November 20, 2020

Christ the Cornerstone

Celebrating a different kind of kingship: the reign of God

Archbishop Charles C. Thompson

This Sunday, we conclude the Church’s year of grace with the celebration of the Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ King of the Universe (Christ the King). As missionary disciples of Jesus Christ, we believe in his lordship over all God’s creation.

But in him, we acknowledge a very different kind of ruler, one that is characterized by meekness, humility and forgiveness rather than ambition, arrogance or vengeance. Christ is our king, but his power is life-giving and his leadership style is service.

The Gospel reading for this Sunday (Mt 25:31-46) speaks of the Last Judgment. It lays out in some detail what Christ our king expects from us.

When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, 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. He will place the sheep on his right, and the goats on his left.

“Sheep” and “goats” are images for the righteous and the wicked. Those who do right (the sheep) are not necessarily the most pious or

law-abiding citizens. They may or may not be successful in the eyes of the world. Those who are wicked (the goats) may appear to be ordinary folks who obey the law and go about their daily business without causing anyone harm or committing overt acts of injustice or immorality.

What distinguishes the sheep from the goats in the eyes of Christ the King?

Those whom the Son of Man, the King of Kings, will reward on the last day are the ones who showed compassion and who acted generously toward their lord and master when presented to them in the guise of people who were hungry, naked, thirsty, ill, imprisoned and estranged from human society. When the righteous ask: “Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? When did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? When did we see you ill or in prison, and visit you?” (Mt 25:37-39) The king will say to them in reply, “Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me” (Mt 25:40).

The king we celebrate on this last Sunday of the Church year stands for justice and peace, kindness and mercy, love and fraternity for all. He is our judge, but also our redeemer. His reign is everlasting, and he extends his open arms to all who confess their unworthiness and seek to follow in his footsteps.

At the same time, this just judge will not tolerate those who abuse their rights and privileges as citizens of God’s kingdom by committing sins of omission or indifference.

“Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you accursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, a stranger and you gave me no welcome, naked and you gave me no clothing, ill and in prison, and you did not care for me’ ” (Mt 25:41-43).

And when those who are wicked (the goats) plead their ignorance, the king will reply: “Amen, I say to you, what you did not do for one of these least ones, you did not do for me” (Mt 25:45). And these will go off to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.

The king we celebrate this weekend commands that we care for one another and for all his creation, our common home. His humility and meekness should never be mistaken for weakness. Christ the King is not a wimp. He is all-powerful even as he is all-loving and merciful. He will hold us accountable for all our sins, for what we have done and for what we have failed to do. This shouldn’t frighten us. Christ gives us every opportunity imaginable to repent our sins and begin anew.

Let’s use this solemn feast day as an occasion for rejoicing, and as an opportunity for renewal of our commitment to live in accordance with the principles and policies of Christ our heavenly king. By caring for “the least of these,” our sisters and brothers, we prove ourselves to be loyal citizens and faithful members of the City of God.

May Christ our king help us by the power of his grace to be the kind of “sheep” he has commanded us to be: honest, just, forgiving, kind, generous and welcoming toward all our brothers and sisters. †

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