Father Donald Senior, CP

Nov. 22: Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe

Wednesday, November 18, 2020

A king like no other

Ez 34:11-12, 15-17; Ps 23:1-2, 2-3, 5-6; 1 Cor 15:20-26, 28; Mt 25:31-46

In the church’s liturgical calendar, this is the last Sunday of the year. Advent and a new year begin next Sunday. Traditionally, the year goes out with a bang — not fireworks or fanfare but a burst of homage and praise to Christ, the king of the universe.

Jerusalem has always been the heart and soul of Israel. The city was the locus of Israel’s monarchy since the time of King David, a thousand years before Christ, and the city was blessed with the Temple of the Lord. It is a remarkable fusion of both temporal and religious power. 

As at the beginning of each Holy Week, there is a startling contrast when the Gospels describe Jesus, the “king” and “son of David,” making his entrance into the sacred city of Jerusalem. He rides on a donkey and the ragamuffin crowds greet him with palm branches. This is a different kind of king.

That contrast runs through the readings for this last Sunday of the liturgical year. The divine power of “the Lord God” is exercised with compassion like a shepherd caring for his sheep “rescuing them from every place where they were scattered,” “giving them rest,” “seeking the lost,” “bringing back the strays” and “binding up the wounds of the injured and healing the sick.” 

Not for this shepherd are the “sleek and the strong.” Rather, his heart goes out to the vulnerable and those in desperate need. What an image of God’s care this reading from Isaiah draws — an image that Jesus himself, the “Good Shepherd” embodies.

Our responsorial Psalm 22 is one of the most beloved of all. How many times has it been read at a funeral for a loved one offering words of comfort at a time of loss: “The Lord is my shepherd; there is nothing I shall want … Beside restful waters he leads me; he refreshes my soul. He guides me in right paths for his name’s sake.”

The care of this divine shepherd — the King of the Universe — reaches even beyond the power of death itself. That is Paul’s striking message in his First Letter to the Corinthians. The crucified and risen Christ — the king we celebrate today — will defeat what Paul calls the “last enemy,” death itself. 

The power of God’s love, that created the universe and that animates Jesus himself, will snatch us from the jaws of death and lead us to unending life. This is the bedrock of our Christian faith.

The final reading from the Gospel of Matthew brings all this together. This is a parable Jesus tells on the eve of his arrest. It is the judgment of the sheep and the goats. 

It is a staggering scene. The Son of Man, the glorified Jesus, king of the universe, sits on a “glorious throne,” and “all the nations” are assembled before him. And so the judgment begins, with the vast peoples being sorted out as sheep or goats. 

The criteria for judgment is not prestige, wealth or impressive resumes, but quiet acts of loving kindness — acts reflective of Jesus’ own compassionate care: food for the hungry and drink for those who thirsty; welcoming the stranger, providing clothing for the naked; caring for the sick; visiting the prisoners. In a word, it is being attentive to “the least of my brothers and sisters.” It sounds like the mission statements of Catholic Charities or Catholic Relief Services.

One of the remarkable features of this parable is that both those who are compassionate and those who are indifferent are not aware that they were serving or ignoring Jesus himself. One theologian called this “Christology beyond dogma,” which means that compassion for those in need is so crucial to what it means to be an authentic human being that precise Christian dogma seems to pale in significance.

Our Lord Jesus Christ, king of the Universe, whom we adore on this last Sunday of the year, is also the Jesus who, like a shepherd, protects, nourishes and heals us. We are called to “follow him” and the authenticity of our lives as Christians will be measured by the depth of our compassion for others.


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