What is striking about the parable of the “Judgment of the Nations” is that both the righteous and the accursed are surprised by the judgment they receive and the fact, revealed by the king, that the works of mercy done for the least, are done for him. They serve the king by serving the least – by caring for the least. The king identifies himself with the least. Neither the righteous nor the wicked saw that the king was there, but the righteous served the lowly and the wicked did not. Getting to the root of this difference between the righteous and the wicked helps us to understand what constitutes the kingdom of God and what distinguishes the Kingship of Christ from our ideas of an earthly king. What is the difference between Christ’s authority and earthly power? The response of the wicked implies that they would have gladly served the king if they saw him. We can also ask, “why did the righteous serve the needy when the king was not seen?”
It has been said that you can tell what someone values most – what is most defining or most important in a person’s life – when you see what they do in their “free” time. What they do when no one is “making them do anything” or no one is watching. Something is important when it is done out of love, i.e., without a self-interested motive. When done out of love, it is not done out of force or fear or out of expectation of reward. When something is done out of love, the act itself is life-giving. There is an intrinsic motivation for doing it apart from the “results”. Love is what defines the Kingship of Christ and his authority. Earthly kingship and authority are rooted in power – a power that coerces or incentivizes behavior to conform to its dictates. Earthly authority runs on fear – fear of punishment or loss. God’s authority – the authority of love – generates freedom – it moves us to do what is good freely. The difference between the authority of Christ versus the authority of the world is the difference between the relationship between a father and a son and the relationship between a boss and an employee. The father generates life in the son by sharing his life with the son. In contrast, the employer gives the employee a task. A son belongs to a father. A employee simply works for the boss. Through this belonging and sharing of life, the life of the father enters into the son. Jesus has introduced us to his familiarity with the Father through the companionship we call the church. The Church is a communion of life and love where our belonging to the Father is constantly nourished. When we allow ourselves to be generated by this love, to live like sons and daughters of God, we love each other with God’s love, not out of force or fear, but because it is our life. This is the difference between the righteous and the wicked.
The prophecy of Ezekiel that we hear in the first reading is fulfilled in Christ the Good Shepherd. Christ has come to gather the scattered flock, to rescue us from the darkness of sin. Christ has sought out the lost sheep, even the “least” among us – the greatest sinner. Christ came to reveal the mercy of the Father. Those of us who know ourselves as the sons and daughter who were lost and then found, sinners who were treated with mercy, and have allowed this mercy to define us, identify with the poor, the needy, the sick and the lame, the hungry and thirsty, i.e., the least among us. Because of the life that has been generated in us, loving the neighbor in need is not a rule or a job, but a way of life. Loving as God loves is a sign of our belonging to Christ, our adherence to the one who has loved us in this gratuitous way. Do we allow ourselves to be generated by Christ – do we allow his love to reign in our heart? The flourishing of our lives depends on it as does our ability to love our neighbor. Our judgement depends on it as well. Those who “belong to Christ”, as St. Paul says, are brought to life in the resurrection when Christ, at his coming, hands the kingdom over to the Father.
I remember being a freshman in college and getting up Sunday mornings to go to Mass. No one was forcing me or making me go. My mom didn’t call me and ask, “did you go to Mass today?” I went freely because, thinking back, going to Mass was a life-giving experience. It was not experienced as a burden or an obligation. From as long as I could remember, my father served in many ways at Mass and at the parish. He was a lector, and extraordinary minister of Holy Communion, he was a cantor and part of the music ministry. He taught CCD. We belonged to a small country parish. Everybody knew everybody. My parents had many friends at the parish. At the time, we lived about an hour and a half from my grandparents. The parish was our extended family and gave us a sense of belonging. The love and fatherly care that my parents experienced from the pastor, I believe, moved them to serve and to give of themselves in service to the parish. I have to believe that the seeds of my vocation to the priesthood were planted there as well – mostly from witnessing my father’s service to the parish and from my parents’ esteem for the parish priest. My parents never explicitly expressed a desire for me to become a priest. I felt no pressure. I answered the call freely because it “fit” with the life that generated me, the life to which I belonged.
Pope Pius XI instituted the Solemnity of Christ the King in 1925 as a response to growing secularism and nationalism. Ideologies like Marxist Communism and National Socialism (known in English as Nazism) were presented as ways to liberate the poor and the oppressed and bring justice and renewal to the working class. What they brought instead was totalitarian dictatorships, the elimination of free speech, religious persecution, mass starvation, concentration camps, gulags, and the execution of millions who were deemed obstacles to the inevitable utopia possible by science and rationalism. If the love of Christ does not reign in our heart, if Christ is not our King, we will not be able to stand up to secular authorities who promise health and security in exchange for our freedoms. Or we will think secular power is the solution to the ills of society. History tells us that the poor never receive the spoils promised by the revolutionaries. The poor are simply used by those seeking power. The real revolution is the one brought by Christ – a revolution of love. May we recognize what it means to be sons and daughters of God – to be reborn in Christ and made rich by the one who became poor for our sake. We have been blessed by the Father. May we let that blessing and the Good Shepherd’s care define us and how we live so we may inherit the kingdom prepared for God’s sons and daughters from the foundation of the world.