The reading today on this Feast of Christ the King evokes three images of Christ as King. All of them are to some extent paradoxical for they emphasize things about a King we don’t usually think of in relation to a king. They also tell us that we have already met King Jesus, even if we didn’t know it. Lets look at these three images of our Lord Jesus Christ, King of all Creation.
I. Caring King – The first reading from Ezekiel 34 speak of the Lord in terms of a Shepherd who cares for his flock. Some of the lines that summarize his care are: I myself will look after and tend my sheep…I will rescue them from every place where they were scattered when it was cloudy and dark…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…..
It is not usual for us in the modern world to think of Kings and heads of state in such a caring role. Most world leaders today are wholly inaccessible to us, behind many layers of security and staff. Even many bishops of larger dioceses are hard to personally reach.
But Jesus is a King who is more present to us than we are to ourselves. An old revival hymn says, Jesus is on the Main Line….call him up and tell him what you want. Another song says, God is just one prayer away.
It was more common and less paradoxical in the ancient world to speak of a caring king. Most Kings had more immediate contact with their subjects. Many kings had certain days when their subject could line up to talk to them. It is said that St. Athanasius one day ran up to the emperor on his horse, grabbed the reigns and proceeded to debate a theological point with him. Even until recently U.S. Presidents had office hours. It is said that on Tuesdays Abraham Lincoln received visitors from among the citizenry who sought to speak to them of their concerns, they would line up at the door without formal appointments and he’d listen to them one by one. As our culture has become more violent and public figures more widely recognized and vulnerable, they now live in sealed, bullet-proof and virtually sound proofed worlds, hearing little from ordinary people and mainly from their staff.
So the idea of a King who personally cares for his people is paradoxical to us. But Jesus does.
I want to testify that I do indeed have a caring King, Jesus. He’s been good to me. He has led me, rescued me, purified me, fed me, instructed me, graced me and died for me.
And I want to testify that he was being good to me even when I didn’t think he was being good to me. Scripture says, All things work together for good to them who love and trust the Lord (Rom 8:28 ). Notice, not just the good things work for my good, but even the bad things. God sometimes permits some “stuff” to happen because it will bless us in the end. If you’re suffering, don’t give up on God. Some of his gifts come in strange packages. St Paul says, For this affliction is producing for us a weight of glory beyond compare (2 Cor 4:17).
And, did you notice the last line in the passage from Ezekiel: But the sleek and the strong I will destroy shepherding them rightly? Yes, even at those times when I needed to be humbled (my pride destroyed) the Lord was shepherding me rightly. There was a time in my life when I was more sleek and strong. And the Lord let me experience some humiliation, destroying me as it were, and giving me humility. I even see this humiliation physically, for I was once sleek, and now I am fat. And it is humbling to be fat, especially when people scold me. They think it is easy to lose weight. But God will humble them too, perhaps in other ways. God hates pride, he just can’t stand it. This is because he knows how deadly it is to us.
Yes God is a caring King. Some of his ways are paradoxical. But he never ceases to care for us. I’m a witness. He’s been good to me, even when I didn’t think he was being good, he was being good.
II. Conquering King – The second reading speaks of the victory of Jesus over all things saying he has: been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep. That he has reversed what Adam did. That he is the first fruits, then each one in proper order will also rise. It says he will hand the kingdom over to God his Father when he has destroyed every sovereignty and every authority and power and that he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet, the last enemy to be destroyed being death.
Here too there is great paradox. For as Hebrews says, In putting everything under him, God left nothing that is not subject to him. Yet at present we do not see everything subject to him. But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels, now crowned with glory and honor because he suffered death, (Heb 2:8-10).
So, while it is true, at times it seems that evil triumphs, God is working and, one by one, putting all his enemies under his feet. One day, even death itself will be destroyed. The paradox of the cross shouts to us that God conquers not by brutality and cruel strength, but by love, and things the world dismisses as weak, such as forgiveness and mercy.
Here too I want to say, God is a conquering King in my life. He has destroyed the power of many sins and diminished others, on their way to destruction. I have seen sins put down and under his feet, as he cleanses the temple of my soul. He has conquered so much of my pride. I am seeing lust, greed, anger, sloth, envy and fear on the ropes. One by one, he is diminishing their power and replacing them with grater love, compassion, kindness, purity, love for the truth, prayerfulness courage, trust and eagerness to do good and win souls.
Thank you Lord for being a conquering King in my life.
And this conquering King, unlike worldly Kings does not ultimately force us to be his subjects and live in his kingdom. Earthly Kings conquer localities and force peoples under his rule by might. But Jesus is a King who respects our freedom to decide to have him as our king, and to accept his kingdom virtues, or not. Hence Hell is not so much a place of punishment as it is a place to which those who refuse, who say no to Christ and his kingdom, depart. This King, though he is all powerful does not force his kingship and laws. He offers them to all and we must decide.
III. Coming King – The Gospel teaches us that Christ will come again to judge the living and the dead. And in this coming we will discover that we have known him all along, but in a paradoxical way. As Christ comes and takes his seat and all are summoned to him, we are going to have a strange sense we’ve met him before. And he will confirm that.
For indeed we have met His Majesty and he is the strangest king of all. He is a King who is hungry, thirsty, sick, lonely, a foreigner, in prison and a stranger. And the list he gives should not be seen as exhaustive, for he is in the needy, whether rich or poor. He is in the discouraged family member who just lost a job, or a loved one; he is in our children who need to be taught and encouraged; he is the co-worker who just lost his wife, or the customer who just got a diagnosis of cancer. He is in the lost youth or family member who needs instruction and to be drawn back to the sacraments. He’s even in you, in your struggles and needs.
Yes, we have met this King every day. And he is not just saying these people have some moral union with him, he is saying, mystically, he IS them. And when we have cared for them we were not simply doing something ethical, we were serving and caring for Him: You did it for me.
What a strange King! We think of Kings in palaces, far removed from trouble. But this King is naked, poor, hungry and thirsty. We walk past him every day.
And to those who have cared for him in his poor, he says, “I will never forget what you have done.” The poor may not be able to repay us, But King Jesus will repay us a million-fold. And on the day of our judgment we will look at Jesus and say, I know you! I recognize you! And he will say, I know you too….come inherit the kingdom prepared for yo form the foundation of the world.
Yes, Jesus our King, the strangest King you ever meet: a caring and close King, a conquering King who never forces, a King who who is hungry and thirsty; a King who reigns from the cross; A King who dies so we don’t have to; a King who washes our feet and comes to serve, not be served. A King alright, one who rules with love, not by force. The Strangest king you’ve ever met, and you meet him every day: in the Eucharist, in the poor, in his Word, in your heart, in the events of your day, in your very self.