The last Sunday of the liturgical year is always the feast of Christ the King. Next Sunday will be the first Sunday of Advent. The feast of Christ the King might seem a little odd for Americans to be celebrating. Despite our continued affection for members of the British royal family, the founders of this nation rebelled against King George III, the great, great, great, great, great, great, great grandfather of Prince William. Even in my own life time the number of ruling royal families has decreased; nonetheless, those that remain are generally symbolic heads of state with few formal political duties. More so they are recognized as unelected representatives of their nation. Not dependent on elections they remain above the political fray and represent all of their people without regard to parties.
The modern royals, not just in Great Britain, but in many other countries, though usually with little political power, do embody the hopes, aspirations, loyalties, sensibilities, cultural traditions and patriotism of their people. Because royalty usually springs from one family with a history that extends back several centuries, royalty gives a country a degree of permanence and stability. This modern royal roll gives us a sense of the meaning of the feast of Christ the King.
Our first reading from the prophet Ezekiel presents the ancient Hebrew kings in their best light – they were to be shepherds of their people. The concerns of a shepherd are the feeding and protection of his flock. So too a king must provide for the nourishment and protection of his people.
The death and Resurrection of Jesus are at the core and heart of St. Paul’s faith. He bases his confidence on what God will do on the basis of what God has done. Jesus is the first fruits and like a good shepherd, He leads His flock. “So too in Christ shall all be brought to life but each one in proper order: Christ (is) the first fruits; then, at His coming, those who belong to Christ (His flock)”.
Finally, in the Gospel the theme of the shepherd appears again. This reading from St. Matthew is the only detailed New Testament narrative of the final judgment. Our Lord lived much closer to nature then we do, so naturally enough the judgment scene is couched in rural terms. The sheep (the saved) are separated from the condemned (the goats). Those welcomed into the kingdom “prepared for you from the foundation of the world” (this expresses God’s will for us) for when I was hungry you fed me… thirsty you gave me a drink ….naked you clothed me, away from home you welcomed me, in the prison or ill, you visited me. The listeners are flabbergasted! “Lord when did we see you in any of those situations? You didn’t but “Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for the least of my brethren you did for me.” The other group oddly enough asks the same question: Lord when did we see you in any of those situations but fail to assist you? Again: “Amen, I say to you, whatever you did not do for one of these least ones, you did not do for Me.”
In St. Matthew’s view what counts first and foremost is that we serve the Lord by serving those in need. To do so means to follow the Shepherd into the “kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world”. Not to do so can lead to eternal punishment. The Shepherd guides His people in right paths. This then is Jesus’ kingship. It does what a king or queen was meant to do – shepherd the people! Following our good Shepherd we shall not want … we will be led to green pastures … we will be led to restful waters … our souls will find rest as are we guided in right paths. The table is spread before us … our heads anointed and our cups flowing over even in the sight of our foes. (Paraphrase of the 23rd Psalm). Subjects of this King will dwell in the house of the Lord for years to come.