Some evenings ago I was awaiting the start of one of my very few favourite television programmes. An advertisement urging me to purchase a rather swanky car was being screened....
CHRIST THE KING!
What does this really mean – in terms which us ordinary folk are able to understand and appreciate in our own contemporary world?
In the 2014 Advent Reader which I put together, the point is made, in another context, of the difference between a title and a name – the former being inclined to ‘remove’ from ordinary life and living, while the latter usually brings the person into a personal relationship.
To understand Christ the King we must set ourselves firmly in the scriptural roots of the meaning of
THE MESSIAH! The word messiah, in simple terms, means the anointed one who was to ‘save’ Israel ….. to save not merely in political terms but, rather, to restore Israel to what it should be, and how to be it, in relationship to her God.
In the Old Testament two aspects of this hoped-for Messiah are dominant: (i)
MESSIAH-KING, and (ii) SERVANT-MESSIAH. So, we should see that the Messiah-king is named as a servant. So Christ, as Messiah, is above and beyond us. However, as Servant he is with us in a hands-on fashion. The Messiah-King demands our wholehearted allegiance. The Servant-Messiah is one who is with us.
Any celebration of this Sunday’s feast must include both aspects, held together as
OUR OLD TESTAMENT READING [EZEKIEL 34: 11 – 12. 15 – 17]
and THE GOSPEL [MATTHEW 25: 31 – 46] bring both elements together in perfect harmony.
If we look at these two readings, it will be seen that Ezekiel outlines what the Servant-Messiah does. He “seeks out … the lost … brings back … binds up the cripple … strengthens the weak … watches over.” Notice carefully the fact that the very first thing done by The Servant is to seek out and bring back … only then does he begin to bind and strengthen. Then, when the ‘refugee’ is brought back, bound and strengthened, The Servant watches over.
WHAT A GREAT PASTORAL PLAN?! I have begun to wonder whether this is not Pope Francis’ plan – and strategy. Too often, in the past, the Church’s strategy – which had become a virus in so many of us – was to merely call the lost back without seeking them, and insisting on specific issues before any real, effective, binding and strengthening was undertaken. Then, we also need to ask ourselves how we watch over those who have returned? Is there an effective ‘follow-up’ ministry in our parishes? It could also be asked whether our binding up has been truly productive? What exactly happens to those ‘fringe’ Catholics who are baptised, have celebrated First Communion, been Confirmed and Married?
Now, let us look at today’s Gospel. There we face the Messiah-King when “he comes in his glory.” However, even in the ‘king’s’ judgement the underlying characteristic retained is that of servant. His judgement is given against the norms of the manner in which he served, and as described in the Old Testament reading. Here it is vital we see that our Gospel reading starts by recording, “when the Son of man comes …. .” However, in an earlier chapter Matthew recorded Jesus himself saying “like the Son of Man; he did not come to be served, but to serve.”
(20: 28). In Luke’s record of the Gospel we read of Jesus warning the disciples about illusions of grandeur by telling them “yet here am I among you like a servant.” (22: 27) Further, Saint John records Jesus as saying that “a servant is not greater than his master.” (13: 16)
We will never understand or appreciate
CHRIST THE KING if we divorce the Messiah-King from the Servant- Messiah.
The lesson we learn from all of this must be clear and wholeheartedly ingrained into our discipleship. Our service of and in the Kingdom and Church must be one of
SERVICE as we fulfill our role as servants. Our witness must take on the characteristic of seeking out, bringing home, binding and strengthening. It is only when we have found the one to be brought home, and done it, that we can profitably commence with healing. THIS IS THE STRATEGY LAID DOWN BY OUR KING. Any tendency to carping, judgmental and disapproving activity is counterproductive and, in fact, is a counterfeit Christianity. The Gospel according to Matthew records Jesus saying: “among you, whoever wants to be great must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be the willing slave of all.” (20:26)
It is interesting that Christ the King is such only until “the end, when he delivers the kingdom to God the Father.”
So says Saint Paul in
THIS SUNDAY’S NEW TESTAMENT READING [1 CORINTHIANS 15: 20 – 26. 28]. This reading continues by teaching that “he must reign until … all things are subjected to him, then (he) will be subjected to him who put all things under him, that God may be everything to every one.”