Offered by Father Matthew Dallman, Obl.S.B., for the Parish of Tazewell County, on the Feast of Christ the King (Proper 29, Year A), 2017.
We celebrate today the Feast of Christ the King, of Him who has put all things in subjection under His feet. Our King of kings and Lord of lords desires to bring His most gracious rule to the hearts of all people. In order for that to happen, the eternal Son of God took the human flesh of His mother, Blessed Mary, and over the course of His earthly life taught people what it means to pray. And in teaching people how to pray, He taught them how to act. And in teaching people how to act, He taught them how to love. And in teaching people how to love, He created the conditions in which His gracious rule comes to the hearts of all people, for the King of Creation always comes to us in love.
He came to us in love so that in love we would go out to others, bringing His love with us in our hearts, that it would touch the hearts of all people we meet. And then, when separation from Him inevitably creeps in, He taught us to return to Him to be replenished through the Scriptures and especially through the Blessed Sacrament of His Body and Blood—so that filled with Him we can again fill others with His love, and in Christ be made alive.
To call Jesus “King” is to recognize and affirm that He is the leader of a new kind of humanity. Jesus Himself was new, and His actions never before seen, and so His followers are to continue and perpetuate a new way of being human, indeed a fulfillment of what it means to be human, to be truly alive. Throughout the course of human history prior to the Incarnation, to be human meant living under the constraints of ancestral line, family line, and tribal line. If you were not born with the right ancestors, or into the right family or tribe, you were shunned and were not allowed to participate in regular society, and therefore you were not allowed to live to your highest potentials. Jesus is the King of a new kind of humanity; His kingdom is based rather on hearing the word of God and keeping it, doing it, and pondering it in our hearts.
This is a universal invitation extended to all creatures. For us to proclaim the Gospel, to love Him and serve Him with gladness and singleness of heart, to bear witness to Him in word and deed, means that we extend this invitation to others, an invitation to the banquet of love hosted by the King of kings and Lord of lords. And so we are to seek the lost, bring back the strayed, bind up the crippled, strengthen the weak. We are to feed people with justice, because Christ works through us to do the feeding. We are to teach the world righteousness by being ourselves righteous. To do so, we are to exhibit the saintly qualities Jesus taught in His sermon on the mount: we are to be poor in spirit, mournful, meek, hungering for righteousness, merciful, pure in heart, seeking peace, and creative amid obstacles.
It is remembering these qualities that Jesus demands of us that has led the Church in see the deepest meaning of our Gospel lesson, often called simply, “The Judgement.” We often think that the instructions to feed the hungry, replenish the thirsty, welcome the stranger, clothe the naked, visit the sick and imprisoned are instructions given by Jesus to His disciples. Disciples are expected to do these things, and there is no better contemporary example of that than Saint Theresa of Calcutta (Mother Teresa). Yet the instruction of Jesus is not here to His disciples, but to the Gentiles outside the inner circles. The “least of these my brethren” refers to Christians, not merely anyone in need. Elsewhere in Saint Matthew’s Gospel, “least” and “little” refer to vulnerable members of the Christian community (those who are poor in spirit, meek, and the rest of the saintly attributes).
And so Jesus is teaching the criteria by which non-Christians (which at the time also meant non-Jews) could enter the kingdom of heaven. It is through their good works, based on how they, non-Christians, treat the members of the Christian community. They will be rewarded for their good deeds and works done to strangers and needy people.
Christians also will be rewarded for our good works and deeds. Yet let us see that if this teaching is extended to non-Christians, the teaching for us is all the more fundamental and basic. Mission, then, is not an optional aspect of Christian life. Mission is not something some Christian communities or persons do, but not others. If even non-Christians are taught the good works and deeds of feeding the hungry, quenching the thirsty, welcoming the stranger, clothing the naked, and visiting the imprisoned, then to be Christian in the authentic and original sense is to do such things as easily and as naturally as we breathe, eat, and feel.