore Catechism clearly tells us what the Son of Man is looking for. In response to the question why God created mankind, we answer that we were created to “know, love and serve God in this world”. “But how do we know God, let alone love and serve God?
Today’s parable tells us that the Son of Man Jesus Christ, the King of the universe, decided once and for all to show solidarity and identify with the lowest of men. Perhaps it is time to banish the Sistine Chapel, formidable icons, and portraits of the Royal Savior to museums. If we want to respect the self-portrait of Jesus, we should better look at Fritz Eichenberg’s “The Christ of the Bread Lines”, a black and white etching of a slightly bent, racially indistinct Christ who differs from the destitute women and men with whom he only waits on how his presence radiates to them. This etching shows Christ’s decision to identify with the vulnerable. While humanity tends to think of the divine as the ultimate expression of great “things that matter,” Jesus tells us to seek God’s self-revelation at the bottom of the scale of power and prestige.
Jesus did not tell this parable to scare us for charity. This motivation would leave us trapped in our selfishness even if we were to reduce the suffering of others. Jesus knew that genuine encounters with the poor expand the hearts and vision of givers. Solidarity makes us all more human.
Christ invites us to know him in relation to his beloved arms. When we fall in love with Christ in the poor and the poor in him, we will inevitably want to serve him in and with them.
This festival embodies the irony of the gospel of the first and last of losing and finding life. One way to sum it up is by combining the Baltimore Catechism with Pope Francis, saying that those who choose to know, love, and serve Christ the King of the Universe will end up smelling of his sheep. Happily ever after.
[St. . Joseph Sr. . Mary M. . McGlone is a member of the Sisters of St. . Joseph of Carondelet. ]
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Christ the King
News – PH – The feast of our Lord Jesus Christ: The King of Solidarity