Sunday, Nov. 26, is the Solemnity of Christ the King. Mass Readings: Ezekiel 34:11-12, 15-17; Psalms 23:1-6; 1 Corinthians 15:20-26, 28; Matthew 25:31-46.
This Sunday is the Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe. That might sound a little old-fashioned and triumphalist. It might seem that, by proclaiming Christ as King, Catholics want to rule the world, stepping over the benighted masses who have no relationship with the great King.
It shouldn’t. If today’s readings make anything clear, it is that we are not the King’s nobles or princes and princesses. We are his subjects — more like peasants than aristocrats.
In fact, our relationship is even more lopsided than peasant to king: We are sheep to the Shepherd-King.
“When the Son of Man comes in his glory,” says the Gospel, “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.”
The first reading tells the same story.
“Thus says the Lord God: I myself will look after and tend my sheep, as a shepherd tends his flock,” said Ezekiel. “As for you, my sheep, says the Lord God, I will judge between one sheep and another, between rams and goats.”
The way he will judge each of us is also way more like a shepherd judging sheep than like a king correcting his nobles.
His way of judging is by looking at us and saying: Did we serve the poor? Or did we ignore them?
In fact, the good and bad in the parable ask: “Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink?” Or “a stranger or naked or ill or in prison and not minister to your needs”?
In Jesus’ story, there is something that a real king, or a real shepherd, would never say.
“And the king will say to them in reply,” says Jesus, “‘Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of the least brothers of mine, you did for me.’”
Here we have the paradox of Christianity: Not that God makes us his equals, or even that he makes us noblemen and princes in his kingdom — but that the King of the Universe stoops so low as to identify even with sheep.
“I myself will look after and tend my sheep,” as the first reading puts it. “I will rescue them from every place where they were scattered when it was cloudy and dark. … 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.”
But he never stops being King. When we ignore the lowly, he judges us just as harshly as he would if we ignored the king, saying: “Depart from me, you accursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.”
We can be grateful that that day has not come yet. We still have time.
All we must do is remember that we are not equals in the palace of our King. We are peasants trying to serve him well. But we can rest assured that the Lord is our shepherd, and if we serve him, he will help us.
Tom Hoopes is writer
in residence at
Benedictine College and
author of The Fatima