Christ the King (A)
(Ezekiel 34:11-12, 15-17; 1st. Corinthians 15:20-26, 28; Saint Matthew 25:31-46)
Dear Brothers and Sisters Christ here at the end of the Christian year we have a Gospel passage which is often seized upon with great enthusiasm by unbelievers as ‘the do-gooders’ charter’ which is supposed to do away with all Christian, and most especially Catholic, religious doctrines, moral practices, and even any need for divine worship; for this Gospel reading, it is said, shows that all Christian waffle can be boiled down to one thing, easily acceptable to and understood by, men and women of all conditions and cultures, namely, doing good to others, whatever that word ‘good’ may mean. And, of course, modern do-good-Governments with their vast resources do that best of all by legally making everybody equal, no distinctions based on sex, race, colour, or religion being allowed; for the world is mankind’s world, and though we did not make it originally -- indeed it was not made at all, but just came about -- the main fact is that we are certainly making the world and our very selves just as we want them to be, independently of what religious believers like to call ‘nature’ or God’s will. Indeed, mankind’s specially enlightened scientists are even now lining up other planets for our possible use when this one comes to the end of its suitability or adaptability. However, the great difficulty for all of us do-gooders is that, at present, we can’t ‘line up’ anything at all for ourselves when we die and this causes deep distress and despair for many of us, especially when we just know our worth-living-life is dead even though our heart still keeps on beating.
Let us now, dear People of God, have a truer, closer, Catholic/Christian look at today’s Gospel where Matthew is presenting the Lord Jesus to and for his own Jewish-Christian congregation, comprising Jewish converts to Christianity, and Jewish Law adherents looking into, or on-the-way-to, Christian belief.
Matthew’s congregation knew all about the value and necessity of good works, for the Pharisees of the synagogue where so many of them were brought up cherished what they called ‘works of love’, and the six examples given by Our Lord were all included in the commonly accepted Jewish lists of meritorious actions: feeding the hungry, giving drink to the thirsty, showing hospitality to strangers etc. But the Pharisees, those teachers of Israel sitting on the chair of Moses, were very conscious of those works of love as their works of love, and they built their hopes for a heavenly reward not on God’s mercy and goodness but on a calculated expectation that their ‘credit account’ accruing from such personal ‘works of love’ would surely outweigh any debits due to their transgressions against, or failings in fulfilment of, the Law.
Jesus, however, would have no such outrageous pride, no such lowering of their appreciation of God’s supreme holiness, among His disciples, and in our Gospel reading He presents those on His right hand as being blessed by My Father and inheritors of the Kingdom prepared for them from the foundation of the world. Guided by the Spirit of Jesus, those disciples were not calculatingly aware of having personally done anything meriting such blessings – their right hand had not known and they themselves, not having closely observed, consequently could not remember, what their left hand had been doing. However, Jesus explains to them in His parable:
Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of Mine, you did for Me.
Those who, on the other hand, failed to win God’s blessing were told:
Depart from Me you accursed, Amen I say to you, what you did not do to one of these least ones – brothers of Mine – you did not do for Me.
The criterion in both cases was ‘what you did – or did not do – to one of the least of these brothers of Mine’.
Now those ‘brothers of Jesus’ are not any-and-every human being as modern irreligious do-gooders quite hypocritically like to claim, rather are they those concerning whom Matthew had earlier (12:48–50) taught his congregation by quoting Jesus at His most explicit and dramatic:
“Who is My mother? Who are My brothers?” And stretching out His hand toward His disciples, Jesus said, “Here are My mother and My brothers. For whoever does the will of My heavenly Father is My brother, and sister, and mother.”
