When the Son of man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne… Then the King will say to those at his right hand…
What are we to make of the declaration in today’s Gospel that Jesus is the King who will one day return to earth with his legions of angels, take his seat upon a royal throne and pass judgement on the whole human race. Does not much of this strike the modern mind as weird, impossible to believe, fantasy from a long past age. Have we not gone beyond these kinds of beliefs in our modern world?
And yet, the Church continues to proclaim this Gospel today as the final truth about this world and human history, as she did 2000 years ago, without a flinch, without blushing or apologizing in any way. Why? It’s simple. Because she believes that Jesus Christ is truly God, God made man, and so she trusts his word absolutely.
These are the facts that our Gospel declares. There is a God, and there will be a final judgement, and Jesus will be the judge of every man and woman. He will be our judge because He is the Universal King, and the true King is always the ultimate judge of his subjects. Jesus is the King of the universe by divine right, because He is God and because He is God made man.
We Americans don’t have much sympathy with such notions of an absolute ruler, a king by divine right; indeed our nation after all was born from a rebellion against a kind of absolute monarch. Kings in this world tend to be absolute in ways that free men and women no longer will tolerate.
Nonetheless, Jesus Himself claimed to be a king before Pontius Pilate, when He was forced under oath to answer Pilate’s question whether or not he was a king. And then he makes a startling reply, I am. And then he quickly qualifies his answer, but my kingdom is not of this world. The two parts of this reply are most mysterious, and their meaning is the key to our understanding of Jesus as King and Judge, and the basis of our hope in relation to that final determination of our own destiny.
First, Jesus is truly a king, in fact He is the only king who is King by his very nature. He did not become King by war or inheritance, but He was born a King. The gift of gold made by the Magi at his birth along with their prostration before his crib honored his kingship. It was custom in ancient times to prostrate oneself before a king, and gold was a traditional gift made to a king. But Jesus’ Kingship was not the usual earthly kingship, as he informed Pilate, but something much greater in terms of its authority – it was universal – and its purpose – it was spiritual.
Today’s Gospel focuses on these two aspects of His kingship, that it is universal and that it spiritual. The final act of His kingship will be to judge all men, and that judgement will determine the final destiny of each and every person, some rewarded with the blessedness of heaven and others condemned to the punishments of hell. There will be no appeal from this final judgement, because it will be based simply upon the truth and justice, either we have served and obeyed God in our life, and likewise served our neighbor, especially the poor, as Christ’s images, or we have not.
However, there is another aspect of his kingship that can offer comfort. He is not a harsh ruler whose yoke is heavy. His commandments are impossible to fulfill. For Jesus is a most unusual kind of King in that he is a king who acts like a Shepherd more than a king. Isaiah speaks about this in today’s first reading I myself will be the shepherd of my sheep, and I will make them lie down, says the Lord GOD. I will seek the lost, and I will bring back the strayed, and I will bind up the crippled, and I will strengthen the weak, and the fat and the strong I will watch over; I will feed them in justice.
While Jesus truly is a king, He is a king who while earth never sought anything for himself, but sought everything for the least of his brethren. He wore no purple garments, and his throne ended up being the Cross, and he did it all that he might give everyone a share in his Kingship. And Jesus promises us nothing less than sharing His kingship and glory, if only we imitate his obedience to the Father, and His style of kingship in caring for the least of his brethren, his little ones, as he did when He walked this earth.
Surely that is what the Gospel is pointing to today when it speaks about the last judgement. We will certainly be judged according to the way we live our lives, as his subjects obeying his laws, shaping our conscience by His word, etc. In all that we have reason to be concerned, for we know our frailty and God’s holy justice.
So today the scriptures gives us a clue as to how we can also look forward to his mercy in that judgement, simply by imitating his own manner of kingship, by the way we take care of the least of his brethren. He himself strengthens us with the Eucharist to do just that: and I will strengthen the weak, and the fat and the strong I will watch over; I will feed them in justice. And He also has mercy on us already in this world when we fail to do His will, as he binds up our wounds in the Sacrament of Confession. His Sacred Heart is the great symbol of His boundless love and mercy, just as His kingship is the reminder of his role as the just judge who will determine our fate forever.
That is our great hope as Christians. It is not presumption on our part to believe that we can stand fast before his judgement, so long as we take advantage of the heavenly food and the divine mercy he constantly extends to us in this world as the Shepherd of our souls, and then we in turn honor Him by imitating his kingship in the care of the least of his brethren. The wise Christian is the one who honors Christ as King by submitting to His word and honors Christ’s Sacred Heart as Shepherd, by showing His mercy to others. If we follow Him, cling to him, imitate His Mercy, we will not be lost, for he will always find us close to his little ones, and he will carry us home on his shoulders, and let us one day hear those glorious words, Come, O blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. Glorious Lord, we honor you today and every day as our King, and we do so by serving your little ones and by entrusting our souls to your Most Sacred Heart.