Today is the feast of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe (usually referred to simply as "Christ the King"). This feast was instituted by Pope Pius XI to be celebrated on the last Sunday of Ordinary Time, at the very end of the Church year. As we prepare to begin the liturgical cycle once more with the season of Advent, where we joyfully await the coming of Our Lord, it is fitting to mark the end of the year by looking forward to the end of time, when our King shall come in glory. We recognize, however, that Christ reigns today even now in His Church.
What type of king we have in Christ is made evident in today's readings. Christ is described not as a tyrant ruling from on high, but as a shepherd, lovingly tending his flock. The Psalm today is the well known Psalm 23, "The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want..." The first reading from the book of Ezekiel has God telling us, "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..."
This is the kind of King we have; one who looks not on his subjects with disdain, but who looks upon them as sheep to be tended and cared for. This is why from time immemorial the leaders of the Church have been referred to as shepherds. One of the signs of a bishop's rank is a shepherd's crook. We still today call our priests "pastors." They model for us the loving care of Christ, the Good Shepherd.
But Ezekiel does leave us with a warning in this passage. "As for you, my sheep, says the Lord God, I will judge between one sheep and another, between rams and goats." And so even while recalling the loving relationship between the Shepherd and His sheep, we are reminded of the end times, and that our Shepherd is also our Judge.
The Gospel today is from Matthew 25:31-46. This is a passage all Christians should make themselves familiar with. Jesus is speaking of the end of time, when His kingdom will come to fulfillment. "He will sit upon his glorious throne, and all the nations will be assembled before him. And he will separate them one from another, as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats."
The sheep are those who gave Christ food when He was hungry, who fed Him when He was naked, who cared for Him when He was ill, and who visited Him in prison. The goats did none of those things. The sheep are to inherit the kingdom "prepared for you from the foundation of the world." The goats are cast into "the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels."
Both the sheep and the goats in Christ's parable are confused because they did not recall feeding Our Lord, or clothing Him, or visiting Him in prison (or not doing those things, as the case may be). But Jesus explains: "Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for the least brothers of mine, you did for me."
This should be a humbling thought for all of us. Have we done those things? Have we had the opportunity to feed, clothe, care for, or visit our Lord, in the person of one of the "least brothers" of His? And did we let that opportunity pass by?
We have a King. He is a just and merciful King, a loving Shepherd who would do anything - even give His own life - to return even one of his stray sheep to the fold. We can rejoice in that! But that is no excuse to be lazy and presumptuous. We cannot simply sit back and say, "I don't have to do anything, God loves me no matter what." God does love you no matter what. He loves you too much to force you to be with Him if you choose not to. He has prepared a place for his sheep, in His kingdom. But He has also prepared a place for the goats, those who choose to reject Him, as Lucifer did. Which place will you inherit?
As baptized Christians, we are citizens of the Kingdom of Heaven. We should act like it. Christ today tells us what that means. We are to clothe the naked. We are to feed the hungry. We are to tend to the injured and sick. We are to visit the prisoners. In short, we are to love one another. Christ's Kingdom is for those who love. He has prepared it for us. Have we prepared ourselves for Him?
WCU Catholic Campus Ministry
Matthew Newsome, MTh, campus minister
(828)293-9374 | POB 2766, Cullowhee NC 28723