Now, O Lord, take my lips and speak through them; take our minds and think through them; take our hearts and set them on fire with love for yourself, Lord Jesus. Amen.
Then the king will say to those at his right hand, “Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you.” Matthew 25:34
It is the last Sunday of the church year. Can you believe that Advent starts next week? Only 31 praying days left until Christmas. As the year winds to a close, our Sunday readings bring us to focus on last things, and the promise of ultimate transformation that God holds before us and the world and we celebrate the feast of Christ the King, which was instituted by Pope Pius X1 in 1925.
In our country we still have a constitutional monarchy and King Charles III is the latest of 63 monarchs of England, spread over 1200 years. On occasion the republican voices make themselves heard more loudly and it does seem, that although support for the monarchy is still strong, it is lessening and I suppose that some people will argue that kings are a little bit out of date. As a child I remember, the tales of King Arthur and the knights of the Round Table and all the exciting adventures they had. The Round Table, out of interest can still be seen in the Great Hall in Winchester.
Today, kings are a figurehead, a sign of a national loyalty, a reminder of history, an assenter of laws passed by Parliament.
So, when we celebrate the Feast of Christ the King, we are celebrating the kings of the olden days.
Kings at that time were given ultimate sovereignty, ultimate authority over people. What they said went. Kings could decide whether someone lived or died so they were seen to have great strength and power.
The Jewish people asked Samuel, the last of the judges, to ask God if they could have a king like all the other kings around them. They really wanted to have a king. And Samuel went off and asked God. God was a little disappointed, because He thought that they did not need a king if He was there.
So, he said, “You can have your king, but remember this, and I am warning you, that the purpose of kings is to raise young men, to take your young men away from you, and bring them into battle and war, and bring them back to bury them. It is kings who will tax you so they can build strong cities and strong walls and armaments — things of war as well.”
God knew that He created them free and He had to respect their choice. Because their choice was to have a king, He allowed them to have a king.
So it was that Samuel, the last of the judges, anointed King Saul as the first king of Israel.Well, they had about twenty kings in their history and it turned out just as God had said. None of them were worth anything.
Except perhaps David was one, even though it must be said he had his flaws and made some terrible errors of judgement. So, they looked upon David as the fabled king, the King Arthur of their people, the one who was fair and just.
God had promised David that out of his line He would send a king and the Messiah would be born from the line of David. For the rest of them, they did just as God had warned them. They had spent their money and time on warfare, and they ended up in Babylon as prisoners, their freedom taken from them, their young all dead in the terrible war of destruction. They thought that they had lost everything.
Then the prophet Ezekiel, with the anger of God in his voice, spoke for God in the First Reading. Instead of abandoning His people, He said to them:
I myself will look after and tend my sheep.
As a shepherd tends his flock
when he finds himself among his scattered sheep,
so will I tend my sheep.
I will rescue them from every place where they were scattered
when it was cloudy and dark.
I myself will pasture my sheep;
I myself will give them rest, says the Lord GOD.
The lost I will seek out,
the strayed I will bring back,
the injured I will bind up,
the sick I will heal,
but the sleek and the strong I will destroy,
shepherding them rightly.
As for you, my sheep, says the Lord GOD,
I will judge between one sheep and another,
between rams and goats.
Therefore, the Israelites expected a shepherd. And he came, the shepherd, the long announced one who was prayed for through the centuries.
The shepherd was Jesus and he said, “I am the Good Shepherd. And I have come from the Father.” How did he come? How did he come to take possession of his kingdom? How did he become the ultimate authority with power over nations?
Certainly not the way they expected.
For he was born in a poor little village, Bethlehem. He was born in a stable made only for animals’ shelter. He lived simply, purely, and graciously as he went among his people. They hardly knew that the Messiah was with them, that the Messiah had finally arrived. They did not recognize him because they were looking for a king of power and strength, who would take vengeance on those who they felt had hurt them. They did not expect a man who would take as his throne a cross, or take as his golden crown, a crown of thorns. They did not expect a man who would be meek and humble and, to the very end, give every drop of his own blood that they might find that they had finally, finally, come upon the true King.
It seems like a great contradiction. Even to this day, if you were to say that we must adopt Jesus as a king, some would say, “Well, maybe. But it is also good to have armies and soldiers and men willing once again to die for us, that we might be free, and that we might be safe.”
Yet, on the Feast of Christ the King, we celebrate something that is even harder for us, even more difficult for us to understand than seeing Jesus on the cross. So, what is the power? Where is the conviction? Where is the stability?
If we read and listen God will say to us, “The only authority that I have created, the only worthwhile authority in the lands of the peoples and the nations that are mine, is the authority of love.” The only way to express love is by giving and not taking. It is by becoming as Jesus was: strong and firm; wonderful, in the sense that he was filled with the wonder of God Himself.
At the same time, he knew that the lesson had to be learned by everyone before the realization of what kingship means. For there is no authority outside love, and there could be no love without authority.
Today, as we celebrate the Feast of Christ the King, we are called to work with this King. This King is the one who dies on the cross, rises from the dead, is with his people. What then, is expected of us?
I would like to close with a message from Mother Teresa.
It tells us what real authority is; and what we, as followers of Jesus, should follow in the authority of love; what we ourselves should become if we are forever to touch the Kingdom of God. God is love, and unless we learn to love as Jesus loves, we will never touch God.
Here is what Mother Teresa says:
“Many today are starving for ordinary bread.
But there is another kind of hunger –
the hunger to be wanted, the hunger to be loved, the hunger to be recognised.
Nakedness too is not just the want of clothes,
but also about loss of dignity, purity, and self-respect.
And homelessness is not just want of a house;
there is the homelessness of being rejected,
of being unwanted in a throwaway society.
The biggest disease in the world today
is the feeling of being unwanted and uncared for.
The greatest evil in the world is lack of love,
the terrible indifference towards one’s neighbour.’
Lord, warm our cold hearts with your grace,
so that we your disciples may produce the fruits of love
as you have taught us and with this love we shall overcome the world.”