All three synoptic Gospels report that particular incident, but Matthew makes it most intimate and Personal to Jesus by quoting Jesus as speaking not simply about ‘God’, but about His heavenly Father; while the gentle St. John’s accepted parallel is the most incisive and exclusive of all:
You are My friends if you do what I command you. (John 15:14)
The ever-faithful St. Paul, for his part, takes that teaching of Jesus for granted when, writing to his converts in Corinth about their doing good most effectively and most fruitfully, he says:
As a result of your ministry, (the saints in Jerusalem) will give glory to God. For your generosity to them and to all believers will prove that you are obedient to the Good News of Christ. (2 Corinthians 9:13 NLT)
People of God have confidence in the Gospel and Mother Church’s Spirit-guided traditional understanding of it, and do not let modern unbelievers try to high-jack it and turn it into their own hogwash: the Gospel, Christianity, our Catholic faith, is not concerned with making mankind apparently equal but with making all believers one in Jesus, sharing in His glory before His heavenly Father as complimentary members of the one eternal Body of which He alone is the supreme Head. We are not rationalists idolizing manageable abstractions such as ‘equality for all’; we are Catholics and Christians, disciples of Jesus Christ our Lord and Saviour, aspiring to oneness with, and unity in, Him Whom alone we worship.
Dear People of God, St. Matthew gives us here Jesus as Universal King by offering us a ‘personally tailored’ share in His own Resurrection life of eternal beatitude in His Father’s heavenly Kingdom (we must use such earthly regal terms because they are the best ones we know able to open our hearts and minds to what is glorious and beautiful awaiting us), and we should now set aside all earthly distractions by concentrating our minds and stirring up our hearts by contemplating the wisdom and beauty, the goodness and holiness, the most sublime majesty and supreme power of Jesus, Our Lord and Judge, the King of the Universe.
Before that final and universal judgement, however, how do we experience, how can we proclaim, Jesus as King of the Universe?
We can do that first of all by recognizing the wonder of Mother Church spread throughout the world over nigh 2000 years; we can look upon the mighty empires that arose and fell in the course of those centuries, more especially those that tried to destroy her by, crush her under, their physical tortures and psychological terrors. We can look at her unique endeavours to bring the various and distinct races, nations and cultures – in their very uniqueness and difference – into one worldwide body united in their love and worship of Christ their Lord and Teacher by the power of His most Holy Spirit enabling and empowering them all. No doubt Mother Church has a long record of mistakes, failures, and even human wrong-doing; but precisely, she is made up of human beings not all of whom responded or are responding whole-heartedly to the teaching of Jesus and His Church or to the grace of His most Holy Spirit. However, no body or organization is to be judged by its failures, by those who do not express truly their being as practicing members, such judgement can only be made on the basis of the quality of her healthy fruit, and by such criteria Mother Church on earth has no rival.
So therefore, dear People of God, read the history of Mother Church and her glorious martyrs from all peoples, read the lives of her innumerable saints in all their amazing beauty and glorious variety, look at the wondrous Cathedrals and Churches built out of devotion and in despite of poverty, temples whose glory all our modern money can hardly maintain let alone imitate! Above all, however, dear People of God, to experience and proclaim Jesus as King, look into your own lives and try if you can to number all your blessings as a disciple of Jesus, one by one.
The Old Testament gave to Israel immediately a moral human law blessed with insights of divine truth which enabled Israel to produce that supremely beautiful example of humanity, the Blessed Virgin Mary, a woman of such wisdom, humility, unshakeable faith, decisiveness, amazing courage and totally self-less commitment (all those attributes fill my mind from her first meeting with the angel Gabriel at the Annunciation) that I am amazed. She was and is indeed the glory of Israel and of the whole of humanity, a woman to be backed up – as was necessary -- by an Israelite, Joseph, a man of true humility, with a moral strength and deep piety that helped to provide safety and engender peace for those entrusted to his care.
Israel of old produced and formed those two highlights of humanity but is was Mary’s unique privilege to receive, embrace, and indeed clothe Divinity Itself with her personal humanity. And that dear People of God is our greatest treasure: Jesus, the Son of Mary, Who brings to us and opens up for us the most sacred beauty and totally unfathomable glory of Divine Life at its most intimate, a life of mutually sublime knowing and loving, giving and sharing, resting and ‘soaring’, resting and ‘soaring’.
I am sorry, People of God, that I must finish here; time is short and the subject is now overwhelming me, but, with St. Augustine, I hope that, where most opportune, God will inspire you by His Spirit to better appreciate and proclaim the treasures of our Faith in Jesus Christ the Universal King, our beloved Lord and Saviour.