Christ the King: ‘You Did It for Me’

User’s Guide to the Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe

Fresco of Jesus Christ, King of the World, by Karl von Blaas (19th century), in the nave of Altlerchenfelder Church in Vienna, Austria.
Fresco of Jesus Christ, King of the World, by Karl von Blaas (19th century), in the nave of Altlerchenfelder Church in Vienna, Austria. (photo: Renata Sedmakova / Shutterstock)

Sunday, Nov. 26, is the Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe. Mass readings: Ezekiel 34:11-12, 15-17; Psalm 23:1-2, 2-3, 5-6; 1 Corinthians 15:20-26, 28; Matthew 25:31-46.

The readings today on this Solemnity of Christ the King evoke three images of Christ as King.

All of them emphasize things about a king that we don’t usually think of in relation to kingship. Let’s look at these three images.

Caring King

The first reading, from Ezekiel 34, says, “I myself will look after and tend my sheep. … I will rescue them from every place where they were scattered when it was cloudy and dark. … I myself will give them rest.” It is unusual for us in the modern world to think of kings and heads of state in such a caring role. Most world leaders today are wholly inaccessible to us, behind many layers of security and staff. Even many bishops of larger dioceses are hard to reach personally. But Jesus is caring and present to us.

And don’t overlook where the text says, “But the sleek and the strong I will destroy, shepherding them rightly.”

There are times in our lives where we have been sleek and strong, and the Lord lets us experience some humiliation, “destroying” us, as it were, and giving us an opportunity to grow in humility. Do not reduce “caring” merely to mean “that which comforts and consoles.” It can be that, but not always! Sometimes the “caring” thing to do is to rebuke, warn or even punish.

Conquering King

The second reading speaks of the victory of Jesus over all things, saying that he has “been raised from the dead” and “he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet, the last enemy to be destroyed being death.” It does not always seem to us that the Lord has conquered. At times, it seems that evil triumphs. But God is working.

One by one, he is putting all his enemies under his feet. One day, even death itself will be destroyed. The paradox of the cross shouts to us that God conquers, not by brutality and cruel strength, but by love and by things such as forgiveness and mercy — things the world dismisses as weak. And this conquering King, unlike worldly kings, does not force us to be his subjects and live in his kingdom.

This King, though he is all-powerful, offers his kingship and laws to all, and each of us must decide.

Coming King

The Gospel focuses on the Second Coming of Jesus, but in a paradoxical way. He is described as a King who is hungry, thirsty, sick, lonely, a foreigner, in prison and a stranger. And the list he gives should not be seen as exhaustive, for he is in the needy, whether rich or poor.

He is in the discouraged loved one who cannot find a job; he is in our children who need to be taught and encouraged; he is in the co-worker who just lost his wife; he is in the customer who was diagnosed with cancer. He is in the lost youth or family member who needs instruction and needs to be drawn back to the sacraments.

He’s in you, in your struggles and needs. He is not merely saying that these people have some moral union with him. He is saying, mystically, that he is each one of them. And when we cared for them, we were not simply doing something ethical; we were serving and caring for Christ: “You did it for me.”

Hans von Kulmbach (1480-1522), “Christ the King”

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