It may not be so easy for people in modern western societies to understand what it means to be a king and how that relates to Jesus. Where democratic values are dominant, the idea of kingship can look bad, like an oppressive totalitarian government. However, even in cultures that have a more positive view of kings, the comparison with the reign of Jesus Christ, King of the Universe, is limited. The kingship of Jesus Christ is not like the earthly kingship that existed in the past and still exists in some parts of the world. Today’s readings invite us to ponder the aspects of the kingship of Christ which are vastly different from what human kingship is all about.
In the reading from the prophet Ezekiel, God shows us that his authority is exercised in loving service, particularly for those most in need. He identifies himself as a shepherd: “Thus says the Lord GOD: I myself will look after and tend my sheep. As a shepherd tends his flock when he finds himself among his scattered sheep, so I will tend my sheep.”
This prophecy comes a glorious fulfillment in the fullness of time, when God comes in human form in the person of Jesus Christ. Jesus will declare of himself: “I am the Good Shepherd: the Good Shepherd lays down his life for his sheep” (Jn 10:11). Jesus Christ shows that his kingship over all peoples takes the form of a Shepherd who looks after his people for their eternal wellbeing. As the Good Shepherd, he will lay down his life for his people. He reigns as perfect King because of this act of perfect sacrifice. Unlike earthly kings, he is a King from the Cross. It is through his death on the Cross that he gained life for the whole world, the life that was lost through the sin of Adam.
St. Paul says in his First Letter to the Corinthians: “the last enemy to be destroyed is death.” Christ destroyed death through his own saving death, when the Good Shepherd laid down his life for us on the altar of the Cross. In a nutshell, we can say that we are celebrating Jesus Christ as King because he is a Savior, a Shepherd who saves and leads us to the green pastures of paradise. The Responsorial Psalm today says: “The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. In verdant pastures he gives me repose.”
It is striking to learn from today’s first reading that the Shepherd who cares for his sheep is also a judge, indeed, the Judge. God says: “As for you, my sheep, I will judge between one sheep and another, between rams and goats.” In today’s Gospel, Jesus, the Good Shepherd in person, announces that he will reveal himself as the King-Judge when he returns in his glory. This means that he will fulfill the prophecy of Ezekiel, separating the sheep from the goats.
It is important to note that the judgment of Christ the King is a continuation of his saving work. He judges in order to reward us for our good works. He judges in order to give us eternal life. His judgment as King at the end of time, and at the end of our lives, is still the work of Christ the Good Shepherd who died and rose that we may have life and have it to the full (cf. Jn 10:10). In this regard, the Catechism states: “Christ is the Lord of eternal life. Full right to pass definitive judgment on the works and hearts of men belongs to him as redeemer of the world. He ‘acquired’ this right by his cross. The Father has given ‘all judgment to the Son.’ Yet the Son did not come to judge, but to save and to give the life he has in himself. By rejecting grace in this life, one already judges oneself, receives according to one’s works, and can even condemn oneself for all eternity by rejecting the Spirit of love” (CCC 679).
The Solemnity of Christ the King proclaims that Christ is our Shepherd and the Lord of eternal life. This day reminds us of our duty to acknowledge and honor him, and to put into practice his saving commandments of love. There are eternal consequences that come with whatever decision we make here – either to acknowledge Christ and to submit to his authority as our King or not. If we do so, there is an eternal reward in the green pastures of eternal paradise. If we do not, there is eternal punishment.
The Coming of Christ as King and Judge is not revealed in order to frighten us but to encourage us to submit to his merciful and caring authority, and so have eternal life. In relation to this, the Catechism aptly states: “The message of the Last Judgement calls men to conversion while God is still giving them ‘the acceptable time, … the day of salvation.’ It inspires a holy fear of God and commits them to the justice of the Kingdom of God. It proclaims the ‘blessed hope’ of the Lord’s return, when he will come ‘to be glorified in his saints, and to be marveled at in all who have believed’” (CCC 1041).
To commit to the justice of God’s Kingdom, as the Catechism states, we need to imitate the charity of Christ. This will be the criterion of our judgment by Christ when he comes as King. He will say to those who are righteous: “inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry you gave me food, I was thirsty you gave me drink….’ Meeting the material needs of the poor is part of Christ’s mission, but not the only part. He came to draw all people to union with the Father. Thus, our service, our continuation of the saving work of Christ the King, is more than simply providing food and drink. He calls us to labor for the eternal salvation of all men and women. The food for which all people hunger is ultimately Jesus the Bread of Life. The water for which we all thirst comes from Jesus who gives the water that wells up for eternal life. As we serve the least brothers and sisters of Jesus, we serve him in them, and do for them what he does: lead them to eternal life.
How do I acknowledge in my life that Christ is King of my heart? Am I willing to lay down my life for another as Christ the Good Shepherd laid down his life for me? What are my emotions when I ponder on the words, “The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want”?
Excerpt from The Anawim Way, Volume 16, no. 8. More information about The Anawim Way may be found here.